SYDNEY – Papua New Guinea (PNG) said it will sign a defence agreement with the United States, ahead of a deal with Australia and despite opposition party concerns it could upset China, because the Ukraine conflict shows the need for military capability.
On Monday, the Pacific island nation will host visits by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Zealand’s PM Chris Hipkins and other Pacific island leaders.
While Mr Modi’s visit is expected to focus on trade, Mr Blinken will also sign a defence cooperation agreement (DCA) with PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape, the two nations have said.
The defence agreement would boost PNG’s defence infrastructure and capability after decades of neglect, a PNG government statement said on Saturday.
Highlighting domestic political sensitivity over taking sides in the strategic competition between the US and China, the statement said the deal would “not stop Papua New Guinea from working with other nations including China”.
The defence agreement also will not give visiting US military personnel immunity for criminal conduct, the statement said.
“Assets developed under DCA will be owned by the PNG government,” it said.
PNG says the DCA is about building defence capabilities because border disputes are “inevitable in the future”.
“Papua New Guinea does not have enemies but it pays to be prepared,” it added, noting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
China, a major infrastructure provider to the Pacific islands, has sought to increase its security role, signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands that prompted criticism from the US and its allies about Beijing’s intentions.
A Chinese military delegation led by Major-General Song Yanchao, the deputy director of the People’s Liberation Army’s office for international military cooperation, visited PNG in March.
Mr Marape and Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka will raise investment, trade and climate change mitigation in their meetings with Mr Blinken and Mr Modi on Monday, the two leaders said in a statement on Sunday.
Mr Marape said in a press conference on Friday that India and the Pacific had “common history – we come from the past of being ruled by colonial nations”.
He hoped India could be an easier and faster partner for smaller nations to build trade and economic ties with, he said. REUTERS