In a sign that Australia is looking to strengthen security cooperation with PNG, PNG’s Police Commissioner David Manning has just returned to Port Moresby from Australia after meeting with Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw.
But China has also been courting PNG after putting in a speculative bid for a $39 billion fishing city on the island of Daru. The largest Chinese-backed gold mine in PNG, the Porgera gold mine, is also expected to open this year after two years of negotiations between the PNG government and China’s Zijin Mining Group.
“We have to stay focused on what’s important to the peoples of the Pacific,” said Kemish. “We’re talking about health, education, we’re talking about aspiration, we’re talking about labour market access. And importantly, we’re talking about climate change.”
The Solomon Islands government has not backed down from the deal after protests from Wellington, Canberra and Washington, arguing that economic and security investment from Beijing was in the best interests of its people. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will on Tuesday make a statement on the security treaty with China to Parliament in Honiara.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday warned against “the militarisation of the region”.
The draft proposal, if passed, could allow the Chinese military to provide assistance to the Solomon Islands and for Chinese naval ships to stop over and be replenished in the islands less than 2000 kilometres off the coast of Australia. The Solomons are in a key shipping lane that connects Australia and New Zealand to Asia and the Pacific.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta was on her way to Fiji on Monday to talk with Pacific Island leaders about the deal. Foreign Minister Marise Payne was contacted for comment about whether she planned to travel to the region.
Morrison defended Australia’s record in the Pacific after the Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Wale said he had warned Canberra about the draft agreement months ago and criticised it for not taking action earlier.
“We’ve been aware of the risks right across the Pacific. This is why we doubled our development assistance into the Pacific,” said Morrison. “This is why we provided support to the major infrastructure projects across the region, including the Solomons.”
China’s Foreign Ministry and Chinese state media have accused the Australian government of hyping up the threat that Beijing posed in the region.
“It is irresponsible for a few Australian politicians to make absurd remarks about China ‘coercing’ others,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
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