SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia pledged on Tuesday to increase defense spending and strengthen diplomatic ties with neighboring Southeast Asian and Pacific nations as it seeks to counter economic influence and growing strategy of China in the region.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s first budget since his centre-left Labor government was elected in May increases defense funding by 8% in the financial year ending June 2023 and to more than 2% of proceeds gross domestic until mid-2026.
In addition, the government has included previously announced A$1.4 billion overseas aid, which includes A$900 million for Pacific island countries and A$470 million for Southeast Asia. East.
Concerned about China’s growing influence among Pacific island nations, Canberra has sought to improve relations with its smaller neighbours, many of whom have criticized Australia’s past lack of action on climate change and the rising from sea level.
Western nations expressed concern earlier this year when China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, although Honiara says the deal does not allow for a military base on its territory.
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Amid deteriorating relations with Beijing, Canberra and Washington have teamed up in two multilateral blocs to counter China’s influence: a group known as the “Quad,” which includes Japan and India, and AUKUS, which includes the UK.
“In handling relations with China, we will pursue our goals calmly and consistently,” the Foreign Ministry said in budget documents on Tuesday. “Where possible, we will engage constructively with China to address common challenges such as climate change. At the national level, we will work with key stakeholders to build resilience and social cohesion.”
The government will also appoint a special envoy to Southeast Asia and establish an office for Southeast Asia within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate whole-of-government efforts in the region.
To improve regional relations and address severe labor shortages in Australia, the government will grant 3,000 permanent visas to families of migrant workers from Pacific countries.
(Reporting by Sam Holmes; Editing by John Mair)
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