NZ Leader Shrugs Off Militarization Fears Over New US-Papua New Guinea Pact

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Papua New Guinea’s Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki (R) shake hands after signing a security agreement on on May 22, 2023.InternationalIndiaAfricaWashington seeks to “expand its footprint” in a bid to dampen China’s expanding clout in the Asia-Pacific region, whether it is by forming political-military blocs like AUKUS, or individual security pacts, like the one with Papua New Guinea.New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has brushed aside major concerns that a new security pact between Papua New Guinea and the United States will fuel further militarization of the Asia-Pacific region.The agreement that will give the US military access to the Oceanian nation’s airfields and ports isn’t just about security, he insisted, speaking to the media after a meeting with PNG Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby, the capital of the Pacific island country.“New Zealand doesn’t support militarization of the Pacific. Having said that, military presence does not necessarily signify militarization,” Chris Hipkins said.He referenced China’s pact with the Solomon Islands, signed in mid-April last year, claiming the US-PNG agreement was more transparent.“We know what’s in the arrangement and we can see that it’s an extension of an existing relationship and it isn’t just about military presence. It’s about a range of other different issues where there is an existing solid relationship that’s being built on. From a New Zealand perspective, we do see them as different.”Papua New Guinea signed the defense pact with the United States on Monday, during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the country. In a statement released on Saturday, the Oceanian nation’s government said that the deal was an opportunity to enhance its infrastructure and capacity for national defense.“Papua New Guinea does not have enemies but it pays to be prepared… This agreement is not about geopolitics but rather recognizes the country’s need to build its defense capabilities because border disputes are inevitable in the future,” it said, adding it did not rule out “working with” other countries, “including China.”PNG Prime Minister James Marape earlier said the deal would allow it to access US satellite surveillance to fight “illegal activities on the high sea”.The US State Department said that the new pact with PNG would “enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defense Force, and increase stability and security in the region”.

‘Geopolitical Games’

However, there has been controversy regarding the lack of transparency from the government on what specifically is laid out in the new US-PNG agreement. The United States will publish the text of the Defense Cooperation Agreement “after entry into force, consistent with US law,” stated a fact sheet released by the US Department of State on Sunday. The pact has triggered student protests at several PNG universities, local media reported. “If such an agreement is going to affect us in any way, we have to be made aware. An agreement of this magnitude must go before parliament. There must be clarity. The people must be made aware of the implications,” students’ president at the University of Technology in Lae, Kenzie Walipi, said.China also slammed the “introduction of any geopolitical games into the Pacific Island country region.”

"China has no objection to normal exchanges and cooperation between relevant parties and Pacific Island countries," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin added at a daily briefing, without specifically referring to the security pact.

WorldUS ‘Playing Catch Up’ With China in Tussle for Influence in Pacific, Biden Envoy Says29 April, 09:24 GMT

Rattling Peace & Stability

Washington’s top diplomat signed the pact with PNG instead of US President Joe Biden, whose debt ceiling woes on the home front forced him to cancel much of his planned Asia trip. Blinken is also expected to meet with leaders of the Pacific Island Forum regional body in Port Moresby. Originally, visits to Papua New Guinea and Australia had been on Biden’s itinerary, with Sydney to host a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) leaders.For all the claims that pacts such as the new US-PNG agreement do not militarize the Asia-Pacific region, it is obvious that alignments are increasingly being drawn up, with Washington aggressively spearheading the trend while spinning the narrative about China’s growing clout. The US has been actively working to sabotage the creation of a multipolar world in the Asia-Pacific region, including by forming exclusive political-military blocs. AsiaAUKUS Dividing Asia: US, UK, Australian Leaders Reveal Details of Disputed Nuclear Submarine Deal15 March, 10:59 GMT


AUKUS, a trilateral security agreement between the US, Australia and the UK unveiled in September 2021, entails supplying Canberra with three American Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines by the early 2030s, while cementing China’s status as the perceived adversary of all three countries. New Zealand has also hinted at joining the “non-nuclear component” of the trilateral AUKUS security pact, Defence Minister Andrew Little said in March.China blasted the three countries that cobbled together the AUKUS pact for pursuing their own geopolitical interests and completely ignoring the concerns of the international community. The US-UK-Australia deal involves the transfer of large quantities of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium from nuclear-weapon states to a non-nuclear-weapon state. Accordingly, it poses a serious risk of nuclear proliferation and violates the goals of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin at a briefing.Russia has also voiced its concerns about the AUKUS pact.”The Anglo-Saxon world with the creation of bloc structures like AUKUS, with the promotion of NATO military infrastructure in Asia, is making a serious bid for confrontation for many years,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.WorldNew Zealand ‘Willing to Explore’ Joining ‘Non-Nuclear’ Aspect of AUKUS Pact, Defence Minister Says28 March, 05:46 GMT


Besides AUKUS, the US is leading Quad – a loose security alliance with Australia, Japan, and India, widely understood to be an attempt to drum together a common anti-China policy across the “Indo-Pacific.” The four nations have all ramped up their military spending in recent years, claiming it is in response to an alleged “threat” posed by China. Just recently, the Quad’s third in-person summit took place on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan’s Hiroshima. It brought together Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and US President Joe Biden.AnalysisNew US Bases in Philippines May Set Asia Pacific on Fire1 May, 07:00 GMT

Philippine Bases

The United States and the Philippines opted to modernize their alliance, intensifying high-level joint exercises and other related activity in April. The US was to get access to four new military bases as part of the expanded defense agreement. The four bases include three on the main island of Luzon, close to Taiwan, and one in Palawan province in the South China Sea (SCS).Bilateral joint military exercises between the United States and the Philippines have also reached an unprecedented scale. More than 12,000 American, 5,000 Philippine and 111 Australian soldiers took part in the “Balikatan” joint military exercises in the waters across the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.Needless to say, the Chinese Embassy in Manila was quick to issue a statement, saying that such drills “should not target any third party and should be conducive to regional peace and stability.” In addition, the Philippine and American defense and diplomacy chiefs discussed the development of nine Philippine military camps, where US troops would be staying indefinitely.AnalysisSCO vs Washington’s Asia-Pacific Pacts: How Eurasian Bloc Can Oppose US Diktat28 April, 16:02 GMT

Pacific Island Nations

Washington has also been on a roll, opening new embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga this year, with plans for one in Kiribati. Biden hosted Pacific Island leaders in Washington for a summit in September. Additionally, the US released its first-ever national strategy on engaging the Pacific Islands. Washington also reportedly intends to allocate around $6.5 bln, spread over two decades, to various parts of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.While jostling for clout, the Biden administration has been dangling China’s “increasing assertiveness” in the region as a convenient excuse.Indeed, Beijing signed several agreements with almost a dozen Pacific Island nations during a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the region in the summer of 2022. Before that, in mid-April, the Chinese and the Solomon Islands governments formally signed a bilateral security agreement despite the displeasure voiced by the US, Australia, and New Zealand. Earlier, in 2019, the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing.Commenting on the pact, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasizsed that its purpose was “to assist the Solomon Islands in maintaining social order”. He vehemently denied Western media speculation about China’s apparent plans to beef up its military presence in the region.WorldRussia, China to Keep Explaining Danger of NATO Presence to Asia-Pacific, Ambassador Says4 March, 13:52 GMT


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