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Australia foreign minister to visit Fiji amid Chinese counterpart’s Pacific tour

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Australia’s new Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she would travel to Fiji on Thursday, a trip that will coincide with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour of eight Pacific Island countries including Fiji and Solomon Islands.

The surprise visit, Wong’s first solo overseas trip after taking charge on Monday in a new government, will start hours after she returns to Australia on Wednesday from the Quad summit in Tokyo.

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“The visit ... demonstrates the importance we place on our relationship with Fiji and on our Pacific engagement,” Wong said in a statement on Wednesday.

Wong will meet Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and her Fijian counterpart as well as other senior ministers.

Wong’s visit will clash with the Chinese foreign minister’s 10-day trip to Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste from May 26.

In Solomon Islands, Wang Yi will sign agreements that are expected to include a security pact, which has been criticized by the United States, Australia and Japan.

Australia’s diplomatic relations with China, its largest trading partner, are at a low ebb after they clashed over a number of issues including trade, the origins of COVID-19 and accusations from Australia of Chinese political interference.

New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese rebuked China on Tuesday for imposing hefty tariffs on Australian exports two years ago even as he confirmed he received a letter of congratulations from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on his weekend election victory.

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