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Australia offers Samoa new coastguard vessel as part of charm offensive

APIA (AFP) – Australia will provide Samoa with a new coastguard patrol boat, Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on a visit to the Pacific island nation yesterday, as she looked to reset ties and counter growing Chinese influence.

Following a meeting with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Wong said Australia would supply a Guardian class vessel next year, replacing one which recently ran aground.

“We do understand how important these maritime assets are to island nations,” Wong said.

Samoa’s previous boat, the 40-metre Nafanua II, hit a reef last August, suffering irreparable damage.

Mata’afa welcomed the “generous” offer of a replacement “despite the unfortunate circumstances of our last boat”, adding that she hoped lessons had been learned for “a very critical area of our maritime security.”

Wong was sworn into office 10 days ago but has already visited Fiji as her centre-left government tries to fix badly strained ties with Pacific neighbours.

She is expected to visit Tonga later this week, just as China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi wraps up a 10-day island-hopping tour of the Pacific.

Wang has pitched a radically increased role for China in regional security, much to the concern of the United States (US) and Australia.

“We have taken a view that regional security is an issue for the Pacific family,” Wong said.

Although Wang failed to secure support for a regional security deal that would have seen Beijing play a much bigger role in sensitive areas including policing and cybersecurity, he has inked a series of country-specific agreements on his trip.