During a press conference with foreign affairs minister Penny Wong in the Fijian capital of Suva, prime minister Anthony Albanese welcomed US vice-president Kamala Harris’ announcement of an increased US presence in the Pacific.
Albanese is in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), with Harris making what Albanese described as an ‘important’ announcement virtually to the conference on Wednesday morning.
Part of the announcement was the establishment of two US embassies in the region: one in Tonga and one in Kiribati. Harris also announced $500 million for the Forum Fisheries Agency, in exchange for fishing rights.
“The message [to China] is very clear: the United States has a presence in the Pacific and has for a longer period of time,” Albanese said.
The prime minister agreed Australia has not paid enough attention to the Pacific region in the past, although he would not be drawn to comment on whether the absences of both Australia and the US in the region were the results of failures from the respective previous leaders, Scott Morrison and Donald Trump.
“Personal relations between leaders are really important. The Pacific Way — as it’s called as well — is one in which you sit and you listen to each other and you engage on that personal level,” Albanese said.
With Beijing’s presence in the region a concern in recent months, the prime minister said he would be having a ‘respectful discussion’ about a permanent Chinese presence in the Solomon Islands, adding he would be discussing the issue with the nation’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, in meetings on Wednesday afternoon.
“We respect the sovereignty of nations,” Albanese added.
The Australian prime minister reiterated he wishes to listen to the needs of Pacific nations, and would not be seeking a ‘transactional’ relationship.
Albanese commented a few times during the conference there was no challenge greater in the Pacific region than climate change.
Wong added a decision had not been made on whether Australia would be joining the Green Climate Fund, a global fund designed to invest in climate-resilient development.