Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated on Sunday that Australia was able to prevent a Chinese “incursion” into the Pacific islands by meeting with leaders on a weekly basis and offering vaccine assistance.
Concerns about China’s military intentions in the region spurred US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to announce last month that Washington would open a Solomon Islands embassy after China gave police and riot equipment to the Solomon Islands.
He explained that this was because Australia engaged closely with the region, including giving COVID-19 vaccines before others could help.
“I speak with Pacific leaders every week, and it is because we share values with the Pacific that we are able to stop incursions into our region,” he said.
Although China has boosted infrastructure lending and help, as well as providing military weapons to regional hub Fiji, Australia has historically been the main aid giver to the Pacific islands.
China has previously stated that Australia and the US are “reviving a Cold War mentality,” while China’s help will “create a community with a shared future for China and Pacific island countries.”
Tensions between Australia and China, two major trading partners, have intensified after Beijing imposed tariffs on Australian goods in retaliation for Canberra’s call for a probe into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Morrison, who is up for re-election in May, has made his government’s tough language on China a centrepiece of his re-election campaign.