23 Jan 2023

American deal will 'build up' PNG's defence force

4:51 pm on 23 January 2023
Officer cadet Nathan Muli from Papua New Guinea.

Photo: Supplied

Papua New Guinea is reportedly preparing to sign a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the United States, as it also finalises a security treaty with Australia.

The ABC reports a delegation from PNG will travel to Honolulu in Hawaii next month for high-level talks.

The new defence and security agreements come amid concerns in Canberra and Washington about China's more assertive position in the Pacific.

PNG's Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said the United States has "stepped up" in the region and is "wanting to make their presence known".

"The United States have taken a fairly serious role now in the Pacific since China and Solomon Islands have had their agreement, which has created a tsunami throughout the Pacific region and put more concentration on the area," Tkatchenko told the ABC.

A high-level Washington delegation visited the Pacific last year, in response to China signing a security pact with Solomon Islands.

The Defence Cooperation Agreement with the US will be focused on capacity building for the PNG defence force in training and infrastructure, Tkatchenko said.

Papua New Guinea APEC minister Justin Tkatchenko

Justin Tkatchenko Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

"It's not a situation in which we will have warships. Yes, training is definitely one [part of it], but not building up the US forces here in Papua New Guinea," he said.

"This agreement will assist Papua New Guinea greatly in capacity building and building up the PNG defence force."

Tkatchenko said the agreement was "about 30 percent there" ahead of the Honolulu meeting.

"[The] conclusion I would say would be halfway through this year," he said.

"Basically, everything is there, the most important thing is the legal clearance - making sure our sovereignty is protected and making sure we get things right from the beginning and not halfway through."

The ABC understands the agreement would provide the administrative framework to allow future defence investment and joint programmes and builds on a Status of Forces Agreement between the countries, which was signed in 1989.

PNG and the US recently finalised a so-called "shipriders agreement" to allow PNG defence personnel to travel on US coastguard and some naval vessels in the Pacific.

It is expected to be signed off this week.

The PNG government has said the shipriders agreement will assist with controlling illegal fishing, illegal logging, and drug smuggling in the country.

In 2018 the Unites States said it would join Australia in partnering with Papua New Guinea to redevelop the strategically-placed Lombrum naval base.

After starting the year hosting Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Port Moresby is also preparing for visits from Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. -ABC