Wong works to keep Pacific security local

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Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the security of Pacific islands needs to remain in the hands of the region, as China tries to muscle its way in.

Senator Wong and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi are currently leap-frogging each other around island nations as Beijing attempts to secure 10 countries to sign up to a regional security partnership.

The security aspects of the proposed Chinese partnership with the region has been shelved but Mr Wang continues to tour Pacific island nations to sign a number of bilateral agreements and sell Beijing's regional development plan.

China wasn't specifically mentioned during Senator Wong's 20-minute press conference but she spoke of prioritising regional security partners over external agreements.

"We want regional security to be dealt with, to be the responsibility, of the Pacific family of which we are a part," she said during a joint press conference in Tonga.

"We will continue to engage with our friends, our partners in the region. We will respect and we will encourage others to respect the regional architecture."

The foreign minister says she has received correspondence from her Chinese counterpart following her election and would respond in due course as appropriate.

The Chinese premier had reached out to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese too, who also said he would respond in due course.

Senator Wong met with Tongan Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku and Tonga's foreign minister Fekita 'Utoikamanu on Friday, with discussions spanning climate change, reconstruction and visa issues.

Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku thanked the new Australian government for its stronger stance on climate change and developmental assistance.

Senator Wong says Australia will work through the priorities articulated by the Tongan government.

"(We'll) see where we are able to work together and how support or assistance can be structured," she said.

"We are not a government or a country that wants to come in and tell you what you should do.

"We see it in our interests and part of our responsibility as a member of the Pacific family to work with you and that's the approach we'll take."

Senator Wong met with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata`afa on Thursday, and pledged a replacement Guardian class patrol boat to assist with maritime surveillance in the region.

The trip comes a week after the new foreign minister visited Fiji and as the Chinese foreign minister tours 10 countries in the region.

Mr Wang is in Papua New Guinea just days after China put the regional security proposition on ice and watered down its proposal for the region in a release of its new position paper.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape has criticised the timing of Mr Wang's trip ahead of the country's election, saying no agreement should be signed before polling day and that it would be "improper" for China to offer security support in the run up to the election.

PNG has indicated it is unlikely to sign a new security deal, as the resource-rich nation maintains close defence ties with Australia.

Senator Wong said she would not be visiting PNG as the country prepares for its election.

"This is not an appropriate time for us to visit during the election campaign. As soon as the election is resolved, obviously, the prime minister and myself and other senior ministers will be very keen to engage with PNG again," she said.

"(Pacific) leaders understand the circumstances in which we live. We need to focus on how we work with regional regional partners for their development, for climate and for the border security issues."

with Reuters

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