28 Apr 2023

Reports say Joe Biden will visit PNG in May

8:05 am on 28 April 2023

Planning is underway for a potential visit by the US President Joe Biden to Papua New Guinea next month.

PNG and US officials have told the ABC Biden is likely to meet his PNG counterpart, James Marape, and other Pacific leaders in Port Moresby, after attending the G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan on May 20-21.

He is due in Australia on May 24 for a Quad leaders meeting.

If the trip is confirmed, Biden will become the first sitting US President in recent history to visit a Pacific Island nation, excluding US territories.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced he'll meet with Pacific Island leaders in Port Moresby on his way from Japan to Australia.

The governor of the PNG Province of West New Britain, Sasindran Muthuvel, confirmed that Modi and Biden were both expected to visit Port Moresby in late May.

"This will be a hectic schedule [for Modi], because it will only be a one-day visit on May 22nd, where he will meet all the Pacific leaders, he will meet our Prime Minister," he told the ABC's Wantok programme.

"And … I've now heard the US President will come too."

US President Joe Biden (C) and leaders from the Pacific Islands region pose for a photograph on the North Portico of the White House September 29, 2022 in Washington, DC.

US President Joe Biden (C) and leaders from the Pacific Islands region pose for a photograph on the North Portico of the White House September 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo: CHIP SOMODEVILLA / AFP

Multiple US government sources confirmed to ABC the plan for a presidential visit but stressed that it had not yet been fully locked in, and that arrangements were still being discussed.

One official told the network the US president was expected to hold bilateral talks with PNG leaders and top bureaucrats in Port Moresby, as well as meeting other Pacific Island leaders.

PNG's foreign minister, Justin Tkatchenko, said earlier this month that the US and PNG were finalising a Defence Cooperation Agreement after talks between officials in Hawaii and PNG earlier this year.

"We have an understanding to ensure that our defence capabilities are enhanced through training, infrastructure, asset improvement," Tkatchenko said.

"It's about building up our capabilities. That's very important."

If the defence agreement is signed by both leaders, it would come on the heels of a recent Status of Forces Agreement, which PNG signed with the UK government last week, and a similar pact signed with France late last year.

PNG and Australia are also working on their own bilateral security treaty, and have committed to finalising negotiations by June.

Biden's visit would also come against the backdrop of Washington and Beijing jostling for influence across the region.

The Biden administration has intensified its diplomatic efforts in the Pacific, including by hosting a major White House Summit with Pacific Island leaders in September last year.

The last senior Biden administration representative to visit the Pacific was U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who travelled to Fiji in February last year to meet Pacific Island leaders.

The ABC approached the U.S Embassy in Papua New Guinea for comment about the planned visit, but it referred all questions to staff at the White House, who declined to comment.