AUSTRALIAN Defence Minister Christopher Pyne says Australia must take responsibility for securing its own region, while brushing off suggestions Donald Trump has snubbed an upcoming Asian summit.
Pyne said there was no doubt America takes the region seriously, despite the US president’s decision not to attend this year’s APEC summit in Papua New Guinea.
“The US is as engaged in the Indo-Pacific as it has ever been and whether President Trump attends a particular meeting or not doesn’t indicate what a higher priority they’ve placed on our part of the world,” he told Sky News.
“From Australia’s point of view, we also have to look after our own, take responsibility for our own destiny.”
Pyne, who assumed the Defence portfolio last month, counts Australia’s relationships with Indonesia and India among his highest priorities.
“We need to cover the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific as the areas that are most geographically closest to Australia and that’s the priority of the government,” he said.
On China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region, the minister said Beijing must be shown respect.
“Not just because they are a great power in our region, an economic power and military power, but they are also an ancient culture, an important civilisation in human relationships over thousands of years, and they should be treated with that respect.”
Pyne has no plans to visit Beijing at this stage, but said he was not against the idea.
“I do have immediate plans to visit in Southeast Asia of course, to India and Japan and to the countries that we regard as close allies and friends.
“We work closely with China as an economic friend but our greatest military relationship is with the United States.”
Climate change is currently dominating discussions at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru.
Pyne said Pacific Island nations would have a ‘dim view’ of Australia for stepping away from action on climate change.
“There’s no doubt the Pacific Islands would have a dim view of Australia reducing its commitment to climate change measures – reducing our emissions footprint – but we have no plans to do so,” he said.
He insisted Pacific countries did not need to fear Australia was not committed to its Paris climate change targets, despite the collapse of emissions reductions legislation.
“We take it very seriously,” he said.