US signs new security pact with Papua New Guinea in competition with China
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — The United States is scheduled to sign a new security pact with Papua New Guinea on Monday as it continues to compete with China for influence in the Pacific.
Papua New Guinea’s location north of Australia makes it strategically important. During the Second World War, it was the scene of fierce battles, and with nearly 10 million inhabitants, it is the most populous island nation in the Pacific Ocean.
According to the foreign ministry, the new agreement provides a framework to improve security cooperation, increase the capacity of Papua New Guinea’s defense forces and increase regional stability.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape told a morning briefing on Monday that his country faces significant security challenges, from infighting to illegal fishing boats that light up the night like skyscrapers.
“We have internal security as well as sovereignty security issues,” Marape said. “We are moving forward on this front to make sure our borders are secure.”
However, the agreement sparked student protests in the second largest city, Lae. In the Pacific region, many people are worried about the increasing militarization of the region.
Last year, the nearby Solomon Islands signed its own security pact with China, causing alarm across the Pacific. The United States is paying more attention to the Pacific, opening embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga, reviving Peace Corps volunteer efforts, and encouraging more business investment.
But some question how reliable the United States is as a partner in the Pacific, especially after President Joe Biden canceled plans to make a historic stop in Papua New Guinea to sign the pact. Biden would have been the first sitting US president to visit any Pacific island nation, but ultimately canceled to focus on debt-limit negotiations at home.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled in place of Biden, who arrived in Papua New Guinea early Monday morning. Responding to news of Blinken’s upcoming visit, China warned against introducing “geopolitical games” in the region.
The US visit was timed to coincide with a trip by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who held a meeting with Pacific island leaders to discuss ways to improve cooperation.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who met with Marapé for breakfast, also met with Blinken in Papua New Guinea and welcomes the increased US interest in the region.
But he also distinguished the efforts of his own nation.
“We are not interested in militarizing the Pacific,” Hipkins said. “We are interested in working with the Pacific on issues of mutual interest. Climate change issues. And we will not attach military strings to this support.”