Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the security of the Pacific islands must remain in the hands of the region as China tries to forge its way.
Senator Wong and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are currently jostling over island nations as Beijing tries to convince 10 countries to sign a regional security partnership.
Security aspects of China’s proposed partnership with the region have been shelved, but Wang continues to visit Pacific island nations to sign a number of bilateral agreements and sell Beijing’s regional development plan.
China was not specifically mentioned during Senator Wong’s 20-minute press conference, but she did talk about prioritizing regional security partners over outside deals.
“We want regional security to be taken care of, to be the responsibility of the Pacific family of which we are a part,” she told a joint press conference in Tonga.
“We will continue to engage with our friends, our partners in the region. We will respect and encourage others to respect the regional architecture.”
The foreign minister said she received correspondence from her Chinese counterpart after her election and would respond in due course, if any.
The Chinese Premier also contacted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who also said he would respond in due course.
Senator Wong met with Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku and Tonga Foreign Minister Fekita ‘Utoikamanu on Friday, with discussions covering climate change, reconstruction and visa issues.
Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku thanked Australia’s new government for its tougher stance on climate change and development aid.
Senator Wong said Australia would adhere to the priorities set by the Tonga government.
“(We will see) where we can work together and how support or assistance can be structured,” she said.
“We are not a government or a country that wants to come and tell you what to do.
“We consider it in our interest and part of our responsibility as part of the Pacific family to work with you and that is the approach we will take.”
Senator Wong met with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata`afa on Thursday and promised a replacement Guardian-class patrol boat to help with maritime surveillance in the area.
The Chinese delegation continues its tour in the region
The trip comes a week after the new foreign minister’s visit to Fiji and as the Chinese foreign minister visits 10 countries in the region.
Wang is in Papua New Guinea just days after China put the regional security proposal on ice and watered down its proposal for the region in the release of its new position paper.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape criticized the timing of Mr Wang’s trip ahead of the country’s elections, saying no deal should be signed before Election Day and that it would be “inappropriate” for the China offers security support ahead of elections.
PNG has indicated it is unlikely to sign a new security deal as the resource-rich nation has close defense ties with Australia.
Senator Wong has said she will not travel to PNG as the country prepares for its election.
“Now is not the time to visit us during the election campaign.
As soon as the election is resolved, obviously the Prime Minister, myself and other senior ministers will be very keen to re-engage with PNG,” she said.
“The (Pacific) leaders understand the circumstances we live in. We need to focus on how we work with regional regional partners on their development, climate and border security issues.”
Additional reports: Reuters