Blinken says the two countries signed the Security and Maritime Surveillance Agreement as ‘equal and sovereign partners’.
The United States has signed a defense and maritime surveillance agreement with Papua New Guinea (PNG) during the visit of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
“Security cooperation was drafted by the United States and Papua New Guinea as equal and sovereign partners,” Blinken said at a signing ceremony on Monday. He was also set to meet 14 Pacific Island leaders.
Washington and its allies have sought to prevent Pacific island nations from forming security ties with China, a growing concern amid tensions over Taiwan.
Leaders of the Pacific islands, which cover 40 million square kilometers (15 million square miles) of ocean, have said sea level rise caused by climate change is their top conservation priority.
A ‘full transparency’ contract
Blinken, who met with PNG Prime Minister James Marab, said the US would deepen its partnership with PNG. They discussed economic development, the climate crisis and the importance of continuing U.S. engagement with the Pacific, the State Department said in a readout.
“Security cooperation was drafted by the United States and Papua New Guinea as equal and sovereign partners,” Blinken said at the signing ceremony.
It will expand PNG security capabilities to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and make it easier for US and PNG forces to train together, Blinken said.
“It will be completely transparent,” he added.
A separate agreement will increase maritime surveillance of PNG’s exclusive economic zone by US Coast Guard patrols to protect its economy from illegal fishing.
Partnerships with businesses will bring tens of billions of dollars worth of new investment to PNG, Blinken said.
Students at the University of Papua New Guinea are protesting against the US defense agreement to be signed today. pic.twitter.com/1sCjVnA04T
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) May 22, 2023
US President Joe Biden said he was “sorry not to be here”. Biden was forced to cancel his trip to PNG amid debt ceiling talks in Washington.
Marabe said the deal would increase economic security by giving PNG’s defense force “the ability to know what’s going on in its waters – something it hasn’t had since 1975”.
Many universities staged protests on campuses against the signing of the defense cooperation pact, which opposition politicians said would upset China. Marab denied that would prevent PNG from working with China, an important trading partner.
He previously said the US defense deal was an extension of an existing deal.
The defense deal will also increase US military presence over the next decade, he told media on Sunday.
Washington will provide $45 million in new funding as it works with PNG to strengthen economic and security cooperation, including defense equipment for the PNG defense force, climate change mitigation and combating transnational crime and HIV/AIDS, the US State Department said.
Modi pledged support for a ‘free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific’.
Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged support to the Pacific Islands at a summit in the capital Port Moresby.
Modi told the 14 leaders of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation that India would be a reliable development partner for small island states and was committed to a “free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific”.
We are ready to share our skills and experiences in the fields of digital technology, space technology, healthcare, food security, climate change and environmental protection.
The leaders of the Quad of Australia, the United States, Japan and India agreed in Hiroshima to increase cooperation with Pacific island nations.
In his inaugural address, Marabe urged India to think about small island states that “suffer as a result of the game of big nations”.
For example, Marab said Russia’s war with Ukraine has caused inflation and higher fuel and energy prices in the region’s smaller economies.
PNG, north of Australia, is strategically important and was the site of heavy fighting during World War II.
After Beijing signed a defense pact with the Solomon Islands last year, there are concerns about the militarization of the Pacific.
That agreement led the US to renew its commitment to the region, opening new embassies and hosting an unprecedented summit of Pacific leaders at the White House.
Police Commissioner David Manning said there was a heavy police and military presence around the capital, with roads blocked and security patrol boats in the water around the rally site.
While the U.S. defense deal was created as an agreement to protect Papua New Guinea’s territorial borders, experts say China’s presence in the Pacific is a key driver.
“Port Moresby is no longer the sleepy diplomatic outpost it once was,” Gordon Peake, senior adviser for the Pacific Islands at the United States Institute of Peace, told the AFP news agency.
“Although China is not mentioned anywhere in the document, it is an important subtext in this narrative of deepening US-PNG relations.”