The United States Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, assured that the United States has no intention of establishing a permanent military base in Papua New Guinea (PNG). He made this statement during his visit to Port Moresby, the capital of PNG. The holiday marks the first time a Pentagon chief has visited the country. It comes as part of the US’s efforts to enhance its military presence in the region, particularly in response to increasing competition with China.
In May, PNG and the US signed a defense cooperation agreement outlining plans to refurbish PNG’s ports and airports for military and civilian use. The deal allows for staging US forces and equipment in PNG, including coverage of the Lombrum naval base, a joint development project between Australia and the US.
During a news conference after a meeting with PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape, Lloyd Austin clarified that the US is not seeking a permanent military base. Instead, the two nations aim to deepen their defense relationship and work together to modernize PNG’s defense force, fostering greater interoperability.
A US Coast Guard cutter is scheduled to visit PNG in August as part of the effort to strengthen ties. The deployment is intended to assist PNG in protecting its marine resources and combating illegal fishing and trafficking activities, which have been a concern due to inadequate protection.
The defense agreement comes from the US and its allies’ efforts to discourage Pacific island nations from forming security alliances with China. The situation has become a growing concern, especially given the tensions surrounding Taiwan and China’s recent security pact with the Solomon Islands.
Prime Minister James Marape stressed that the defense cooperation with the US aims to enhance PNG’s capabilities and is not intended as joint preparation for war. He emphasized that the US has military bases in various locations much closer to China, such as in the Philippines and Korea.
However, the deal is yet to be ratified by PNG’s parliament, and some opposition party politicians have expressed concerns about potentially upsetting China, a significant trading partner for the country.
Marape asserted that his government prioritizes diplomacy and peace in the Pacific region. He highlighted the shared values of democracy and Christianity and promoted harmonious relationships among nations. He acknowledged the USA’s global footprint and its consistent display of these values in its actions.