Papua New Guinea, US sign controversial defense pact

Sydney, Australia, May 22 (EFE).- Papua New Guinea and the United States on Monday signed a strategic defense cooperation agreement during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Port Moresby, in the backdrop of growing competition between Washington and Beijing to extend their influence in the Pacific region.

Blinken tweeted on Monday that he discussed several issues in a bilateral meeting with Papuan Prime Minister James Marape, including the “successful conclusion of the new Defense Cooperation Agreement.”

“Our two countries are promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the Pacific region,” Blinken added, referring the US initiative to increase its presence in the region, where China has also stepped up security cooperation.

Blinken signed the agreement and another pact with Papua’s defense minister, Win Bakri Daki, allowing the US Coast Guard to patrol Papuan waters along with its local counterpart, broadcaster NBC reported.

On Sunday, the US state department had said in a statement that the defense pact – whose details will be revealed later – would help modernize the Papuan armed forces so that they could defend regional stability and security.

Although the agreement’s details are unavailable officially, some reports suggested last week based on media leaks that it could allow US military unrestricted access to Papuan airspace and maritime area, along with offering a series of airports and seaports for training, surveillance and troop deployment.

The military cooperation pact has triggered outrage in many sectors locally, who believe it was negotiated in an opaque manner and may undermine Papua New Guinea’s national sovereignty.

On Monday, hundreds of Papuan university students protested at their campuses and premises to demand information about the deal’s content, so that it could be debated and approved by the parliament of the country, which has been part of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The US, which on Sunday also announced ministerial meetings between the two sides on foreign affairs and bilateral defense, donated personal protective equipment (PPE) worth $5.4 million to the Papuan military over the weekend.

“The United States will continue to partner with PNG on strengthening economic relations, security cooperation, and people-to-people ties, as well as promoting inclusive and sustainable development, including through plans to work with Congress to provide over $45 million in new programming,” the US press release said.

Blinken had arrived in Port Moresby on Sunday night to sign the agreement and meet with the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, who have gathered for a summit in the Papuan capital.

US President Joe Biden cancelled a scheduled visit to PNG and Australia in the last minute as he had to return to his country urgently over an unprecedented political crisis over national debt, after having attended the G7 summit in Japan’s Hiroshima.

In recent months, the Biden administration has courted friendship with several pacific island nations with the purpose of reducing the influence of Beijing in this once-forgotten region, where China also seeks to expand its clout, having signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April 2022 that includes the deployment of Chinese troops if sought by Honiara. EFE


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