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Assistant Defence Minister gives outlook on Australia’s role in the Pacific

Assistant Defence Minister and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke has highlighted the government’s ambitions for the Pacific region during an address to the Sydney Institute.

Assistant Defence Minister and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke has highlighted the government’s ambitions for the Pacific region during an address to the Sydney Institute.

With the government's focus on the region primarily driven by concern about China's influence, despite their official political stance implying general good will for our regional neighbours, Minister Hawke's address was not surprisingly void of much talk of Beijing.

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However, China did feature once in his talk at the Sydney Institute.

"We know it has significant infrastructure and investment needs and we're going to be there the whole time to partner with other countries, to partner with multilateral donors, to partner with those that want to do the right thing by the people of the Pacific," Minister Hawke said.

"And that means people who are there to help them. We'll partner with anyone. We'll partner with the US. We'll partner with China, as long as we're doing things together that enhance the health, the education, the infrastructure, the outcomes for Pacific countries and Pacific peoples.

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And we urge those partners to join us in that commitment to the region."

Following the address, the Assistant Defence Minister was called out on the "lack of China" in his speech.

"OK, so competition for influence; security partner of choice; challenge the status quo," said a listener.

"One C word in the 3,000 words wasn't mentioned: China. How will China's foreign aid and soft power in the Pacific possibly force Australia to boost its foreign aid spending to keep influence among the Pacific nations?"

Minister Hawke replied, "Obviously, with the geostrategic environment we're in, the media often reports the entire Pacific region through the competition lens; the US versus China.

"Just within six months in a role, Pacific leaders, while they understand the region very well, they understand the geostrategic narrative that's been built, they understand their relationship where they are relative to China, to the US, to us; they don't see it all about competition.

"The great thing about Australia's role in the region is that we are the long-term partner, we're the trusted partner, we're the friend, we have the best relationship because we're genuine. Australians are good people, we deeply care, we're doing it not just for our own reasons, we're doing it because we believe in their mission to get better economic prosperity and improve quality of life in their countries, and we're the most reliable partner."

The Assistant Defence Minister went on to double down on his original statement, in that Australia is happy to "partner" China in the Indo-Pacific for key infrastructure works, and other efforts, if it's looking to better the region.

There's more than one issue with that official standpoint, as most readers would be aware.

It's no secret that China's one and only focus is to better China.

It says so itself in its Defence White Paper.

It's a standpoint that the government is well aware of, and has essentially been the inspiration for Australia's recent maritime acquisitions, such as the Attack Class submarine program and the Hunter Class frigates.

With China's naval capabilities growing rapidly every day, the Royal Australian Navy is being equipped with their own platforms in order to combat that.

Pretending that China is not our main focus for our region is moving past laughable towards frustrating, with the government's obsession with not offending our largest economic partner driving that attitude.

Assistant Defence Minister gives outlook on Australia’s role in the Pacific
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