Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the United States signed a defense accord on Monday, granting US forces access to PNG’s airfields and ports as Washington competes with China’s growing presence in the Pacific region.
China’s ascent in the Pacific, where it offers political and financial inducements for strategic cooperation, worries Washington.
Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki and US State Secretary Antony Blinken signed the agreement in Port Moresby before a US meeting with the leaders of 14 South Pacific island states.
At the signing ceremony, Prime Minister James Marape stated, “A defense cooperation agreement has been concluded,” adding that the Pacific island was “elevating” its relationship with the United States.
Blinken said each nation could board the other’s ships, share technological expertise, and “better patrol” the oceans.
“We are cooperating to influence the future. “We are extremely excited to take our partnership to the next level,” he said.
Blinken was not the only representative of a major power seeking to counter Beijing’s increasing economic, political, and military presence in the South Pacific, a sign of the intensifying rivalry over the region.
A few hours earlier, on the eve of his summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in town. Asserting India’s regional prominence in the face of China’s ascent.
“We agree with your commitment to multilateralism. We support an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, and inclusive. Modi told Pacific leaders at a separate summit, “We respect the sovereignty and integrity of all countries.”
Blinken’s security deal with Papua New Guinea will boost US military commitment in the region.
Beijing deployed troops to the Solomon Islands last year under a clandestine security agreement.
Chinese military presence in the South Pacific might jeopardise US sites in Guam and complicate Taiwan’s defence if China invades.
The State Department stated that the accord with Papua New Guinea would “enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, enhance the capacity of the PNG Defence Force, and increase regional stability and security.”
“Port Moresby is no longer the sleepy diplomatic outpost that it once was,” stated Gordon Peake, a senior adviser for the Pacific Islands at the United States Institute of Peace.
“Although China may not be mentioned anywhere in the document. It is a significant subtext in this tale of growing US-Papua New Guinea relations.”
Last week, Marape stated that the agreement would provide Washington with access to US satellite surveillance to combat “illegal activities on the high sea” in exchange for movement in the country’s waters.
He stated that the agreement would not prevent him from signing similar agreements with other countries, including China.
China stated on Friday that it opposes the “introduction of any geopolitical games into the Pacific Island country region.” Without mentioning the agreement or Blinken’s visit specifically.
Bomb squad vehicles
The Post Courier, the largest newspaper in Papua New Guinea, reported that the agreement has sparked student protests at several universities over concerns that it grants US forces too much autonomy at some of the country’s important entry points.
On Monday, roads were closed and bomb squad cars were stationed near the leaders’ meeting on the capital’s downtown beach. In addition to speedboats and jet skis, officers patrolled the adjacent waters with speedboats and jet skis.
After the president cancelled the meeting to attend debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, Blinken replaced Joe Biden.
In addition to the agreement, the State Department announced that the United States will provide PNG with $45 million in funding to combat organized crime, climate change, and HIV/AIDS, as well as protective equipment for its military.
The Courier reported that Admiral John Aquino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command. Also visited a garrison in Oro Province on Monday, where he was greeted by a military parade.