Blinken, Daki sign controversial US-PNG defence pact after day of protests

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (from left), PNG Prime Minister James Marape (standing) and Defence Minister Win Daki after signing the US-PNG defence cooperation pact in Port Moresby
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left), PNG Prime Minister James Marape (standing) and Defence Minister Win Daki after signing the US-PNG defence cooperation pact and a maritme agreement to combat illegal fishing and drug running in Port Moresby in May. Image: Kennedy Bani/The National

The National, Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea yesterday intialled a defence cooperation agreement with the United States amid day-long protests against the signing by university students and opposition MPs.

The agreement was signed by PNG Defence Minister Win Daki and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A statement by the US State Department said the signing, when it comes 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 and increase stability and security in the region”.

The US will publish the contents of the document when it enters into force as provided by US law, the statement declared.

Protests and demonstrations were held at four universities — the University of Papua New Guinea, University of Technology in Lae, Divine Word University in Madang and at the University of Goroka.

The UPNG protests spilled out on the streets last night stopping traffic.

Opposition Leader Joseph Lelang cautioned the government not to “sacrifice Papua New Guinea’s sovereignty” in the haste to sign international agreements with other nations, whatever the motivation.

In ‘crosshairs of China’
Former prime minister Peter O’Neill said the government was putting the country squarely in the “crosshairs of China and the United States” in their struggle for geopolitical supremacy in the region.

The US government will work with Congress to provide more than US$45 million (about K159 million, or NZ$72 million) in new programming as PNG and the US enter a new era as “partners for peace and prosperity in the region”.

Divine Word University students during their peaceful protest
Divine Word University students during their peaceful protest at the Madang campus yesterday. Image: The National

The US will provide an additional US$10 million (about K35.3 million) to implement the strategy to “prevent conflict and promote stability” in PNG, bringing total planned funding to US$30 million (about K106 million) over three years.

Blinken and PNG Prime Minister Marape also signed a comprehensive bilateral agreement to counter illicit transnational maritime activity through joint at-sea operations, the US statement revealed.

“This agreement will enable the US Coast Guard’s ship-rider programme to partner with and enhance PNG’s maritime governance capacity.

Marape said before the signing that the agreement would not encroach on the country’s sovereignty.

“The US and PNG have a long history, with shared experiences and this will be a continuation of that same path.

Generic SOFA in 1989
“PNG signed a generic SOFA [status of forces] agreement with other countries in 1989 and today with the signing of the defence cooperation and the maritime cooperation (ship-rider agreement) it will only elevate the SOFA.

“And this cooperation will help build the country’s defence capacity and capabilities and also address issues such as illegal fishing, logging and drug smuggling in PNG waters.”

Blinken said the agreement would help PNG mitigate the effects of climate change, tackle transnational crime and improve public health.

“We are proud to partner with PNG, driving economic opportunities and are committed to all aspects of the defence and maritime cooperation,” he said.

Republished with permission.

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