Smiles and unity at the Pacific Islands Forum mask tough questions shelved for another day

At the close of the Pacific Islands Forum the leaders emerged from their retreat smiling, cut a giant cake with a sword and then, in an impromptu moment of diplomatic bonhomie, posed for a selfie after Anthony Albanese whipped out his phone, Ellen DeGeneres style. It was, quite literally, a picture of harmony. “It’s been a very successful meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum,” said Albanese at his post-leaders’ retreat press conference. “We are family when it comes to the Pacific and there was a good spirit of cooperation and…

China insists Tonga loans come with ‘no political strings attached’

China’s ambassador to Tonga has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy in the Pacific, saying in his first press conference in two years that if the heavily indebted country cannot repay its loans, “we can talk and negotiate in a friendly, diplomatic manner”. Cao Xiaolin told Tuesday’s gathering in Nuku’alofa – a rare opportunity for journalists to question Chinese officials – that preferential loans from China came with “no political strings attached” and that Beijing would never force countries to repay the loans. Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic…

‘Things aren’t going back’: Australia braces for step-up in China’s Pacific push

The Australian government is bracing for China to step up its push to expand influence in the Pacific, with a senior figure privately conceding Canberra has a lot of work to do to regain lost trust and strengthen regional unity. Despite initial relief at a decision by Pacific island countries to defer a sweeping 10-country security and economic pact proposed by China, the Australian government now believes this may be only a temporary reprieve. “Things aren’t going back to the way they were,” said a senior Australian government figure who…

Your Monday Briefing: A U.K. Accusation

your monday briefing a u k accusation scaled

Good morning. We’re covering reports of Russia’s positioning in Ukraine, Beijing’s hard-line Olympic strategy and miserable conditions at a Chinese tire factory in Serbia. Britain accuses Russia of Ukraine plot The British government said that the Kremlin appeared to be developing plans to install a pro-Moscow leader in Ukraine. The highly unusual public statement, backed by U.S. officials, comes at a pivotal moment in high-stakes negotiations. Moscow has deployed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders that could, according to American officials, attack anytime. According to the assessment, Russian planners…