CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said Friday after a meeting with his New Zealand counterpart that the two nations are in lockstep in their policies toward the Pacific islands, where China’s influence is growing.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became the first foreign leader to visit Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Australia since he was elected on May 21. Both lead center-left administrations and Ardern described the Albanese Labor Party’s election after almost a decade in opposition as a reset in the bilateral relationship.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States have voiced concerns that a new Beijing security pact with the Solomon Islands could result in a Chinese military base being established there. The Solomons and China have both denied that that will happen.
Asked if Australia wants New Zealand to do more to counter China’s rise in the Pacific, Albanese told reporters in Sydney: “We’re in lockstep on the Pacific.”
“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Ardern, working with our democratic neighbors,” Albanese said.
Albanese and his Foreign Minister Penny Wong flew to Tokyo within hours of being sworn into office for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the regional security threat posed by China.
Wong then flew from Japan to the Pacific islands for meetings with government leaders while China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also embarked on a Pacific tour.
Wang failed in a bold Chinese plan to get 10 Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping new agreement that would have covered everything from security to fisheries. But he succeeded in clinching several bilateral agreements.
Ardern said many countries had chosen to continue economic relationships with China rather than sign security agreements.
“Let’s hear from the Pacific on these issues,” Ardern said.
Albanese said Australia, the biggest foreign aid donor in the region, was being taken seriously by its neighbors since his administration promised greater action on greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the low-lying Pacific islands consider climate change their most pressing and existential threat.
The previous government had committed to reducing Australia’s emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Albanese’s government has promised a 43% reduction.
New Zealand was heartened by Australia’s greater ambition, Ardern said. New Zealand’s target by the end of the decade is 30%.
“The Pacific region has listed climate change as its number one threat,” Ardern said. “I know with regards to New Zealand we have a lot more to do, but we welcome being joined on that journey by Australia.”