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US, Papua New Guinea sign defence pact at Pacific summit

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PORT MORESBY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a defence cooperation pact signed with Papua New Guinea on Monday would expand the Pacific island nation's capabilities and make it easier for the US military to train with its forces.

The United States and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific island nations from forming security ties with China and after Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands.

Leaders of the Pacific islands, whose territories span 40 million square km of ocean, have said rising sea levels caused by climate change are their most pressing security priority.

Meeting PNG Prime Minister James Marape, Blinken said the United States would deepen its partnership across the board with PNG, and he expected partnerships with US businesses would bring tens of billions of dollars' worth of new investment.

Marape said in an evening press conference "there is nothing for us to be fearful about".

The accord updated an existing US military relationship, he said, and "has nothing to do with China".

"We have a healthy relationship with the Chinese government and they are an important trading partner," Marape said with Blinken standing alongside.

Marape told media that the defence agreement would see an increase in the US military presence over the next decade, while the US State Department said it would bolster security in the region.

"The defence cooperation was drafted by the United States and Papua New Guinea as equals and sovereign partners," Blinken said at a signing ceremony.

It will expand PNG defence capacity to enhance humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and make it easy for US and PNG forces to train together, Blinken said.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a news briefing that China had no objection to mutually beneficial cooperation with Pacific island countries such as PNG, but added: "What we need to be vigilant about is engaging in geopolitical games in the name of cooperation, and we also believe that no cooperation should target any third parties."

Marape said the agreement would boost economic security by giving PNG's defence force "the ability to know what is happening in its waters - something we have never had since 1975". — AFP

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