Leaders at the Pacific Island Forum will focus acutely on regional issues and postpone the usual sideline meetings of superpowers.
The July 12 to 14 forum to be held in Fiji would usually be an opportunity for leaders to meet with partner countries such as the US and China. However there are more pressing issues for the region, Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said.
The focus will be to strengthen inter-Pacific relationships during the first face-to-face forum since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“I completely support and agree with the leadership’s view that the main focus for the leaders’ week should be on strengthening relationships,” Mr Conroy told AAP on Wednesday.
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Both Australia and New Zealand are forum members and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will attend. Countries including the US, China, Japan and Canada are considered partners.
The ABC reports Beijing has invited the foreign ministers of 10 Pacific island nations to a virtual meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the final day of the forum.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong sought respect from all major powers engaging in the Pacific, when asked about Beijing’s invitation on Wednesday.
“I gave my first speech as foreign minister in the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji for a reason and I did it because we respect regional architecture,” she told reporters in Malaysia.
Mr Conroy will attend the forum and said one of the main focuses is ensuring the sovereignty of Pacific nations is respected after China pushed a regional security deal.
“It’s my firm view that the security of the Pacific is the responsibility of the Pacific family of which Australia is apart,” he said.
“Australia is a partner that won’t come with strings attached, nor impose unsustainable financial burdens.
“We’re a partner that won’t erode Pacific priorities or institutions, instead we believe in transparency and we believe in true partnerships.”
In recent weeks the Chinese foreign minister toured eight island nations spruiking a regional security agreement after signing a bilateral one with the Solomon Islands.
Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe withdrew from the United Nations Ocean Conference in Portugal this week in protest after accusing Beijing of coercion against his delegation.
Forum members Tuvalu and Nauru maintain diplomatic relationships with Taiwan.
China sought to remove Taiwanese delegates from Tuvalu’s credentials list, issuing an ultimatum that if they were to attend, China would challenge the full contingent’s participation, according to Mr Kofe.
“Tuvalu is a sovereign country, and it has the right to compose delegations for international conferences according to what best suits the nation,” he said in a statement.
“Although Tuvalu does not maintain diplomatic relations with China, we respect all nations, and we expect that all nations will respect us.
“Although we are small, we should not be treated as a lesser nation.”