The U.S. has signed a new pact with Papua New Guinea to improve security cooperation as it vies with China for influence in the Pacific Ocean.
The new pact will also give Papua New Guinea’s defense forces a boost and improve regional stability.
The defense cooperation agreement was signed on Monday by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who traveled to Port Moresby on President Biden’s behalf. Although the pact has yet to be made public, the full details are expected to be released in a few months.
The U.S. also signed a maritime agreement with the island nation allowing the American Coast Guard to partner with them to combat drug smuggling and illegal fishing.
Papua New Guinea boasts a strategic location north of Australia. It is the most populous island nation in the Pacific with more than 10 million people and was the site of some intense battles during World War II on account of its strategic importance.
Speaking about the pact, Marape emphasized that it did not encroach on the country’s autonomy and should not affect its relationships with other countries. However, the agreement did lead to student protests in Papua New Guinea’s second biggest city, Lae.
A statement released by the country said: “Papua New Guinea does not have enemies but it pays to be prepared. Territorial dispute is (imminent), as in the case of Ukraine-Russia.
“This agreement is not about geopolitics but rather recognizes the country’s need to build its defense capabilities because border disputes are inevitable in the future.”
Blinken told reporters: “We’re deeply invested in the Indo-Pacific because our planet’s future is being written here. Papua New Guinea is playing a critical role in shaping that future.”
Biden invited Marape to visit Washington, D.C. later in the year for another U.S.-Pacific summit to discuss topics such as maritime security, trade and economic ties. The president was originally slated to visit Papua New Guinea to sign the pact himself but canceled to focus on debt limit negotiations in the U.S. He would have been the first sitting American president to visit a Pacific Island country if he had followed through with his plans.
U.S. is strengthening ties in the Pacific
In addition to the Papua New Guinea agreement, Blinken signed a similar agreement with Palau and is planning to wrap up negotiations for a similar pact with the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Another deal with the Federated States of Micronesia is also expected.
The renewed agreement plays a major role in American efforts to fight China’s attempts to broaden its influence throughout the Pacific region. The U.S. has also recently opened embassies in Tonga and the Solomon Islands and revived volunteer efforts via the Peace Corps.
Last year, China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in a move that has left many of its neighbors worrying that China could station naval ships, weapons and troops there.
The president of Micronesia, David Panuelo, warned his citizens during his national address in January that U.S. military drills in the area could ramp up during the coming years.
He noted: “These exercises will be increasing in frequency over the next several years, and while they are ultimately in our national interest and in the interest of our nation’s security — of which the U.S. is our indisputable guardian — it is important that our citizens know about them well in advance so that our people do not see these activities and then immediately fear the worst.”
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