Dueling Pacific tours of China and Australia are making final stops

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The foreign ministers of Australia and China on Friday focused on what happened to a diplomatic duel in the South Pacific.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong arrived in Tonga, where she met with Prime Minister Huacameiliku and other officials, including King Tupu VI. Her visit came just three days after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held similar meetings in Tonga.

Wong and officials spoke about climate change and recovery efforts after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit in January. Also on the agenda was the controversial issue of regional security.

“We are not a government or a country that wants to come and tell you what you have to do,” Wong told a news conference in the capital, Nuku’alofa.

She said Australia considers itself part of the Pacific family.

“We want the Pacific family to be involved in regional security,” Wong said. “And we will continue to work with our friends, our partners in the region.”

Huacawmeiliku said Tonga was proud that Wong decided to visit him just two weeks after taking office after the Australian election.

“This is a clear sign of the Australian government’s strong commitment to strengthening our bilateral relations and cooperation with our region,” said the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Wang met in Papua New Guinea with Prime Minister James Marape and other officials ahead of a scheduled flight Friday afternoon to East Timor, the final point of his tour of the region with eight countries and the first outside the South Pacific. Wang is due to leave East Timor on Saturday.

This week, Wang hoped to conclude an ambitious multilateral deal with 10 countries in the South Pacific, covering everything from security to fisheries. He was unable to reach a consensus on the deal, but made smaller gains by signing bilateral agreements with many of the countries he visited.

The diplomatic push from China, especially in the area of ​​Pacific security, has caused deep concern to some island nations, as well as remote countries in Canberra and Washington. Ever since the news of the proposed deal surfaced, Wong has made two trips to the Pacific to support Australia.

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