The United States, Japan, Australia, Britain and New Zealand on Friday launched a new initiative to step up engagement with Pacific island countries amid China’s efforts to boost its influence in the region.
In launching the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) mechanism, the five countries vowed to pursue “more effective and efficient” ways to deal with challenges, including “growing pressure on the rules-based free and open international order.”
“As our countries—Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—continue to support prosperity, resilience, and security in the Pacific, we too must harness our collective strength through closer cooperation,” they said in a statement.
“This new initiative builds on our longstanding commitment to the region. Australia and New Zealand are of the region and members of the Pacific Islands Forum; Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States are founding Dialogue Partners.”
US…“We are united in our shared determination to support a region that benefits the peoples of the Pacific. We are also united in how we realize this vision—according to principles of Pacific regionalism, sovereignty, transparency, accountability, and most of all, led and guided by the Pacific Islands,” they added.
The United States said it plans to invite related foreign ministers later this year to review progress on the PBP.
Earlier this month, Australia pushed back against China’s new security pact with Solomon Islands, saying the Pacific region has no need of outside help to protect itself.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong delivered the message on a one-day visit to the capital Honiara, the latest destination in a South Pacific travel blitz to parry China’s diplomatic and security maneuvers in the region.
“Australia’s view does remain that the Pacific family should be responsible for our security,” she said after meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“The Pacific family is more than capable of providing that security,” said Wong.
The security pact had fed fears in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan that China may establish a military presence in Solomon Islands, less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Australia.
The agreement has not been made public, but a leaked draft showed it would allow Chinese naval deployments to the islands.