LISA MURRAY | Australian Financial Review | Extracts
SYDNEY - The Australian government has announced the next leg of its Pacific step-up ahead of Scott Morrison’s visit to Tuvalu this week, spending $19 million on establishing a new security college to train officials from the region.
The latest security initiative comes as Mr Morrison is set to face strong criticism at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting this week over Australia’s climate change policies and its support for the Adani coal mine.
The college, being set up in partnership with the Australian National University, is aimed at boosting links between security and police officials across the Pacific amid concern about China’s expanding investment and influence.
Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute, said Mr Morrison would be bracing himself ahead of this week's forum.
Leaders from low-lying Pacific Islands nations are under threat from rising seas and have called for greater emissions reductions and urgent action on climate change.
"He has to be ready to be the bad guy at the meeting," said Mr Pryke. "Tuvalu is the most vulnerable and exposed nation to climate change in the Pacific."
Still, while criticism of Australia's position will complicate relations and make it hard for Canberra to appear genuine, Mr Pryke doesn't expect this to get in the way of its renewed focus on the region.
"Pacific leaders are pragmatic," he said. "They will use the attention and leverage for their own interests as you would expect any country to do but it won't derail the Pacific step-up."
Australia is not the only country that has sharpened its focus on the Pacific. New Zealand has dubbed its policy the Pacific Reset and Britain has the Pacific Uplift. Japan, alongside the US and Australia, is spending more on infrastructure in the region.
Australia and the US have pledged to develop a joint naval base on Manus Island in response to concerns about China's growing sway in Papua New Guinea, where it has been spending up on infrastructure projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The region was also rocked by reports last year, denied by Beijing, that it was seeking to establish a military presence in Vanuatu.
Mr Pryke said there could be "huge soft power value" in Australia's security college, which will be formally launched in September after ANU does more consultation with Pacific Island countries.
In an announcement on Saturday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the college would "deliver strategic security and leadership training to Pacific security agencies" and its alumni network would "help build a community of practice on regional security issues" and "support close collaboration on cross-border matters".