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Australia is still playing a leading role in regional security, despite differences with Pacific Island nations on climate change mitigation and the presence of China in the region, James Batley writes.

Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper set out a vision of “helping to integrate Pacific island countries into the Australian and New Zealand economies and our security institutions”. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update outlined Australia’s ambition to “shape our environment” and “deter actions against our interests” from an array of threats and potential threats. While these don’t represent the totality of Australia’s policy approach, they are important themes in its Pacific Step-up.

Against this background, it is a commonplace observation that Australia’s relations in the Pacific have come under stress in recent years. The Pacific Islands Forum’s 2018 Boe Declaration, which describes climate change as “the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific”, is often held out as emblematic of the gap between Australia and the Pacific.

The other key area of difference is over geostrategic competition and the role of China. Many Pacific countries don’t share Australia’s strategic anxieties, or at least aren’t prepared to say so publicly. Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa famously said in 2019, “their [Australia and its allies] enemies are not our enemies.”

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