Australian Prime Minister set to woo Pacific leaders at annual forum


FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Wednesday arrive in Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific Island, to start wooing a region that Canberra fears is edging closer to China.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at the Istana Presidential Palace in Singapore, 07 June 2019. Wallace Woon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Morrison will spend two days in Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum, an annual gathering of regional leaders.

Morrison faces a muted reception after his pledge of A$500 million ($339.85 million) to invest in renewable energy generation and prepare for the impact of climate change was publicly dismissed by several island leaders.

The low-lying Pacific islands are on the front line of global climate change, battling rising sea levels and other climate-related crises that have forced some residents to move to higher ground.

Eager to smooth ties, Morrison is expected to meet Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga on the sidelines of the forum.

Morrison will also meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday.

Australia has resisted strengthening emission reduction targets, arguing it would cause too much damage to its economy that is dependent on the mining industry.

Australia in 2016 promised to cut emissions by between 26%-28% from 2005 levels by 2030, though it continues to support its coal mining industry.

In June, Australia approved a new coal mine in Queensland state by India’s Adani Enterprises that is expected to produce 8-10 million tonnes of thermal coal a year.

Morrison’s strong backing of the mine was seen as a factor in his government’s surprise re-election in May.

While Morrison has won support at home, Australia’s ties with the Pacific region have been strained, opening the door to China, which is looking to increase its sway. Along with economic aid and loans, China’s support for tackling global warming is seen aiding its drive to win allies and influence.

($1 = 1.4712 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Grant McCool

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