Morrison’s Pacific trip needs to be more than a one-off
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has kicked off the new year by visiting our Pacific neighbours Vanuatu and Fiji in a bid to bolster relations.
It is undeniable that China’s growing influence in the region is at the core of this highly unusual trip.
China’s expansion in the Pacific is unnerving to say the least, and the last prime ministerial visits to Vanuatu and Fiji were in 1990 and 2006 respectively, both of which were to attend forums.
This absence has not gone unnoticed, but it doesn’t mean that relationships cannot be improved and past squabbles resolved.
The Prime Minister’s show of goodwill is certainly a step in the right direction.
Now it just needs to be maintained.
Australia’s relationship with its regional partners has been somewhat rocky and, in recent times, largely reactionary to China’s moves.
The problem is that the Pacific nations are not naïve teenagers searching for direction.
They have established governments and laws, and, frankly, the assumption that they cannot do anything without the backing of Canberra, Beijing or Washington is insulting.
If Australia wants strong ties with its Pacific partners then it must commit to long-term, relationship-building projects.
Australia provides more aid to the Pacific than any other country does, with China coming in second place.
Most of the aid supplied by Canberra is focused on social development, such as education, while Beijing mostly funds infrastructure.
However, money isn’t everything. If it was, then why wouldn’t the Pacific nations simply say goodbye to Australia and cosy up to the world’s second-largest economy?
They want genuine acts of friendship, such as expanding worker and travel agreements, increased tourism, and joint action on climate change.
Basically, they want Australia to show a genuine interest in their development while having their sovereignty respected.
The Prime Minister has made a fine start, but there is plenty left to do.
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