SYDNEY – New Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to Indonesia on Sunday, where trade and security will be high on the agenda. His journey comes as Australian Foreign Secretary Penny Wong arrives Friday in Tonga – part of the new government in Canberra’s efforts to counter China’s growing ambitions in the Pacific.
Foreign policy has become a major focus of Australia’s new centre-left government.
Australia and Indonesia have worked closely together on terrorism and cybercrime. Last year they agreed to expand combined military training exercises and education programs.
However, experts have said bilateral trade has declined, partly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism, but also a perceived lack of knowledge among Australian companies about how to do business in Indonesia. The large Muslim-dominated country is Australia’s 14th largest commercial partner.
Wong said Australia will continue to improve relations with its regional partners.
“All the nations in the region understand that we are in a time of great change and that our region is being reformed and that all nations are trying to find their way in it in a way that is consistent with their interests,” she said. The Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, she said, “will give the countries in the region our perspective on where those interests are shared and what we can do to ensure they are preserved.”
Before flying to Indonesia, Wong will meet with leaders in Samoa and Tonga – her second visit to the South Pacific in just over a week as the new government in Canberra rushes to challenge China’s diplomatic efforts.
Beijing recently signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, a geographically strategic archipelago northeast of Australia.
However, other island nations have rejected a trade and security pact promoted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Some leaders in the region were reportedly unwilling to agree to China’s deal because they felt the process had been rushed.
Wang has maintained that Beijing has no intention of competing with other countries for influence in the region. Wang Yi’s tour of the South Pacific continues on Friday in Papua New Guinea.