The United States signed a new security pact with Papua New Guinea on Monday, May 22, 2023.
U.S President Joe Biden was supposed to be present at Papua New Guinea to sign the pact. However, cancelled his trip and instead flew back to Washington from the G7 summit in Hiroshima to focus debt limit talks. He would have been the first sitting U.S. President to visit any Pacific Island country
U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken traveled in Biden’s stead, arriving in Papua New Guinea early on Monday.
The U.S State Department divulged that the new agreement provides a framework to help improve security cooperation, enhance the capacity of Papua New Guinea’s defense force and increase regional stability.
Apart from the defense pact, the U.S. also signed a maritime agreement with Papua New Guinea which will allow the U.S. Coast Guard to partner with the Pacific nation to counter illegal fishing and drug smuggling.
At a breakfast meeting, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, James Marape disclosed that his country faces significant security challenges.
“We have our internal security as well as our sovereignty security issues. We’re stepping up on that front to make sure our borders are secure,” Marape said.
Blinken Meets Chris Hipkins
Also, Blinken met with Chris Hipkins, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and said the two nations had a shared vision for the region. “To make sure that it remains free, open, secure and prosperous,” Blinken said.
Hipkins told Blinken he was very happy that Blinken had made the trip. “The increased U.S. presence in the Pacific is something we welcome,” Hipkins asserted.
However, Hipkins also drew a distinction to his own nation’s efforts. “We are not interested in the militarization of the Pacific,” Hipkins told reporters before meeting Blinken.
“We are interested in working with the Pacific on issues where we have mutual interest. Issues around climate change. And we’re not going to be attaching military strings to that support.”Chris Hipkins
The U.S. visit coincided with a trip by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was hosting a meeting with Pacific Island leaders to discuss ways to better cooperate.
Papua New Guinea’s location just north of Australia makes it strategically significant. With a population of nearly 10 million people, it is the most populous Pacific Island nation.
Washington and Beijing are battling for influence in the Pacific. The 15 independent nations manage around 20% of the world’s oceans. These hugely important maritime routes were used in World War Two to transport supplies to Australia and New Zealand.
Western interests in the Pacific waned after the war, but Chinese investments in the region have grown. Beijing has worked to strengthen ties with several island nations over the last decade, sending aid and investing in schools, roads and bridges.
Last year, nearby Solomon Islands signed its own security pact with China, a move that raised alarm throughout the Pacific.
The U.S. has since increased its focus on the Pacific, opening embassies in Solomon Islands and Tonga, reviving Peace Corps volunteer efforts, and encouraging more business investment.
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