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Resettlement offer to Pacific a win for Australia over China

Sydney/Beijing: Australiascoredasignificantwinforinfluence in thePacificIslands region withatrump card thatChina, seekingtoexpand security ties, doesn’t have: the opportunity ofresettlement.

Underasecurity guaranteetothe remote atoll nation of Tuvalu, which is threatened by rising sea levels,Australiawillofferpermanent residencyto280 Tuvalu citizens each year.

The treaty, signed on Friday by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his counterpart Kausea Natano, could transformAustralia’s relationship with thePacific, analysts say.

“It is somethingChinacan’t do,” said Australian National UniversityPacificexpert Graeme Smith.

The treaty was announced after parliament recently passed legislationforawider schemeofferingpermanent settlementfor3,000PacificIslanders annually inaballot from next year.

Defence Minister Richard Marles called the treaty with Tuvalua”watershed in our relationship with thePacific”, representinga”much greater commitmentforAustraliatobe providing more of Tuvalu’s defence”.

The sequencing of Albanese’s whirlwind of diplomatic visits – Washington, Beijingaweek later, and then directlytoaPacificIslands leaders meeting in Rarotonga, sent “clear signalstoeveryone involved”, said Peter Dean, director of foreign policy and defence at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney.

“The number one strategic objective of Australian governments since federation in this region has beentoensure another great power whose interests are not alignedtoits own doesn’t getafoothold in the region,” he said.

“Chinacan turn up andoffermore infrastructure money… they can’t turn up andofferthis kind ofresettlementrelationship. It serves asamodelforthe region.”

Despite the improved diplomatic tone betweenAustraliaandChinaafter Albanese’s tour last week, the first in seven years by an Australian leader, security tensions remain as Beijing expands its role in thePacificIslands.

Australiahas sent 450 police and military officerstoSolomon Islands, which signedasecurity pact withChinalast year,toprovide securityforthePacificGames which open on Sunday, joining regional forces from Fiji and Papua New Guinea,toensure there is no gapforChinese policetofill.

Australiaalso will be abletoblock any policing deal betweenChinaand Tuvalu – as well as any telecommunications, energy or port deal – under its treaty.

State-ownedChinaCivil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) had built Tuvalu’s harbour in 2019,tothe concern of diplomatic ally Taiwan which lost Solomon Islands and KiribatitoBeijing’s overtures in the same year.

“The game is not goingtopause becauseAustraliaandChinarelations areabit warmer, or even ifChina-US competition somehow diminishesabit,” said Smith.

Wang Yiwei, an international relations professor at the Renmin University in Beijing, said rivalry betweenChinaand the United States in thePacificIslands, with each seekingtoblock the other, had heightenedAustralia’s sensitivitytoevery Chinese move.

The “strategic game” betweenChinaand the US was now onAustralia’s doorstep, he said.

“Cooperation in thePacificregion tendstofocus on non-traditional security, including maintenance of public security and infrastructuretodeal with climate change,” he added.

“These should not be considered too security-related, but the United States is still relatively sensitive, andAustraliais also more sensitive.”

(Published 13 November 2023, 10:08 IST)

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