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Papua New Guinea Delays Signing Australia Security Deal Over ‘Certain Wordings’

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Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said on May 30 that he had delayed signing a proposed security treaty with Australia as “certain wordings and provisions” require consultation with domestic processes.

Marape and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles met on the sidelines of the Korea-Pacific Islands summit in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss the proposed bilateral security treaty.

Marape told Marles that the treaty was still “in progress and required the PNG side to consult our domestic processes and sovereign laws in relation to certain wordings and provisions,” his office stated.

The PNG leader also conveyed his apologies to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for the delay in formalizing the treaty. Both sides were scheduled to conclude negotiations by the end of April.

Marape affirmed that his nation “in no way would compromise its excellent existing bilateral relations with Australia and further stressed that PNG was capable of managing its sovereign affairs on its terms, systems, and processes,” his office said.

Australia and PNG already had strong security ties and have engaged in conflicts alongside each other. However, the two countries have never signed a formal security treaty.

The proposed treaty will enhance their partnership “by providing a legally binding framework for security cooperation across our many areas of mutual interest and contribute to bilateral and regional security, trust, and stability.”

Protest Against US–PNG Defense Pact

Marape’s decision came as internal scrutiny mounted over PNG’s defense cooperation agreement with the United States, which was signed during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to PNG on May 22.

University students submitted a petition to the PNG government expressing concerns over the U.S.–PNG defense pact. Students also resorted to civil unrest, including burning cars and property, in protest of the accord.

Marape said that he would dispatch government officers to the university to clarify the details of the accord and make public PNG’s defense cooperation agreements with Australia and Indonesia.

“There is nothing sinister about this DCA with America,” he said in a statement on May 26.

Marape said the U.S. deal was not a new concept, as it aligns with PNG’s 1975 Visiting Forces Act, which facilitates partnerships between the country’s defense force and the defense force of the partnering nation.

“We are getting one done with the United States, as we feel this will add value to our defense force and our economy. Through this agreement, we want to grow the economy of the country and strengthen our defense force,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Papua New Guinea’s Defense Minister Win Bakri Daki shake hands after signing a security agreement as Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape (C) looks on at the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation at APEC Haus in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on May 22, 2023. (Adek Berry/AFP via Getty Images)

“There are still details of an operational agreement that need to be made—such as how the defense force will operate, what they will do, and so forth. This will happen after we have tabled the signed agreement and parliament decides on the needed details,” he added.

The U.S.–PNG defense pact has not been made public, but Blinken said it would enable the United States to support PNG in building up its defense capacity, tackling illegal fishing, and providing disaster relief.

President Joe Biden has also invited Marape to Washington for a second U.S.-Pacific summit later this year, during which they will discuss various issues, including trade and economic ties and maritime security.

The United States is seeking to increase security ties with PNG amid the fallout of an agreement between Beijing and the Solomon Islands that could see Chinese troops and weapons stationed in the region.

Washington also signed an agreement with Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. Blinken said he hoped to conclude negotiations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands soon.

Victoria Kelly-Clark contributed to this report.

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