(Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday signed a defense cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea that he said would expand the capabilities of the Pacific island nation and make it easier to train the U.S. military and its troops.
Blinken is also scheduled to meet with 14 Pacific Island leaders. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier pledged support to the Pacific islands at a summit in the capital, Port Moresby.
Washington and its allies seek to deter Pacific island nations from establishing security ties with China, a growing concern amid tensions over Taiwan.
Leaders of the Pacific islands, whose territory spans 40 million square kilometers (15 million square miles) of ocean, have said rising sea levels caused by climate change are their most urgent security priority.
During his meeting with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, James Marap, Blinken said that the United States will work to deepen its partnership in all areas with Papua New Guinea. In a statement, the State Department said they discussed economic development, the climate crisis, and the importance of the United States’ continued engagement with the Pacific.
“Defense cooperation has been forged by the United States and Papua New Guinea as equal and sovereign partners,” Blinken said at the signing ceremony.
Blinken said he would expand Papua New Guinea’s defense capabilities to enhance humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and facilitate joint training of US and Papua New Guinea forces.
“It will be completely transparent,” he added.
A separate agreement would increase maritime surveillance of Papua New Guinea’s exclusive economic zone with US Coast Guard patrols, protecting its economy from illegal fishing.
Blinken said the partnerships with the companies will bring tens of billions of dollars worth of new investment to Papua New Guinea.
He added that US President Joe Biden expressed his “regret that he could not be here.” Biden had to cancel his travel to Papua New Guinea amid debt ceiling negotiations in Washington.
Marabi said the agreement would enhance economic security by giving Papua New Guinea’s defense force “the ability to know what’s going on in its waters – something we haven’t had since 1975.”
Several university campuses held protests against the signing of the defense cooperation agreement, which opposition politicians said would upset China. Marape has denied that it will prevent PNG from doing business with China, an important trading partner.
He said earlier that the US defense agreement is an extension of an existing agreement.
Marby told the media on Sunday that the defense agreement would also see an increase in the US military presence over the next decade.
The US State Department said Washington will provide $45 million in new funds as it works with Papua New Guinea to enhance economic and security cooperation, including protective equipment for the Papua New Guinea Defense Force, mitigating climate change and tackling cross-border crime and HIV. / AIDS.
Modi told the 14 leaders of the Indo-Pacific Island Cooperation Forum that India will be a reliable development partner for the small island states and is committed to a “free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific”.
“Without any doubt, we are ready to share our capabilities and expertise in digital technology, space technology, health security, food security, climate change and environmental protection,” he said in his opening speech.
He added that the Quartet leaders from Australia, the United States, Japan and India had agreed in Hiroshima to increase cooperation with Pacific island nations.
In his opening remarks, Marabe urged India to think about the small island nations that are “suffering as a result of the role of the big nations”.
Russia’s war with Ukraine, for example, has caused inflation and soaring fuel and energy prices in the region’s small economies, Merab said.
Historians said png and the Solomon Islands – that last year Make a security agreement With Beijing – it was necessary to push the United States across the Pacific to liberate the Philippines in World War II.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney); Edited by Lincoln Feast
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