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Penny Wong steps up in Pacific as China’s regional presence grows

Penny Wong has promised Australia will put the Pacific at the heart of its strategy as she continues her tour of the region.

The Foreign Minister touched down in Wellington on Thursday to meet with New Zealand counterpart Nanaia Mahuta.

The rise of China was the hot topic of discussion as both ministers reaffirmed their commitment to “working collectively to meet security needs” of the Indo-Pacific.

Both leaders stressed Australia and New Zealand needed to work with Pacific nations to avoid them becoming indebted to international actors, such as China.

“The sustainability and debt financing for developing countries, particularly those in our region, is of interest to both our nations,” the foreign minister said.

“It goes to sovereignty and choice and it goes to stability. It also potentially goes to security of the region.”

Senator Wong held talks in New Zealand on Thursday. Supplied
Camera IconSenator Wong held talks in New Zealand on Thursday. Supplied Credit: Supplied
She spoke with News Zealand counterpart Hon Nanaia Mahuta. Supplied
Camera IconShe spoke with News Zealand counterpart Hon Nanaia Mahuta. Supplied Credit: Supplied

It comes ahead of Senator Wong’s visit to the Solomon Islands on Friday, the first by an Australian minister since Honiara signed off on a security agreement with Beijing.

It’s expected the Foreign Minister will seek reassurances from President Manasseh Sogavare that the pact would not lead to a military base in his nation.

Senator Wong’s next stop is the Solomon Islands. Supplied
Camera IconSenator Wong’s next stop is the Solomon Islands. Supplied Credit: Supplied

In opposition, Senator Wong was vocal about the government’s failure to shore up Australia’s position in the Pacific.

Since being sworn in, the Foreign Minister has paid visits to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Speaking to reporters in New Zealand, Senator Wong acknowledged Australia had ground to make up with Pacific nations, particularly in relation to climate change.

“Australia has more to do as a member of the Pacific family,” she said.

“Part of why I wanted to engage really early is because we do have ground to make up.”

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