During a visit to Papua New Guinea on Thursday, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin made it clear that the former would be strengthened through a new defence arrangement rather becoming a permanent military post for the US.
Papua New Guinea is a country rich in resources but is severely undeveloped and is situated north of Australia.
A defence cooperation agreement between the US and Papua New Guinea (PNG) was signed in May and establishes a framework for the US to renovate PNG ports and airports, 15 year old or more, for military purposes and use for common people.
On the first visit by a US defence official, Austin met with PNG Prime Minister James Marape to discuss strengthening ties and to announce that a US Coast Guard vessel would come in August as part of a different maritime law enforcement agreement.
Lae, the second-largest city in PNG and a significant cargo port, has been chosen as a US base for disaster management, according to PNG PM Marape.
At a press conference in the nation’s capital, Port Moresby, Austin stated, “I just want to be clear, we are not seeking a permanent base in PNG.”
On Thursday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Vanuatu, part of his five day visit to the region. In a speech delivered on Thursday in the neighboring Vanuatu, Macron warned that a “new imperialism” was emerging in the Pacific area and putting the financial and naval sovereignty of smaller countries to the test.
Macron said, “Foreign ships fish illegally here. In the region, many loans with Leonine conditions strangle up development.”
As a significant infrastructure lender in the region, China is a growing source of concern for the United States and its allies, especially in light of the recent security agreement between Beijing and the Solomon Islands.
In accordance with bilateral agreements, the U.S. Coast Guard is increasing its presence in the region to protect the wide exclusive economic zones of island states, amidst the situation where both the pacific nations of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands have made strong relations with China and have hence stopped US Coast Guard port calls.
The defence agreement’s a language makes clear that staging of American personnel and equipment in Papua New Guinea is permitted.
According to Austin, the two nations would improve interoperability and modernise PNG’s armed forces.
“Our goal is to make sure we strengthen PNG’s ability to defend itself and protect its interest. “In the Pacific we are not about war, we are about peace, tolerance and of course promoting our values of democracy, Christianity … The USA has always been showing that character also in their global footprint,” he said.
The defence agreement has not yet been approved by PNG’s parliament; several opposition lawmakers have raised concerns about it for fear of offending China, a significant trading partner. Accord to Marape, his regime sees diplomacy as biggest necessity.
Talking to reporters he said, “USA do not need PNG’s ground to be a launching pad,” he told reporters in response to questions. He added, “They have bases in Philippines, in Korea, elsewhere, much closer to China.”