"(I) invite you to attend a Pacific Island leaders' meeting with the President of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, during his state visit to Papua New Guinea in the days before the APEC Leaders' Meeting," PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said in an address to the Fiji parliament in Suva yesterday.
O'Neill did not detail the meeting's agenda but the fact that Xi is seeking a sit-down with the region's small island nations will draw attention in Canberra, Wellington and beyond.
The region is also home to a cluster of Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies after Chinese efforts in recent years have whittled down the number of countries that continue to recognise the self-ruled island.
"It's with great clarity you can see we live in a much more highly stressed area of geo-political competition because we have left, some of us, a vacuum there which others would fill."
New Zealand released a defence policy paper last week that addressed the perceived threat from China in unusually blunt language.
It said Beijing was working to increase its influence in the Pacific and noted:
"China holds views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand." Peters acknowledged that Chinese diplomats had raised concerns about the country's portrayal in the paper but said it reflected reality.
"We don't do our population any service by gilding the lily and pulling our verbal punches, so to speak," he said. "We should tell the people exactly what's happening.
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