The government today is denying it took sides in the savage showdown between China and the United States which dominated the weekend’s APEC summit.
But a range of observers believe Australia firmly planted itself in America’s corner as our traditional security ally clashed with our biggest trade customer.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said a joint project to develop a naval port on Manus Island had been at the request of the Papua New Guinea government, and there had not been “competition” with China for the base.
“It shouldn’t be seen in the context of China,” Mr Pyne told ABC radio of the project to be funded from the defence budget and to initially be a base for patrol boats.
“It should be seen in the context of Australia being responsible for a large part of the South West Pacific in terms of assisting and supporting our friends and family.”
And he said other projects in the region – combating people smugglers, “environmental vandals”, illegal fishing, disaster relief – was Australia fulfilling its “particular responsibilities” to regional neighbours.
“It’s not actually the intention of the government to do anything other than support the 22 countries in the South West Pacific,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a scheme to increase renewable energy generation at the weekend.
However, the US-China encounter overwhelmed the summit and was so disruptive that for the first time in three decades the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting could not co-operate on issuing a joint final communique.
America wanted to highlight “unfair” trade practices and reform of the World Trade Organisation. China rejected the move and the communique collapsed.
US Vice President Mike Pence made clear at the APEC Saturday sessions the US was prepared to take on China over the trade imbalance which favours Beijing.
And the US and Australia united in offering the region an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative to Pacific countries by offering loans for infrastructure programs in which it becomes a partner with significant influence over the host government.
Mr Pence said Saturday: “The United States deals openly and fairly – and we don’t offer a constructing belt or a one-way road,” he said.
“When you partner with us, we partner with you, and we all prosper.”
Mr Morrison today told reporters Australia had pursued its own interests which was based on backing both sides.
“And our interests are to continue to work with our partners in the region,” he said.
“A comprehensive strategic partner in China of course, but also our dear and long-held friend and ally the United States.
“We’ll continue to pursue our specific interests here and work together.”
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