US to Sign Defence Agreement With Papua New Guinea

By Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
January 26, 2023Updated: January 26, 2023

The United States and Papua New Guinea (PNG) are set to negotiate a defence cooperation agreement just after the southern Pacific nation agreed to a broad-reaching security agreement with neighbouring Australia.

PNG will send a delegation to Honolulu in February for high-level discussions, but the agreement is expected to be completed by the middle of the year.

PNG’s Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, said that the agreement would provide a framework for future joint programs and increase engagement between the two countries.

“They will also help with America’s investment into capacity building of the PNG defence force, in training, infrastructure, and other items that have to do with defence,” he said.

“Basically, everything is there; the most important thing is the legal clearance—making sure our sovereignty is protected and making sure we get things right from the beginning and not halfway through.”

The minister also noted there was no plan to have U.S. warships stationed in PNG, explaining the deal was more focused on training.

“But it’s a big one that will ensure we have the cooperation agreement that will have both defence forces working together now and in the future for the security of the Pacific region and the region that we live in,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko (L) speaking at a joint press conference with Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Port Moresby, Australia, on Aug. 29, 2022. (Andrew Kutan/AFP via Getty Images)

Renewal of US-Pacific Engagement Vital

The renewal of defence cooperation comes after former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced the U.S. would partner with PNG and Australia on their joint initiative at Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island in 2018.

However, a lacklustre initial response compounded by the pandemic meant that U.S-PNG relations weakened.

But the Biden Administration’s new pacific engagement strategic framework is regarded as a vital renewal of the ties by PNG.

The Pacific Partnership Strategy (pdf) is designed to help to increase engagement and prosperity in the region, as well as undergirding national security interests, the White House said in a statement.

“The United States is a Pacific nation, with its homeland including the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Hawai’i,” the document states.

“U.S. prosperity and security depend on the Pacific region remaining free and open.”

The strategy notes the increasing activity of the Chinese regime in the region.

“Pressure and economic coercion by the People’s Republic of China, … risks undermining the peace, prosperity, and security of the region, and by extension, of the United States,” it states.

C. Steven McGann, the former U.S. ambassador to the Republics of Fiji, Nauru, Kiribati, and the Kingdom of Tonga and Tuvalu, in a paper for the United States Institute of Peace in 2022, called the new defence initiatives promising.

“The United States has the capability to rapidly adjust its diplomatic outreach to incorporate creative and dynamic public-private partnerships,” he said. ” A rethinking of security cooperation and development assistance to PNG is critical to regional success.

“The nongovernmental and private sector’s knowledge, experience, and resources must be brought to bear as the United States searches for a framework to strengthen regional stability and undergird U.S. leadership in the Pacific.”

Regional Battle For Influence

The news of the agreement comes after China announced a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

According to pages of a leaked draft of the pact, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—with the consent of the Solomon Islands—will have the right to dispatch police, troops, weapons, and even naval ships to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”

If implemented to its full extent, the framework agreement will allow China to extend its reach beyond the South China Sea and into the South Pacific region, potentially severing shipping lanes and air links connecting the United States with allies Australia and New Zealand.

The Solomon Islands occupies a strategic position in the Pacific and is less than 1,200 miles from Australia.

James Fannell, a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has previously told The Epoch Times that the China-Solomon Islands Agreement would give a foothold to the Chinese regime in the Pacific.

“It puts a foothold for the first time that the People’s Republic of China will now have the ability to fully operate military vessels and warships from inside the South China Sea,” Fannell recently told Epoch TV’s “China Insider” program, referring to the official name of the regime.

Both China and the Solomon Islands have denied that the Solomon Islands government would permit Beijing to station its military forces there as a result of the pact. But, in Fanell’s view, the deal would allow the Chinese military to make stop-offs in the Solomons if needed to refuel and refit, which he described as “the beginnings of a kind of a base.”

Given the Island’s strategic location in the South Pacific, any Chinese presence on the Solomons would also benefit Beijing in a Taiwan invasion scenario by impeding the ability of the United States and allies to respond in the region, Fannell said.

The Chinese regime views the autonomously governed Taiwan as part of its territory, to be taken by force if necessary.

“If China was able to establish a string of bases … as an iron bar going across the South Pacific, it essentially would break off Australia, New Zealand, from America, it would break off Australia, from Japan,” he said.

In such a scenario, the regime would eventually be able to break up the United States’ network of partners in the Indo-Pacific, namely Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and expand its own influence there, according to Fannell.