‘There must be clarity’ – PNG students protest over US defence deal

"Protect our sovereignty - and our boundaries" . . . University of Goroka students protest early today against the signing of a US-PNG Bilateral Defence Cooperation Agreement. Image: RNZ Pacific

By Scott Waide, RNZ Pacific PNG correspondent, and Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist

University students in Papua New Guinea are protesting against the signing of a defence cooperation agreement with the United States which is expected to take place today in Port Moresby.

Since 6am this morning, students from universities from around the country have been calling for more transparency from the government.

The student president at the University of Technology in Lae, Kenzie Walipi, said the government must explain exactly what was going to be in the deal ahead of the signing.

“If such an agreement is going to affect us in any way? We have to be made aware,” Walipi said.

“An agreement of this magnitude must go before Parliament. There must be clarity. The people must be made aware of the implications.”

Walipi said they were coordinating protests with student colleagues in other universities around the country.

Students at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) gathered at the Waigani campus.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Frank Griffin said the university administration would facilitate the presentation of a petition to government.

“Our job is not to say whether it [the petition] is in order or not in order. Our job is to actually help them with bringing it through the right processes to the attention of our Prime Minister,” Professor Griffin said.

Deal will ‘enhance security cooperation’ — US
A fact sheet outlining US engagements with Papua New Guinea was released by the US Department of State yesterday. It said:

“On May 22, Secretary [Antony] Blinken will sign a Defense Cooperation Agreement, which, when it enters into force, will serve as a foundational framework upon which our two countries can enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), and increase stability and security in the region.

“The United States expects to publish the text of the Defense Cooperation Agreement after entry into force, consistent with US law.”

The fact sheet noted the defence cooperation was just one of multiple new initiatives the US was entering into with Papua New Guinea.

“The United States will continue to partner with PNG on strengthening economic relations, security cooperation, and people-to-people ties, as well as promoting inclusive and sustainable development, including through plans to work with Congress to provide over $45 million in new programming,” it said.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to sign the agreement today prior to Blinken also meeting with leaders from the 14 other Pacific Islands countries who are in Port Moresby.

Pacific leaders will also be meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who landed in the PNG capital overnight on his way back to India from the G7 summit in Japan.

Monday’s meeting will be the third in-person Pacific-India summit Modi has attended, the other two being in Jaipur, India in 2015 and Suva, Fiji in 2014.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, walks with Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape at Port Moresby International Airport on 21 May, 2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed to Port Moresby by his PNG counterpart James Marape (left) last night for talks with Pacific Island leaders. Image: RNZ Pacific/AFP
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