Australia’s ‘step up’ in the Pacific is now five years old and needs a more ‘up tempo’ approach, particularly in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where China’s influence has grown significantly – from building PNG’s national data centre to backing a Chinese company’s proposal for a new fisheries facility just kilometres from Australia’s northernmost border in the Torres Strait.
At times, China has simply proved more agile in effectively expediting its commitments in PNG. An illustrative example is Manus Island. Australia and the United States pledged to upgrade Lombrum naval base some three years ago, but little progress has been made. Meanwhile a subsidiary of the same construction company that built China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea has upgraded Momote airport, a twenty-minute drive from Lombrum.
This paper argues that the opportunistic nature of Chinese foreign policy demands vigilance from Australian policymakers. It recommends some ways Australia can use its tools of statecraft to mitigate China’s influence and competition, whilst also warning that Canberra should not lose sight of its longstanding interests in PNG’s self-development at both a national and grassroots level as this competition intensifies.