US, Papua New Guinea sign defence pact

Washington and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific island nations from forming security ties with China…reports Asian Lite News

The United States and Papua New Guinea have signed a new bilateral defence cooperation agreement amid increasing China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Papua New Guinea (PNG) Prime Minister James Marape signed the pact and a maritime security agreement on Monday during Blinken’s visit to the capital Port Moresby. Taking to Twitter, Blinken said, “Met PNG Prime Minister Marape at the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Port Moresby. We covered many topics, including the successful conclusion of the new Defense Cooperation Agreement. Our two countries are promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the Pacific region.”

In a statement, PNG, Saturday, framed its agreement with the US as an opportunity to advance its infrastructure and capacity for national defence at a time of growing global security concerns.

“Papua New Guinea does not have enemies but it pays to be prepared. The territorial dispute is (imminent), as in the case of Ukraine-Russia,” the statement said.

This statement came after the pact was announced as this move has sparked controversy in the Pacific Island nation and comes as Washington and China jostle for influence in the region.

Washington and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific island nations from forming security ties with China, a rising concern amid tensions over Taiwan, which Beijing considers its territory. China has said that any attempt by the self-governed island to secede will trigger military action.

“This agreement is not about geopolitics but rather recognizes the country’s need to build its defence capabilities because border disputes are inevitable in the future,” it said

Earlier, on Monday, US State Department released a statement that read, On May 22, Secretary Blinken will sign a Defense Cooperation Agreement, which, when it enters into force, will serve as a foundational framework upon which our two countries can enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), and increase stability and security in the region. The United States expects to publish the text of the Defense Cooperation Agreement after entry into force, consistent with U.S. law.”

The US and PNG militaries already have a cooperative security assistance relationship focused primarily on joint humanitarian exercises and the training of PNG military personnel, according to the State Department.

“On May 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of Defence provided the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) with USD 5.4 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) funded by the Department of State’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The PPE includes ballistic helmets, flak vests with armour plates, elbow pads, knee pads, and eye protection, and will be provided to PNGDF members deployed to the border and domestically for security operations,” according to the US State Department statement.

“The U.S. Department of Defense also intends to provide PNGDF USD 7 million in support to procure dress uniforms and name tags for the upcoming PNG 50th Independence Celebrations in 2025. This assistance is a step toward deepening the defence relationship between our countries while also demonstrating our commitment, dedication, and investment in the future of PNG,” it added.

The United States Commander for the Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquino, on Monday attended a ceremony at PNG’s Murray Barracks to present personal protective equipment to PNG’s defense force, the PNG Post Courier reported.

Marape told media on Sunday the defense agreement would also see an increase in the US military presence over the next decade.

Police Commissioner David Manning said there was a heavy police and military presence around the capital Port Moresby with roads blocked, and defense patrol boats in the water around the meeting venue, for the biggest assembly of international leaders in the country since a 2018 APEC summit.

Several universities held protests at campuses against the signing of the Defense Cooperation Agreement, amid concern it would upset China. Marape has denied it would stop PNG working with China, an important trade partner.

China, a major provider of infrastructure to the Pacific Islands in recent years, signed a security pact with Solomon Islands last year, prompting concern from the United States and its allies over Beijing’s intentions in a region covering vital sea lanes.

The US defense agreement would boost PNG’s defense infrastructure and capability after decades of neglect, the PNG government said earlier.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters in Port Moresby the defense agreement between the United States and PNG was “an extension of an existing relationship and it isn’t just about military presence but it’s also about development.”

Blinken will also sign a Ship Riders Pact, allowing US Coast Guard vessels with PNG officials aboard to patrol its exclusive economic zone, PNG’s government said in a statement on Monday. (ANI)

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