CANBERRA—Australia opened embassies in the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia on Tuesday as Canberra accelerates its efforts to counter growing competition from China for influence in the Pacific.
"Australia is committed to continuing to work closely with our Pacific partners for a region that is prosperous and secure," a joint statement from Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja read.
Australia now has 19 embassies in the Pacific, including new ones opened in the last 3 years in Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Palau and Niue. It claims to have the largest diplomatic presence in the Pacific of any country.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia will spend 747 million Australian dollars ($580 million) to upgrade four northern military bases and expand war games with the United States,
In an announcement that comes amid an increasingly bitter diplomatic and trade spat with China, Morrison said Australia must expand its military assets in the Northern Territory to be able to respond to unspecified tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.
"Our objective is a free and open Indo-Pacific, to ensure a peaceful region, one that, at the same time, Australia is in a position to always protect its interests," Morrison told reporters in Darwin.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Stephen Coates)