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Pacific group to focus on China concerns

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China’s ambitions in the Pacific are a concern for some Pacific Island leaders, but a growing US partnership with allies in the region aims to address issues such as climate change, health and technology links.

Australia is part of the Partners In The Blue Pacific – a group formed in June that includes the United States, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday hosted a meeting with foreign ministers from group.

US officials briefing reporters on the meeting said Canada and Germany intended to formally join the initiative, which seeks to coordinate assistance to the strategically vital region in the face of competition from China.

“I think as we’ve seen in some instances, clearly China has ambitions in the Pacific, some of which have caused concern among Pacific Island leaders,” White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said on Thursday.

But he said the group’s agenda would be guided by Pacific Island countries’ needs.

“When we engage with Pacific Islanders one of the first things that they say is that for us national security really involves our environment and how climate change is an existential issue for them,” Mr Campbell said.

The Blue Pacific event, held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, comes ahead of a summit later this month that US President Joe Biden plans to host with Pacific island leaders.

The Biden administration has said that summit reflects its commitment to Pacific Island countries, whose leaders said this month Washington should accept their priorities, making climate change – not superpower competition – the most urgent security task.

Mr Campbell added that the group was also working on increasing connectivity among island states.

“That can only be accomplished through the laying of … undersea cables. And so, I think the challenge is before us,” he said.

“We think it’s important, and it will require financing and capacity, not just of any one state, but our combined efforts together.”

– AAP

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