The United States and Papua New Guinea will sign a new security treaty on Monday, as the US vies with China for influence in the Pacific.
Papua New Guinea’s strategic importance arises from its proximity to Australia. It was the site of fierce fighting during WWII and is the most populous Pacific island nation, with a population of about 10 million people.
The new agreement, according to the State Department, will provide a framework to strengthen security cooperation. Increase regional stability through strengthening Papua New Guinea’s defensive forces.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape stated during a breakfast gathering that his country was experiencing grave security challenges. From intra-country skirmishes to illicit fishing vessels that lit up the night like skyscrapers, there was something for everyone.
“We have internal security issues as well as sovereignty security issues,” emphasised Marape. “We’re stepping up on that front to make sure our borders are secure.”
The agreement, however, sparked student protests in Lae, the country’s second-largest city. Many Pacific residents are concerned about the region’s growing militarization.
Naomi Kipoi, a 17-year-old student, said she was opposed to the security pact because it would allow the US to enter her country whenever it pleased. She added that China had greatly aided her country by building roads and financing schools.
“The United States did not assist us with aid and other things,” Kipoi pointed out. “They’re just trying to sign the agreement.”
The nearby Solomon Islands signed their own security treaty with China last year, sparking alarm around the Pacific. The United States has increased its presence in the Pacific, opening embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga. Reviving Peace Corps volunteer programmes and encouraging more economic investment.
However, others have questioned America’s dependability as a Pacific partner. Particularly after President Joe Biden abandoned his plans to sign the agreement during a historic tour of Papua New Guinea. Biden would have been the first sitting president of the United States to visit a Pacific Island country. However, he cancelled his trip in order to focus on debt-limit negotiations at home.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Papua New Guinea early Monday in Biden’s place. In response to news of Blinken’s planned visit, China warned against “geopolitical games” in the region.
Aside from the defence deal, the United States was poised to sign a maritime accord with Papua New Guinea. As a result, the US Coast Guard would be able to work with the Pacific nation to prevent illegal fishing.
The US visit coincides with the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was hosting a meeting with Pacific Island leaders to discuss ways to strengthen collaboration.