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China shuns rivalry in Pacific as Australia says "this is our patch"

Reuters  |  BEIJING/SYDNEY 

By and Packham

BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) - and should be cooperating in the and not be cast as strategic rivals, China's top said on Thursday, after launched a multi-billion dollar fund to counter China's rising influence in the region.

Standing alongside Australian Marise Payne, Chinese made the conciliatory remarks after a meeting in widely billed as a step toward re-setting bilateral ties after a lengthy diplomatic chill.

Wang said that he had agreed with Payne that the two countries could combine their respective strengths and embark on trilateral cooperation with countries.

"We are not rivals, and we can absolutely become cooperation partners," Wang told reporters, describing the meeting as important after the recent "ups and downs" in the relationship.

Payne said the discussions were "valuable, full and candid".

Ties became strained late last year, when the previous Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, accused of interfering in its domestic affairs. The two countries have also been vying for influence in sparsely populated countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.

But even as his visited Beijing, characterised the Pacific as its domain while offering the region up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in cheap infrastructure loans and grants.

"This is our patch, this is our part of the world," Morrison said in his most detailed foreign policy speech since becoming in August.

Speaking in Queensland, Morrison said would invest in telecommunications, energy, transport and water projects in the region.

He also said would also expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific, posting staff to Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, and the

There are also plans to strengthen Australia's defence and security ties with through joint exercises and training.

Morrison did not name in the speech, but analysts said it was a clear response to China's spreading influence.

"Australia is reacting to what is doing. Australia needs more tools to engage with the Pacific," said Jonathan Pryke, a foreign policy expert with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

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

On Wednesday, said Australia would oppose a A$13 billion buyout of APA Group, Australia's biggest company, by Hong Kong's on grounds that it would be against the national interest.

While reiterating the government's stand on APA, Payne said Australia remained open to Chinese investment. Wang said Beijing welcomed that assurance.

Last December, Beijing took umbrage at Turnbull's comments and the subsequent introduction of legislation to counter foreign interference, which appeared to be directed in large part at China.

Prior to Payne's visit, China had unofficially suspended accepting visits by senior Australian ministers, and Chinese had carried numerous anti-Australian articles.

($1 = 1.3734 Australian dollars)

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, November 08 2018. 14:54 IST
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