Papua New Guinea, US to sign security pact with eye on China – best2daynews


Papua New Guinea, US to sign security pact with eye on China


Port Moresby (AFP) May 22, 2023

Papua New Guinea signed a defence pact with the United States on Monday, giving US forces access to its airfields and ports as Washington vies with China’s expanding footprint in the Pacific region.

Washington has growing concerns about China’s rise in the Pacific, where it is trying to woo nations with an array of diplomatic and financial incentives in return for strategic support.

Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki inked the deal with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before the start of a US meeting with the leaders of 14 South Pacific island states in the capital Port Moresby.

“A defence cooperation agreement is done,” Prime Minister James Marape said at the signing ceremony, adding the Pacific island was “elevating” its relationship with the United States.

Blinken said under the “fully transparent” deal each of the two nations would be able to board the other’s vessels, share technical expertise and “better patrol” the seas together.

“The agreement that we reached, the work that we are doing, is not about any other country,” he told reporters at the end of the meeting.

“It’s about our relationship with the Pacific islands and the shared vision we have for this region.”

Washington’s diplomatic overtures in the Pacific received another boost on Monday after it renewed a key strategic pact with the island of Palau.

– Intensifying rivalry –

In a sign of the intensifying rivalry over the South Pacific, Blinken was not the only representative of a major power aiming to counter Beijing’s growing economic, political and military presence.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew into town just hours before him on the eve of his own meeting, asserting his nation’s role as a regional power.

“We support a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. We respect the sovereignty and integrity of all countries,” Modi told Pacific leaders.

After making the first visit to the country by an Indian premier, Modi tweeted it was a “historic” trip.

By signing the security deal with PNG, Blinken will also expand the US military’s capacity to deploy in the region.

Beijing has snapped up mines and ports across the Pacific, and last year inked a secretive security pact with the neighbouring Solomon Islands that allows China to deploy troops to the country.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning on Monday said Beijing would not object to “normal exchanges” between nations but must be on guard for the use of cooperation “as a pretext for engaging in geopolitical games” in the Pacific.

– ‘Illegal activities’ –

The United States fears that a Chinese military foothold in the South Pacific could outflank its facilities on Guam, and make the defence of Taiwan more complicated in the event of a Chinese invasion.

The State Department said the pact with PNG would “increase stability and security in the region”.

“Port Moresby is no longer the sleepy diplomatic outpost it once was,” said Gordon Peake, a senior adviser for the Pacific Islands at the United States Institute of Peace.

“While China might not be mentioned anywhere in the document, it’s an important subtext in this story of deepening US-PNG relations.”

Marape last week said the deal would offer Washington movement in the country’s waters in return for access to US satellite surveillance to battle “illegal activities on the high sea”.

The deal would not prevent him from signing similar agreements with other nations, including China, he said.

– Student protests –

The agreement has prompted student protests at several universities, PNG’s biggest newspaper the Post Courier reported, over fears it gives US forces too much autonomy at some of the country’s key entry points.

In Port Moresby, scores of students gathered at the University of Papua New Guinea into the evening, with some setting tyres on fire. A private security guard at the university said stones were being thrown at passing vehicles.

Security was high in the capital on Monday, with roads blocked and bomb squad cars stationed around its downtown beach area close to where the leaders were meeting. Officers were also patrolling nearby waters on speedboats and jet skis.

Blinken replaced Joe Biden at the meeting after the US president cancelled the trip to take part in debt ceiling talks in Washington.

On top of the deal, the US pledged to PNG $45 million in funding to tackle organised crime, climate change and HIV/AIDS, as well as protective equipment for its military, the State Department said.

Envy in Papua New Guinea as Chinese money pours in
Port Moresby (AFP) May 21, 2023 – In Papua New Guinea’s capital, shanty towns without electricity or water that surround modern high-rise buildings are soon to be joined by a new project in the coastal city — a gleaming Chinatown complex.

Beijing is pouring vast sums into Papua New Guinea, a resource-rich jewel in the Pacific crown but one of the poorest countries in the world, because of its vast potential and position near crucial sea routes.

A slew of Chinese projects are popping up across Port Moresby including the $414 million complex — Beijing’s biggest investment in Papua New Guinea — that will boast a cinema, hotel, apartments and restaurants.

But locals are aggrieved they are seeing no obvious benefit from Beijing’s big spend, complaining that thousands of workers are being flown in and paid to work on large projects, only to send the money home.

“Why are we left out? What the Chinese can do, our people can do,” said former MP Gabia Gagarimabu, 62.

“They are coming in and we are sitting there and watching.”

Unfinished or unused Chinese projects are also raising fears about the benefits of Beijing’s aid and stoking suspicion it is worsening corruption in the country.

Cranes remain idle at the sprawling Chinatown site after years of Covid-19 delays.

A Chinese-built skyscraper, the tallest building in the country at 23 storeys, towers over the city’s skyline but sits empty after officials found multiple defects.

The walls of a convention centre built by China for the APEC summit are covered in graffiti with only guards and gardeners remaining at the site. They say electricity has been turned off since 2018.

“Projects become ghost projects. Where is the money? Where is the development?” asked Gagarimabu.

– ‘Discriminated’ –

Beijing’s investment in the most populous South Pacific nation is for its “strategic location, plenty of oil and gas, minerals, plenty of opportunity,” said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

China is now the country’s second-largest trading partner behind former colonial ruler Australia, with Beijing investing heavily in construction but also energy, resources, retail and telecoms.

A new six-lane highway now runs through the capital.

The entrance of a school for 3,000 students is adorned with Mandarin script while bus stops with Chinese signage built for the 2018 APEC summit dot the city centre.

A national courthouse complex being built carries the name of a Beijing-headquartered state construction company.

Chinese state-owned media has said the investments are geared at improving living standards.

The investment has “no political strings attached”, Beijing’s Global Times newspaper said in an editorial last year.

Chinese migrants first settled the Pacific islands in the 19th century but a fresh influx — some illegal — since the 1980s had already made them the focus of political unrest.

The latest wave of Belt and Road workers has only heightened communal tensions, sparking riots and looting against Chinese businesses.

Some Chinese workers refused to talk about the situation while others were more forthcoming.

“They (Chinese) are discriminated against locally. I am feeling it a little bit,” said Chen Jing, 46, a phone repair stall owner.

– ‘Take everything’ –

Despite rumblings of discontent, PNG’s government moved ahead and in 2018 became the first Pacific country to sign a memorandum of understanding for China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, a defining geopolitical project for President Xi Jinping.

In the following year, major Chinese companies operating in PNG — mostly state-owned enterprises — shot up from 21 to 39, according to Peter Connolly, who is researching China’s Pacific projects at the Australian National University.

At a Chinese mini-mart covered in metal bars to protect workers from armed robberies, manager Vincent He said voiced support for more workers coming to PNG.

“There are some jobs they just can’t do. They can’t help us,” said the businessman from China’s Fujian Province, switching from English to Mandarin so locals can’t understand him.

“I don’t know why they talk like this. We must have our own Chinese people doing it here.”

But growing Chinese business activity is feeding resentment because locals “fear for their economic and employment security”, said Sinclair Dinnen, associate professor at the Australian National University.

They say relatively well-off Chinese migrants do not mix with society, send their earnings home and don’t put it back into a country where around 40 percent live below the bread line.

“The opportunity is not given to us. If we continue this, soon we won’t have a place to work,” said Heather Yaninen, 60, who runs a cosmetics stall.

“They will come in and take everything.”

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