PM looking to soothe tensions, offset China influence in Fiji, Vanuatu visit

Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will attempt to soothe a diplomatic spat over terrorist Neil Prakash’s citizenship saga during a visit to Fiji.

Fijian officials are furious with the federal government for stripping Prakash of his Australian citizenship and trying to palm the terrorist off onto their Pacific nation.

Mr Morrison is making an official visit to Fiji this week, where the matter will likely be discussed.

“We’ve been dealing with that issue between the governments over the last few weeks, including directly from leader to leader,” he told ABC News Breakfast on Monday.

Prakash, who is in jail Turkey awaiting trial on terror charges, was born in Melbourne to a Fijian father and Cambodian mother.

Last month, the federal government revoked his rights as an Australian citizen because of his affiliation with the Islamic State terrorist group.

However, Fijian officials have rejected claims the Australian-born terrorist is a citizen of their country and accused Canberra of failing to consult them properly.

Islamic State terrorist and recruiter Neil Prakash.

Islamic State terrorist and recruiter Neil Prakash.

SBS News

Labor leader Bill Shorten says the government’s announcement had seemed like a “summer stunt”.

“I hope the prime minister’s able to sort out this particular embarrassment and incompetence,” Mr Shorten told reporters in the Northern Territory on Monday.

“You don’t rush out and say we’re going to stop this fellow by one particular legal mechanism, and close the back door and square it off with the Fijian government.”

Mr Morrison is also expected to discuss Australian funding for a major regional military base while he is in Fiji.

The coalition government has contributed a significant figure to transform the Black Rock Camp in Nadi into a regional training hub for South Pacific militaries.

Mr Morrison will also travel to Vanuatu, in the first trip to the country by an Australian prime minister outside the Pacific Islands Forum.

Canberra promised to bolster Vanuatu’s cybersecurity capability in June as it agreed to begin negotiating a security treaty.

China has spent $1.32 billion on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the second-largest donor after Australia in the Pacific region, raising concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up in debt to Beijing.

“This is part of our Pacific step-up. It’s part of our refocusing of our international efforts on our own region, in our own backyard, and making sure we can make the biggest possible difference,” Mr Morrison said.

“That’s about stepping up our security partnerships, stepping up our economic and cultural partnerships.”

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