Australia to boost PNG ties as US pivots to Pacific

·2-min read

Defence Minister Richard Marles says Australia is focused on its own relationship with Papua New Guinea amid concerns about a new security pact with the United States.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed new defence agreements in Port Moresby on Monday.

But PNG opposition MPs and protesters called for more transparency about what the agreement means for Washington's military foothold in the region and whether it would impact its "friends to all" foreign policy.

Mr Marles welcomed renewed US engagement in the Pacific and said Australia was focused on boosting its own ties with Port Moresby.

"The fact that America is walking down this path is something that we certainly see as being very positive and we will continue to work with PNG in terms of developing our own friends," he said on Tuesday.

Mr Marape told protesters there was "nothing for us to be fearful about".

He said the new pact had nothing to do with China, despite the US agreement resulting in an increase in its military presence over the next decade.

"We have a healthy relationship with the Chinese government and they are an important trading partner," he said.

The agreement also set to expand PNG's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance and respond to natural disasters.

Australia is working to forge its own defence co-operation agreement with PNG with negotiations continuing as the Pacific minister held meetings with leaders in Port Moresby. 

Asked whether concerns over the US pact sparked a rethink of Australia's agreement, with negotiations running behind schedule, Mr Marles said PNG remained an important partner.

"Papua New Guinea is profoundly important for Australia in so many ways, but that includes our national security, which is why we are building our relationship evermore," he said.