SYDNEY (Reuters) - A centre focusing on the security concerns of Pacific island nations will start work in Vanuatu next year, Australia said on Monday, hosting analysts and sharing information on issues from maritime risks to human trafficking and disinformation.
The Australia-backed Pacific Fusion Centre in Vanuatu's capital of Port Vila will also spotlight areas such as illegal fishing, drug smuggling, human trafficking and climate change, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
In preparation, a team of 21 analysts from 14 Pacific Island nations began training in the capital, Canberra, in September last year.
"It has acted as a reliable source of information for Pacific governments," Payne added, listing coronavirus issues on food and border security and combating disinformation among those on which the analysts advised.
The move is part of the Pacific Step Up strategy Australia announced in 2018, regarded as a bid to counter China's growing influence in a region where Australia has traditionally been the largest aid donor.
In the statement, Vanuatu foreign minister Marc Ati said, "Vanuatu looks forward to working with Australia to establish the Pacific Fusion Centre, to complement and bolster existing regional security architecture."
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)