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Australian PM Albanese to push defence ties on Papua New Guinea visit

Australian PM Albanese to push defence ties on Papua New Guinea visit

FILE PHOTO: Anthony Albanese, Australia's Prime Minister, attends the 2nd ASEAN Global Dialogue during the ASEAN summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Nov 13, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Cindy Liu)

SYDNEY: Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will urge Papua New Guinea to deepen defence ties in an address to its parliament on Thursday (Jan 12) highlighting Australian investment, as China also seeks to boost influence with the resource-rich Pacific nation.

Albanese will be the first foreign leader to address the Papua New Guinea parliament on a two-day visit to Australia's closest northern neighbour, focussed on advancing talks on a security treaty.

Australia wants to strike a pact that would see navy, air force and army personnel from each nation working alongside each other more often, Defence Minister Richard Marles said in October.

The United States and its allies including Australia are seeking to counter China's growing influence in the strategically important region, after being alarmed by China striking a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April.

Albanese will say Australia and Papua New Guinea are two big Pacific Ocean states and must work as equals to build a more secure region, according to a copy of his speech provided to Reuters.

"Australia and Papua New Guinea have a chance to honour our shared history of service in the cause of peace – by adding to it: Deepening our defence ties and enhancing our national security co-operation and achieving a swift conclusion to negotiations on a Bilateral Security Treaty," he is expected to say.

A security treaty would be based on "deep trust" and address PNG's priorities of "law and order challenges, strengthening the justice system and rule of law", Albanese will say.

The Papua New Guinea Post Courier newspaper reported on Wednesday a treaty framework was being negotiated by the two nations that went beyond traditional military security to cover maritime security and climate change.

Papua New Guinea, which gained independence from Australia in 1975, is resource-rich but largely undeveloped and Prime Minister James Marape has pledged to double gross domestic product by 2029 through five new gas and mining projects.

Australia remains Papua New Guinea's biggest aid donor, although China has become a significant infrastructure lender, trading partner, and is discussing a Free Trade Agreement.

Albanese in his speech will say Australian companies have invested A$24 billion (US$16.60 billion) in PNG, and that Australia would work to boost its agriculture exports and deliver "nation-building projects" including port upgrades and roads.

Australia signed a security pact in December with the Pacific islands nation of Vanuatu covering policing and defence.

In May, China sought but was unable to reach a wider security and trade pact with 10 out of 18 Pacific island nations.

Source: Reuters/ga


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