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Australia, South Pacific islands bolster ties as China's clout grows

Canberra ramps up diplomacy via regional defense chiefs' meeting and bilateral talks

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, second from left, with counterparts from the South Pacific in Tonga. He visited Papua New Guinea before the meeting, and will later head to Fiji. (Photo courtesy of Australia's Defense Ministry)

SYDNEY -- Defense chiefs from Australia, New Zealand and other countries with a stake in the South Pacific kicked off their annual meeting Tuesday in Tonga, as Canberra seeks to strengthen cooperation to counter China's influence in the region.

This is the first South Pacific Defense Ministers' Meeting to be held in person since 2019. The framework also includes Chile, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and France -- which maintains a military presence in its territory of New Caledonia -- and is expected to issue a joint statement as early as Wednesday.

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