Australia and neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG) have signed a bilateral security agreement that will provide the Pacific state with more assistance for its police and support for its legal system.
The agreement was signed in Canberra on Thursday by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and PNG’s James Marape and comes after PNG signed a defence deal with the United States in May to upgrade its military bases.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Marape told reporters at a joint press conference that the deal with Australia showed the two countries were “brother and sister nations”.
PNG’s judiciary, public service and borders were established by Australia before PNG became an independent nation 48 years ago, Marape noted.
“You have always given support to us. What happens up north of your borders has deep, deep shared effect, benefit, consequences, on our region,” he added.
“This is a comprehensive and historic agreement. It will make it easier for Australia to help PNG address its internal security needs,” Albanese said.
Albanese paid tribute to the support PNG’s population gave to Australian service members during World War Two, and said it was a defence relationship forged through sacrifice.
“For our interests going forward, we have no closer friends than Papua New Guinea,” Albanese said.
The text of the agreement says that enhancing PNG’s capabilities contributes to “Pacific-led regional security and stability”, and that Australia and PNG will prioritise consultations with each other on PNG’s need for security-related equipment, infrastructure and training.
The agreement comes amid growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing in the Asia Pacific.
China has sought to boost its security presence in the Pacific Islands, signing deals to equip and train police in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, raising concerns in the US and in Australia, which argues security should be provided by Pacific countries.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Wednesday that a meeting of South Pacific defence ministers, including PNG, had agreed to consider forming a Pacific Response Group to provide assistance in emergencies.
Thursday’s security agreement includes more training for PNG’s police, resources for the country’s judges, and measures to tackle gender-based violence.
It also covers climate change, cyber security and disaster relief.
Less than 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Australia’s northernmost border, PNG is the largest and most populous state in Melanesia.
It has vast deposits of gas, gold and minerals – and is strategically positioned along some of the Pacific region’s busiest shipping lanes.
Under the deal with the US, PNG granted Washington “unimpeded” access to key naval bases, ports and airfields, but critics accused the government of yielding too much influence to foreign powers.
The backlash delayed the Australia agreement, which the two leaders had expected to sign in June.
Marape stressed that PNG was eager to deal with Canberra and Washington but did not want to provoke Beijing.
“Our major foreign policy remains friends to all and enemies to none,” Marape said on Thursday.
“It’s never at the expense of relationships elsewhere.”
China has been on its own PNG charm offensive, pouring money into trade, property and infrastructure projects and deepening economic ties.