Australia and Papua New Guinea have vowed to finalise negotiations on a bilateral security treaty by the end of April as the two countries move to expand defence cooperation and cement military ties.
Prime ministers Anthony Albanese and James Marape issued a “joint commitment” to sign the pact after holding talks with senior officials in PNG’s capital Port Moresby this afternoon.
In a statement, both leaders said the agreement would “further enhance our security partnership by providing a legally binding framework for security cooperation across our many areas of mutual interest and contribute to bilateral and regional security, trust, and stability”.
Mr Albanese told journalists in Port Moresby that both countries had agreed on a “concrete timetable going forward” and said the security of the two nations was “indivisible”.
“Negotiations will be concluded by the end of April. And we hope to have a signing in June — a key outcome of the meeting today,” he said.
The joint statement flags that Australia and PNG will expand training and explore possible joint exercises under the treaty, as well as share information more regularly on strategic threats and challenges.
Speaking after leader-levels talks, Mr Marape suggested Australia might also be able to do more to help PNG police tackle internal challenges and civil unrest, such as the violence which plagued parts of the country around last year’s elections.
The announcement came only a month after Australia and Vanuatu signed a bilateral security agreement during a bipartisan parliamentary trip to the Pacific in December last year.
China’s growing Pacific influence not a factor, Albanese says
Mr Albanese has denied that the flurry of negotiations have been driven by anxiety over China’s move to deepen security links in the Pacific, including through its contentious security pact with Solomon Islands.
And Mr Marape brushed off questions on whether the bilateral treaty with Australia would preclude PNG signing a similar agreement with China in the future.
“Those were not issues before us, in as far as our discussions were concerned,” he said.
“The PNG-China relationship remains the PNG-China relationship. At no instance was China or any other nation brought into the picture.”
“Our relationship with Australia is particularly unique. Every other nation understands this.”
Earlier, Mr Albanese told PNG’s national parliament that the treaty would help Australia “address PNG’s priority needs including law and order challenges, strengthening the justice system and rule of law”.
He also said that it would “build on the family-first approach to regional security” and be “an example to others and an investment in the future of our partnership”.
Mr Marape used his response to Mr Albanese’s address to press Australia to help Papua New Guinea grow its economy, declaring that “a nation claiming political independence without economic strength is a weak nation”.
“In order for PNG to participate in a safer Indo-Pacific region, PNG herself must be stronger economically. PNG must be a strong economic nation,” he said.
“So, Mr Speaker, our focus on ramping up trade and business free flow of exports and our people to Australia will be a main issue of discussions with the Australian leadership we are so privileged to have [here] today.”
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