Australia will put climate change and gender at the heart of its international aid programme in a policy revamp designed to compete with China’s infrastructure-building in the Indo-Pacific region.

Under the new rules, all international development projects will have to include environmental and gender equality objectives.

Australia says that global warming is the “number one threat” to the security and wellbeing of the Pacific.

From mid-2025, half of all new Australian aid investments worth more than US$2 million will have to take climate change into consideration, rising to 80 percent by 2028, under a new policy. Officials say that roads, for example, would be built to cope with rising sea levels and schools would have cyclone-proof roofing.

All new international development projects worth more than US$2 million will also have to include a gender equality objective. Officials say this could include providing safe accommodation for female market stall holders to protect them and their stock.

Analysts say the shift in Australia’s international policy is a response China’s security ambitions in the region. It’s the first major overhaul to Canberra’s foreign aid programme in more than a decade,

Pat Conroy, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Tuesday that Canberra is eager to reassert itself in regional affairs.

“There is a geostrategic competition in the region,” Conroy said. “The last government (in Canberra) cut AUD$11.8bn (US$7.75m) in aid and that left a vacuum that other countries have filled. So, it is obviously about us being the partner of choice for our region, but it is also about lifting people out of poverty. Twenty-two of our twenty-six closest neighbors are developing countries. It is in our interests for them to be stable and prosperous, and to grow.”

Canberra’s annual foreign aid budget is about US$3 billion. The new strategy comes with no additional money, but it’s hoped that the private sector will help fund climate-related projects. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said Monday that “development and prosperity underpin peace and stability.”

There has been no response, so far, from China.

Beijing has been in dispute with Canberra in recent years over various trade and political issues, including China’s territorial ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

Bilateral ties, though, have improved since the May 2022 election of a left-leaning government in Canberra that has tried to stabilise relations with its biggest trading partner, while acknowledging that there will be areas of disagreement and competition.