A former Pacific leader has declared China the “lesser of two evils” compared to Australia, as some small island nations turn to Beijing over Canberra for support in combating climate change.
Anote Tong, the former president of Kiribati, has taken aim at Australia’s efforts after the issue flared up at the Pacific Islands Forum last week.
“It’s really about the lesser of two evils, I guess, and at the moment Australia is coming up as the worst of the two evils,” Mr Tong told ABC Radio National on Monday.
“It’s got to be a better understanding, there’s got to be a more respectful way of understanding each other. It cannot be dictated by the coal industry in the background.”
The seasonal workers program is now on the line, with Pacific leaders angered by deputy prime minister Michael McCormack’s comments that the region’s people would survive by picking Australia’s fruits.
“If that is the view of the government I will have no option but to pull back the Tuvaluans,” Tuvalu’s leader Enele Sopoaga told Radio NZ.
He urged the leaders of Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga to do the same, he added.
Mr Tong, who was president of Kiribati from 2003-2016, said Australia should face sanctions or be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum to send a strong message that the region won’t roll over on climate action.
“What is the point of the relationship?” he said.
“Any relationship must be mutually beneficial. It cannot be for the benefit of just one.”
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has accused Scott Morrison of being “very insulting and condescending” at the forum in Tuvalu.
But Alex Hawke, the Minister for the Pacific, argued the Prime Minister was both “understood and respected” by the the region’s leaders.
Mr Hawke said Labor could never have stood up to the “ridiculous demands” from Pacific leaders to immediately end all coal power and mining.
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s strong leadership rejecting those things that Australia simply could not agree to at the Pacific Islands Forum was both understood and respected by Pacific leaders,” he tweeted.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s strong leadership rejecting those things that Australia simply could not agree to at the Pacific Islands Forum was both understood and respected by Pacific Leaders.
— Alex Hawke MP (@AlexHawkeMP) August 18, 2019
Many of the forum members wanted to single out coal-fired power for its impact on climate.
But the language was rejected in the final document, after Australia took a tough approach to negotiations.
Small island states also called for an immediate global ban on new coal-fired power plants and coal mines.
“Coal is not part of the democracy, it’s not part of the justice,” Mr Tong said.
“It’s about our survival, Australia is doing everything that would damage our future.
Although Mr Morrison promised $500 million to the region ahead of the forum, Mr Sopoaga said it wasn’t an excuse to not reduce emissions.
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said at the weekend her party, like the Coalition, wouldn’t have supported a ban on new coal mines as some small nations had wanted.
But she accused the Coalition of failing on other scores, including not having realistic policies for reducing emissions.