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Biden to sign defence pact in Papua New Guinea


SYDNEY: US President Joe Biden will sign defence and surveillance agreements with Papua New Guinea, the island nation’s foreign minister said, on a visit that renews the strategic importance of the nation.

PNG, the South Pacific’s most populous nation, will also see a doubling of US development assistance to $32 million, including $25 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 in a rising concern amid tensions.

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

There he will meet 18 Pacific island leaders.

Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko said a Defence Cooperation 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,” he added.

For 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 Two as airmen, including one who died in a plane crash in May 1944, Biden recalled during a 2016 visit to Australia.

The US pledged an $800 million 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.

Biden’s meeting in person with Pacific leaders is seen in the region as a major step in restoring trust.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was told by Pacific leaders in Fiji last year: “We have felt at times, to borrow an American term, like a flyover country.

— Reuters

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