CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has held face-to-face meetings with the leaders of the United States, India, Japan and Indonesia during his hectic two weeks in office, but he will receive a world leader for the first time when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Sydney on Thursday.
Ardern described the bilateral relationship between the near-neighbor countries, which were once the same British colony, as “like family.”
“It’s fitting that as New Zealand’s prime minister, I will be the first foreign head of government to meet with Prime Minister Albanese in Australia since he took office,” Ardern said in a statement Tuesday.
Ardern leads the New Zealand Labour Party, which is more closely aligned with Albanese’s left-leaning Australian Labor Party than it was with Australia’s conservative coalition that had ruled for almost a decade.
Among the items for discussion when Ardern visits Albanese’s hometown Thursday and Friday are Australia’s more ambitious greenhouse gas emission targets under his administration and support for Pacific Island nations.
“Through our single economic market, our people-to-people ties and our shared interests in the region and around the world, Australia and New Zealand stand together,” Albanese said in a statement.
Australia and New Zealand have both warned against the possibility of a new security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands leading to a Chinese military base being established in the South Pacific. China and the Solomons have denied there will be any military base.
International relationships have rarely been given such priority by a fledgling Australian administration that is also coming to terms with domestic issues including the pandemic, soaring inflation and rising interest rates.
The evolving Chinese threat to the region was the main reason Albanese and his Foreign Minister Penny Wong flew to Tokyo on May 23, only hours after they were sworn into office and two days after an election. They attended a security summit with President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Wong went from Japan to the South Pacific for bilateral visits that coincided with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi’s tour aimed at increasing Beijing’s influence in the region.
On Tuesday, Wong and Albanese were ending a visit to Indonesia, another neighboring country that Australia’s leaders usually visit early in their administration to emphasis the importance of that bilateral relationship.