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PNG signs defence cooperation agreement with US

Papua New Guinea has signed a new US-Papua New Guinea Bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States to deepen the country’s role as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region.


PNG Prime Minister James Marape and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed the agreement during a meeting of Pacific Island leaders in Port Moresby on 22 May.


Under the agreement, the two countries can enhance security cooperation, improve the capacity of the PNG Defence Force, and increase stability and security in the region.

The US will supply $12.4 million in equipment to the PNG Defence Force including $5.4 million worth of personal protective equipment such as ballistic helmets, flak vests with armour plates, elbow pads, knee pads, and eye protection from the US Department of Defense.


That equipment will be given to the PNGDF members deployed to the border and domestically for security operations. The US Department of Defense also intends to provide PNGDF $7 million in support to procure dress uniforms and name tags for the upcoming PNG 50th Independence Celebrations in 2025.


PNG Prime Minister James Marape said the PNG defence force needs to be stepped up and supported.


“The USA remains the leader of the free world. For those of us who believe in democracy, for those of us who believe in a Christian worldview, we share many commonalities with the United States of America,” he said.


“In our bilateral meeting, you were witness to the signing of our Defense Cooperation Agreement. That was a culmination of many years and months of engagement with Pentagon, engagement with Washington, engagement with US officials and our team.


“I just want to stress this point; It wasn’t shoved down our throat. It wasn’t forced upon us; it was a mutual agreement. A conversation was held expressly on the need for Papua New Guinea to have our defence force assisted, supported, stepped up.


“Papua New Guineans, you must know you have domestic security issue, as well as closer to home security issues. We’ve had similar defence cooperation agreement with Australia, Indonesia, and other nations we enjoy strong long-term partnerships with.


“We have every right also, in the same vein, to engage in a straight partnership with United States of America, where we have had no problem with similar defence force cooperation agreements.


“We are now elevating that to a specific relationship exclusive for USA-PNG military cooperations and military engagements and partnership. There is nothing for us to be fearful about. I just want to needless repeat but for emphasis because of a lot of misconception and confusion out there in the public. This agreement is subsidiary to a treaty; it’s below the treaty level.


“This agreement in no way breaks or encroaches into our country’s legislations, the fundamental constitution of our country or every other legislations we have. What we’ve signed does not encroach or affect Papua New Guinea’s own relationships we have with other nations we trade with, or we have relationships with, be it military or government-to-government relations.”


Prime Minister Marape also singled out the Indian government as a key leader in the region.


“We engaged in serious conversations, most of pointing to Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government that they must rise as the leader of the nations from the south,” he said.


“Knowing that he has a role to play especially in mobilising Indian technology, Indian capacities to help; and he himself also did pledge support to the small Pacific Island nations’ solar energy solutions, desalination solutions.”


The US government has pledged to work with Congress to an additional $10 million to implement the Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability in PNG, including $30 million over three years.


The strategy will integrate US activities in PNG to provide strengthened community capacity to prevent, mitigate, and respond to violence, including gender-based violence; supporting sustainable and equitable economic growth; and improving justice systems and professionalising security forces.


A 2+2 Strategic Dialogue will also be launched with PNG to discuss key programs, the strategy, and bilateral relationship. The US has also agreed to explore US humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support for PNG including the formation of a US-PNG working group, regional training exercises, and warehousing for disaster preparedness.


On 22 May, US Secretary of State Blinken also signed a comprehensive bilateral agreement to counter illicit transnational maritime activity through joint at-sea operations. This agreement will enable the US Coast Guard’s Shiprider program to partner with and enhance PNG’s maritime governance capacity, enabling them to exercise their authority and enforce their laws and regulations where they have jurisdiction (to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing).


The United States plans to provide $4 million, subject to congressional notification, to support PNG’s ability to address transnational organised crime-enabled corruption and money laundering. US representatives will provide technical assistance and advisory services to enable PNG authorities to conduct high-quality investigations, prosecutions, asset recovery, and reinvestment of proceeds of crime.


Through USAID, the United States will provide an additional $12.5 million to help PNG strengthen the critical resources and systems needed to make communities more climate resilient.


The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief intends to provide $5 million, subject to congressional notification, to address HIV/AIDS in PNG.


USAID plans to provide $500,000, working with Congress and Australia, and plans to provide $200,000 to support the co-hosting of a peace and security conflict assessment in PNG.


The US Department of State intends to provide $1.25 million in technical assistance and expert advisory support to build PNG’s institutional capacity to strengthen investment and regulatory frameworks for mineral resource assets.


The US Department of State has also announced plans to open an embassy in Kiribati and in Vanuatu, subject to host government approval.


“Together, we’re driving progress to expand trade, investment, and business initiatives that can lift up all communities,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.


“In Papua New Guinea specifically, we’re working with Congress to provide over $45 million in new programming on sustainable and inclusive development, public health, and energy security. And later this year, the Department of Commerce will lead a first-ever US business delegation to Pacific Island countries to explore opportunities in energy, in transportation, in health care, tourism, and telecommunications.


“We are very excited to announce the return of the Peace Corps to the Pacific Islands and that we’re launching new educational exchanges to share skills and expertise, and forge enduring connections that will benefit our communities.


“We’ve got a lot to work on, a lot to accomplish together. And that’s why we’re expanding our diplomatic presence in the region, delivering on our commitments last year. We’ve opened two new embassies, one on the Solomon Islands, the other just two weeks ago in Tonga. And we’re working to do the same in Vanuatu and Kiribati by the end of this year.”


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