Samoa PM plays down fears over China in Pacific

15 Aug 2019 / 22:32 H.

WELLINGTON: Pacific island leaders do not share Australia’s concerns about China’s rising influence in the region, Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi said Thursday.

While Canberra and Washington fear China’s long-term ambition is a military base in the Pacific, Malielegaoi said he was more interested in the practical aid Beijing offered.

“The bigger geopolitical issues don’t have importance to us as small island countries, whose only interest is to provide a modern living,“ he told TVNZ at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting being held in Tuvalu.

Australia and other western-aligned nations have launched diplomatic campaigns to limit China’s inroads in the region but Malielegaoi said all nations that offered help were welcome.

“Their enemies (Australia and its allies) are not our enemies,“ he said.

His comments come as Australia finds itself increasingly isolated in the 18-member PIF over its reluctance to take urgent action on climate change.

Leaders from the likes of Tuvalu, Palau and Fiji have accused Australia of not doing enough to deal with an “existential threat” to the region’s low-lying island nations.

PIF leaders held a marathon meeting aimed at issuing a communique reflecting member states concerns on the issue ahead of UN climate talks in New York next month.

But when the meeting ended late Thursday after more than 12 hours no communique was immediately available, despite requests to PIF officials.

Reports said that an initial draft declared a climate emergency but Australia, the wealthiest and largest of the PIF countries, insisted on softening the language.

Canberra also reportedly objected to calls for global warming to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the phasing out of coal power, and for countries around the world to aim for zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison concedes climate change is an issue but rejects suggestions it is a crisis requiring urgent action, arguing it can be managed in a way that does not hurt the economy.

Island nations disagree, saying they are threatened by rising seas and pummelled by cyclones that have become more regular and powerful due to climate change.

There has been disquiet in the Pacific over Australia’s recent approval for a giant coal mine in Queensland state and the fact that it is using an accounting loophole to meet emissions commitments made under the Paris agreement.

Morrison staunchly defends Australia’s record and says it is meeting all its climate commitments. — AFP

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