US President Joe Biden to sign defence pact in Papua New Guinea, with eyes on China

Officials say US President Joe Biden has a CPAP machine after mask indents were visible on his face.

Officials say US President Joe Biden has a CPAP machine after mask indents were visible on his face. Photo: AAP

United States President Joe Biden will sign defence and surveillance agreements with Papua New Guinea, the island nation’s foreign minister says, on a visit that renews the strategic importance of the nation where his uncle died in World War II.

US development assistance to PNG, the South Pacific’s most populous nation, will also double to $US32 million ($47 million), including $US25 million ($37 million) to tackle its security priority of climate change, State Department documents submitted to the US Congress show.

Washington is seeking to deter Pacific island nations, which span 40 million kilometres of ocean, from security ties with China, a rising concern amid tensions over Taiwan.

Mr Biden will visit PNG capital Port Moresby on May 22 on his way to a summit of the Quad countries – the US, Japan, India and Australia – in Sydney, the White House has confirmed.

There he will meet 18 Pacific island leaders.

Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko told Reuters a Defence Co-operation Agreement between the US and PNG was finalised last week, “which now allows us to officially sign it when Biden comes here”.

A separate agreement to allow the US Coast Guard to patrol PNG’s vast exclusive economic zone, with PNG officials on board as “ship riders”, also will be signed and cover satellite surveillance, he said in an interview.

“We will be able to utilise the US satellite security systems. Once we sign that it will help monitor our waters, which we can’t at the moment,” he said.

“It will be a fantastic agreement protecting our natural resources from being illegally poached and stolen, especially our fishing.”

China has a decade-long history of infrastructure projects in the region, and last year struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands, which has since placed a moratorium on US Coast Guard vessels entering its waters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited the region three times, including a 2018 visit to PNG, but Beijing last year failed to sign 10 nations to a security and trade deal.

For Mr Biden, the visit also will have personal significance that highlights PNG’s importance to regional security.

Two of his uncles were based in PNG in World War II as airmen, including one who died in a plane crash in May 1944, Mr Biden recalled during a 2016 visit to Australia.

Historians have said PNG was essential to the US drive across the Pacific to liberate the Philippines in the war, and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has urged people to look at history to understand “the strategic importance of Pacific islands to Australia’s security needs”.

Classified portions of an Australian defence review were reported by local media to warn Australia would be unable to defend itself from a Chinese missile attack launched from the Pacific.

Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles, if positioned in the Pacific islands, could stop US and Australian navy movement, University of NSW professor David Kilcullen, a former special adviser on counterinsurgency to the US Secretary of State, wrote in Australian Foreign Affairs.

China and the Solomon Islands have denied their security pact allows a navy base.

The US pledged an $US800 million ($1.2 billion) economic assistance package after meeting with Pacific island leaders last year, which must be approved by Congress in negotiations not due to progress until the autumn.

US embassies recently opened in Solomon Islands and Tonga, but consent for proposed embassies in Vanuatu and Kiribati is yet to be gained, an official told a congressional hearing.


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