Australia launches $1.5bn Pacific fund to counter China’s influence

This file photo taken on August 22, 2018 shows Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison attending a press conference in Parliament House in Canberra. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Australia launches $1.5bn Pacific fund to counter China’s influence

  • Australia said it will also strengthen defense and security ties with Pacific islands through new joint exercises and training

SYDNEY: Australia will offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, as Canberra seeks to counter China’s rising influence in the region.
Australia and China have been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.
China has spent $1.3 billion on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.
“The government I have the privilege to lead, is returning the Pacific to where it should be; front and center,” Morrison said in a speech announcing the new Pacific initiative.
“This is our patch. This is our part of the world.”
Morrison said Australia will create a A$2 billion infrastructure fund that will invest in telecommunications, energy, transport, water projects.
Australia will also give an additional A$1 billion to its financing arm, which offers loans to private companies unable to secure funds from traditional lenders, to invest in the Pacific.
Morrison said Australia would also expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific, posting staff to Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.
Australia said it will also strengthen defense and security ties with Pacific islands through new joint exercises and training.
While Morrison did not name China in his most detailed foreign policy speech since he become Australia’s sixth prime minister in the last decade in August, few were in doubt as to who the policy was aimed at combating.
“Australia is reacting to what China is doing. Australia needs more tools to engage with the Pacific,” said Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific Islands foreign policy expert with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.
Ties between Australia and China, its largest trading partner, have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late last year.
“This announcement will be a gauge of whether Australia can improve relations with Beijing while doing things that would have previously annoyed China,” said Nick Bisley, professor of international relations at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne will on Thursday meet her Chinese counterpart in Beijing, the first visit by an Australian foreign minister in two years after bilateral relations soured.
Australia has in recent months earmarked the Pacific for infrastructure spending, driven by national security concerns, but it has been forced to raid its aid budget to fund projects.
In May, Australia said it would spend about A$200 million to develop an undersea Internet cables to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands amid national security concerns about China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.
Earlier this month, Australia said it would help PNG develop a naval base, beating out China as a possible partner for the port development.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters Australia was worried the port could accommodate military vessels in strategically important waters. ($1 = 1.3757 Australian dollars)


UN report: Sex abuse in UN peacekeeping drops, up elsewhere

A UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) liaison fixes her colleagues hat as they attend the UNIFLIS's 40th anniversary celebration at its base in Lebanon's southern border town of Naqura on the border with Israel, south of Beirut, on March 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 26 min 37 sec ago
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UN report: Sex abuse in UN peacekeeping drops, up elsewhere

  • Guterres said the increase in those allegations was possibly due to "awareness-raising" and improved reporting by the 30 U.N. agencies, funds and programs

UNITED NATIONS: Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in U.N. peacekeeping missions decreased in 2018 — but allegations against other U.N. personnel and against staff of organizations implementing U.N. programs increased, according to a U.N. report released Monday.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the U.N. General Assembly circulated Monday that the alleged victims were mainly women and children.
The United Nations has long been in the spotlight over allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo. But the latest figures demonstrate again that sexual misconduct spans the entire U.N. system and beyond to outside organizations helping to implement its programs on the ground.
Guterres stressed the U.N.'s "zero-tolerance" policy and said he has embarked on "a cultural transformation" to eliminate sexual abuse and exploitation throughout the U.N. system, which comprises more than 90,000 staff and over 100,000 uniformed personnel.
According to the report, the number of cases in U.N. peacekeeping and political missions dropped to 54 in 2018 from 62 in 2017, and from 104 reported cases in 2016. It said 74 percent of the allegations in 2018 came from the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Central African Republic and Congo, and the remaining 24 percent from the peacekeeping missions in Mali, Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan.
By comparison, there were 94 reported cases of sexual exploitation elsewhere in the United Nations system, and 109 allegations involving U.N. partner organizations, the report said.
Guterres said the increase in those allegations was possibly due to "awareness-raising" and improved reporting by the 30 U.N. agencies, funds and programs.
The U.N. chief stressed that continuing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse "harms those we serve, undermines the United Nations values and principles and tarnishes the reputation of the women and men who work with integrity and dedication to realize the objectives of the organization."