By Invitation

Australia's new anxieties over the South Pacific

China's presence sparks renewed attention on small island nations that Australia has long neglected but still considers of strategic importance

Australia's revolving-door politics plays havoc with diplomatic schedules, so no one was surprised when Mr Scott Morrison skipped this year's South Pacific Forum summit meeting just a few days after he replaced Mr Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in August. And the fact that he went ahead with a visit to Jakarta the same week reinforced an old message - that the island nations of the South Pacific may be Australia's closest neighbours, but they are usually a long way from the top of its foreign policy priorities.

The annual forum summit is the premier event in South Pacific diplomacy, but Mr Morrison is far from the first Australian leader to send an underling instead of turning up himself. Canberra has a long record of skimping on attention and ignoring the issues that are most important to its small and often vulnerable neighbours - especially climate change, which threatens the very existence of some of them if rising sea levels inundate their low-lying atolls.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'Australia's new anxieties over the South Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe