The dollars and sense of Australia’s China challenge in the South Pacific

Follow the dollars to see what worries Australia about China in the South Pacific.

The cash flows to Melanesia from an alert and alarmed Australia: the partnership to electrify 70% of Papua New Guinea; a fibre-optic cable from Honiara to Sydney, and then a similar cable network around PNG; $2 billion to buy a phone network; $580 million for ports in PNG; and up to $1 billion to create a constant over-the-horizon radar view of Melanesia.

The Australian government’s Pacific ‘step-change’ got going in 2016, quickly becoming the ‘step-up’ because the bureaucracy preferred to see it as evolution not change. Australia has added an infrastructure dimension to its role as the largest aid giver in the islands. Canberra’s version of ‘dual use’ is where island needs meet our strategic denial instinct: infrastructure from us to stop China getting in.

China reminds Australia of abiding interests in our island arc; as puckishly expressed by one of…

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