Papua New Guinea Seeks Security Deal With Australia

Papua New Guinea Seeks Security Deal With Australia
A boy in traditional dress waits to participate at an event at the sports stadium to mark 40 years of independence in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Sept. 16, 2015. It was on this day in 1975 that Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Papua New Guinea (PNG) would like to establish a security treaty with Australia as security concerns led by China's push into the South Pacific continue to grow.

PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Aug. 29 that his country is seeking to negotiate a security treaty with Australia and potentially New Zealand.

Tkatchenko said that he discussed the idea with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong during her visit to Port Moresby on Aug. 29 and 30. He signalled that both governments were willing to move forward with negotiations around a security treaty.

"There were discussions of a treaty going forward between our countries to ensure we are all on the same page when it comes to security in the region," Tkatchenko told the ABC. "And it will also make us connected in all aspects of anything that might arise now or into the future."

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.

Treaty Could Potentially Include New Zealand

Tkatchenko said PNG would also like to see the agreement cover the security aspects of the region and potentially extend to New Zealand as well.

"I would say New Zealand would be a major part of it as well, in our region. It would be a joint treaty to work on security," he told the ABC. "A treaty between our traditional partners in the region will just help give security to all countries."

The PNG foreign minister also took pains to stress that the alliance was still in its infancy, with both Australia and PNG having just put the idea on the table. He said both countries were scheduled to have a more detailed discussion around the proposal at the upcoming PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum, which will be held in Canberra in November.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the ABC that while there had been only "very, very early discussions" on the idea. She noted that people should not be surprised by at both countries wanting to continue to work together on security cooperation considering the long-standing defence relationship.

A 'Profoundly Important' Ally

At a joint press conference with Tkatchenko, Wong said that PNG was profoundly important to Australia.

"We share history. We share values. We share an affinity, and we share a region, and our futures are tied together. You see that by looking at today, but also by looking at the past, whether it’s thousands of years ago, we were connected by land. We’ve had trade between our countries and First Nations Australians for thousands of years too," she said.

"And we, today, remain not only a solid partner but a partner that seeks to work with you as your nation charts your way towards greater prosperity and greater security."

The discussion around a security treaty comes amid rising geopolitical competition in the region, as China seeks to carve out a position in the Pacific, which has caused tensions among the Pacific community.

This has resulted in regional organisations like the Pacific Islands Forum splitting and seen domestic tensions in countries like the Solomon Islands flare.

US Seeking Closer Security Ties

The discussion of a security alliance between PNG and Australia comes as Pacific leaders head to the U.S. to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House in September.

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

Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has said in April that further discussions with PNG's Prime Minister James Marape would be held in the coming months, reported Reuters.

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.