In a significant move aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the Pacific region, the United States and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have signed a defence cooperation agreement. Secretary of State Antony Blinken represented President Joe Biden during his meeting with PNG Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby.
While the details of the agreement have not been made public, Blinken stated that it would focus on strengthening PNG’s defense capabilities, combating illegal fishing, and providing disaster relief. The agreement emphasizes mutual consent and assures that it does not undermine PNG’s existing relationships with other nations. This article explores the implications of the U.S.-PNG defense pact and its role in the broader context of U.S.- Pacific agreements.
The defence cooperation agreement signed between the United States and Papua New Guinea aims to solidify their bilateral ties while responding to China’s increasing presence in the Pacific region. The agreement, which remains undisclosed to the public, was mutually agreed upon and reflects PNG’s commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities. Prime Minister Marape emphasized that the pact does not infringe upon PNG’s legislation or affect its relationships with other nations, including China, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, and India.
Marape further clarified that the defense agreement elevates the existing umbrella status of force agreement into an exclusive arrangement for U.S.-PNG military cooperation, engagements, and partnerships. He emphasized that this agreement operates below the level of a treaty and aligns with PNG’s 1975 Visiting Forces Act. The agreement’s primary focus includes capacity building for the PNG defense force, addressing issues such as illegal fishing, and collaborating on disaster relief efforts.
In addition to the defense cooperation agreement with PNG, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed an agreement with Palau and is expected to conclude a deal with the Federated States of Micronesia. These agreements are part of the broader U.S. efforts to maintain and strengthen alliances in the Pacific region. The United States is committed to the Compact of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau. This framework enables these nations to access U.S. domestic economic programs and allows the United States to establish defense bases within their territories. Furthermore, citizens of these Freely Associated States (FAS) are eligible to serve in the U.S. military.
Renewal of these agreements holds strategic importance for the United States in countering China’s influence in the Pacific. China’s previous signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands raised concerns among other regional countries that it could result in the deployment of Chinese troops, weaponry, and naval vessels. The United States seeks to bolster its presence and demonstrate its commitment to the security and stability of the Pacific region through increased military drills and cooperation with FAS countries.
President Joe Biden has invited Prime Minister James Marape to Washington for a second U.S.-Pacific summit later this year. The summit will provide an opportunity to discuss various issues, including trade and economic ties, maritime security, and further strengthening the bilateral relationship. It underscores the United States’ dedication to forging a closer partnership with Papua New Guinea and maintaining regional stability in the face of growing challenges.
The signing of the defense cooperation agreement between the United States and Papua New Guinea represents a significant step in countering China’s expanding influence in the Pacific region. China’s actions in the Pacific have sparked worries about its long-term geopolitical intentions. The signing of the defense cooperation agreement signifies the United States’ determination to maintain its presence and protect the interests of its allies in the face of China’s growing assertiveness.
The agreement, characterized by mutual consent, aims to enhance PNG’s defense capabilities, combat illegal fishing, and facilitate disaster relief efforts. It is crucial to note that the defense pact does not impede PNG’s relationships with other nations, including China. The criticism of China is likely to continue as the country’s economic and military power grows. It is important to note that not all Pacific island nations are critical of China. Some countries, such as Fiji and Vanuatu, have close economic ties with China and have welcomed its investment. However, the majority of Pacific island nations are concerned about China’s growing influence in the region and are seeking to balance their relations with China and the United States. The U.S.-PNG defense pact underscores the United States’ commitment to maintaining stability and safeguarding the interests of its allies in the face of growing challenges