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Australian support for Pacific neighbours comes ‘without strings attached’, Foreign Minister says

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has again stressed Australia’s support for Pacific island nations comes “without strings attached”.

Speaking to reporters in Port Moresby on Monday, Senator Wong repeated what appears to be a veiled condemnation of China’s efforts to increase its own influence in the region.

Senator Wong said she understood Papua New Guinea “obviously has relationships with other nations” but Australia was committed to strengthening ties with its nearest neighbour and suggested the island nations should look at the impacts on their sovereignty when striking deals with others.

Camera IconForeign Minister Penny Wong is on a diplomatic trip to Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste this week. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

“The approach Australia takes to infrastructure is … to give support that is transparent, that meets genuine needs, that delivers long term benefits and avoids unsustainable debt and those strings attached,” she said.

Senator Wong has repeated this message to regional neighbours often since she first embarked on a diplomatic blitz of the Pacific shortly after the Albanese government was elected in May.

On Monday, she delivered what appeared to be another coded message about China.

“I think the question for countries, as they navigate what is a more contested time, is: do relationships or investments contribute to strengthening your sovereignty?” she said.

“And that’s a decision for sovereign nations.”

Senator Wong will this week meet with Papua New Guinea’s newly re-elected prime minister James Marape before travelling to Timor-Leste on Wednesday to meet with officials there.

Her visit to Port Moresby comes amid reports that China is eyeing the purchase of a cluster of island atolls in Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay, which are privately owned by an Australian businessman.

The Albanese government has put considerable effort into strengthening Australia’s relationships with other nations in the Pacific in an effort to quell Beijing’s aggressive diplomatic push into the region.

The final weeks of the Morrison government prior to the Australian federal election were marred by alarm among Western officials over the signing of a controversial security pact between Solomon Islands and China.

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