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International Relations

Australia and New Zealand eye new Pacific security framework

Closer ties with island neighbors seen as a bulwark against rising China

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern discussed economic and security issues in a meeting in Sydney in March.   © Reuters

SYDNEY -- Australia and New Zealand are considering upgrading a security arrangement with Pacific island nations, seeking to counter China's moves to expand its influence through development assistance.

The two nations and their Pacific neighbors are expected to agree on tighter cooperation on defense, humanitarian aid and disaster relief when their leaders meet in September at a Pacific Islands Forum summit in Nauru. It is expected to build on the Biketawa Declaration inked by forum members in 2000.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cited the need to respond to emerging regional threats, a veiled reference to China's expansion.

Beijing has used its financial clout to bankroll infrastructure construction in the region, extending its sphere of influence. China furnished more than $1.7 billion in development assistance to eight Pacific island nations between 2006 and mid-2016, according to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute. Reports emerged in April that China was considering building a military base on Vanuatu, though these were denied by both countries.

Australia, alarmed by this trend, has stepped up its involvement in the region. Canberra agreed in April to provide most of the funding for an undersea cable between the Solomon Islands and Australia, scrapping a previous deal by the islands to have China's Huawei Technologies build the link. Australia also said last month it will start negotiating a security treaty with Vanuatu.

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