To counter China, Australia plans US$1.5 billion Pacific infrastructure fund

Commander of Joint Operations Australian Defence forces Vice Admiral David Johnston and US Army in the Pacific commander General Robert Brown

Commander of Joint Operations Australian Defence forces Vice Admiral David Johnston and US Army in the Pacific commander General Robert Brown

"My government is returning the Pacific to where it should be - front and centre of Australia's strategic outlook, foreign policy and personal connections, including at the highest levels of government", Mr Morrison said in a speech in Townsville on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce a $US1.5 billion fund to provide loans to Pacific nations today, in a speech putting forward the Government's new foreign policy strategy in the Pacific.

Australia will also establish a Defence Force mobile training team for deployment to the Pacific to upskill local forces.

China has spent over a billion dollars on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

"This US$2 billion infrastructure initiative will significantly boost Australia's support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries and Timor Leste", according to a speech Morrison is due to deliver in the state of Queensland and seen by Reuters.

To complement the new fund, the Government plans to give Australia's export financing agency access to an extra $1 billion to invest in projects "which has a broad national benefit for Australia".

The Coalition has previously been accused of failing to take the region seriously after Mr Morrison downgraded the Pacific portfolio in his ministry and skipped the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru.

Mr Morrison will also speak to commercial TV networks about getting more Australian TV programming and sport available in Pacific countries.

Mr Morrison will announce new diplomatic missions in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

Australian Council for International Development chief executive Marc Purcell warned the fund must not add to the Pacific's problems.

"It's where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs".

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne is scheduled to meet her Chinese counterpart in Beijing today, the first visit by a senior Canberra in two years after bilateral relations soured.

He announced the creation of an Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific to develop energy, communications and transport projects.

Earlier this month, Australia said it would help PNG develop a naval base, beating out China as a possible partner for the port development.

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