China's power play in South Pacific meets Australian rebuttal

French President Emmanuel Macron former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on the deck of HMAS Waller

In a speech at a military base in Queensland, Mr Morrison said a strong, stable Pacific region would assist Australia's security and economic growth.

The Federal Government will also offer billions of dollars in infrastructure grants and long-term loans as it moves to combat China's growing influence in the region.

But Mr Morrison attempted to play down suggestions that the new measures in the Pacific were aimed at China.

The Australian government's rejection of a Chinese bid to take over an energy infrastructure company does not indicate a change in the country's openness to doing business with China, Foreign Minister Marie Payne said Thursday. The two countries have also been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.

"Australia's national security and that of the Pacific are intertwined", Mr Morrison will say at the Army's Lavarack Barracks.

"This is our patch, this is our part of the world", Morrison said in his most detailed foreign policy speech since becoming prime minister in August.

China has spent over a billion dollars on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing. Diplomats will be placed in all 18 countries in the Pacific Islands Forum, with new embassies planned for Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

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To complement the new fund, the Government plans to give Australia's export financing agency access to an extra $1 billion to invest in projects "which has a broad national benefit for Australia".

Ties between Australia and China, its largest trading partner, have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late past year.

The two countries have endured turbulent ties following Canberra's introduction of laws late past year to curb foreign interference - measures that were seen as aimed at Beijing.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne hold the fifth China-Australia Foreign and Strategic Dialogue in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 8, 2018.

Australia's foreign minister raised China's internment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang at a meeting with her Chinese counterpart on Thursday as Beijing comes under increasing global scrutiny over its controversial security policy.

Last week, Australia said it and Papua New Guinea (PNG) would jointly redevelop a naval base on PNG's Manus Island, eclipsing China as a possible port development partner.

Mr Wang signalled that Beijing was committed to continuing the recent thaw in relations.

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