'Australian prime minister Scott Morrison pledged to spend £1.1 billion in the Pacific to shore up ties with small island states threatened by China’s growing influence in the region.
In efforts to secure Australia’s interests in “our patch”, Mr Morrison said he would boost military engagement with Pacific forces to put the region "front and centre" of Australia's foreign affairs.
The effort will also see a push of soft power infrastructure programme to fund local transport, water and other projects, while Australia will create diplomatic postings in tiny Pacific nations such as Palau and Niue, which, respectively, have populations of about 21,000 and 1,600.
“It’s time to open, I believe, a new chapter in relations with our Pacific family,” Mr Morrison said in a speech at a military base in Queensland.
“Australia has an abiding interest in the Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.”
The announcement follows concerns about China’s expanding ties and loans in the region, which have raised fears that small nations could fall into a debt trap and become subservient political pawns to Beijing.
Chinese loans in the Pacific region have increased in recent years, but remain much lower than Australian aid in that part of the world.
China shows no signs of slowing its overseas investments and aid as Beijing expands its global influence. On Thursday, El Salvador said China had pledged $150 million (£115 million) in aid to fund social and technological projects.
Asked whether he was concerned about China’s expansion in the Pacific region, Mr Morrison said only: “We are getting on with business with China. That’s what we’re doing.”'
Read more: Australia to spend £1 billion of taxpayer dollars to counter China influence in Pacific
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