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Anton Nilsson

PNG ‘blessed’ with back-to-back high-level visits from China and Australia

Back-to-back visits to Papua New Guinea by top Australian and Chinese ministers have highlighted the competition for influence in the country and underscored China’s unease with the AUKUS military alliance. 

As Anthony Albanese landed in Port Moresby earlier this week, China’s foreign minister had just departed. The Chinese official, Wang Yi, took a swipe at AUKUS and Australia during his weekend visit, saying the agreement “runs counter” to the Treaty of Rarotonga and the nuclear non-proliferation agreement between Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and other countries in the South Pacific. 

Wang also bristled at reports Japan and other countries could become included in pillar two of AUKUS, the aspect of the deal that enables greater military technology cooperation between member states. 

“The recent attempts to draw more countries to join in such an initiative of stoking confrontation between blocs and provoking division are totally inconsistent with the urgent needs of the island countries,” the foreign minister said, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency. 

A Tuesday article in the Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper China Daily underscored the country’s fears of a widened AUKUS. Headlined “AUKUS ties threat to peace in Asia-Pacific”, the article said Chinese analysts were concerned that New Zealand might get involved in aspects of the AUKUS pact as well. 

On Monday, as Albanese was preparing to fly to Papua New Guinea, he brushed off Wang’s visit as “business as usual”. 

“China seeks to improve its standing in the region. We know that that is just a fact that we are dealing with. But I am very confident that PNG has no stronger partner than Australia, and our defence and security ties have never been stronger,” Albanese told reporters in Queensland. 

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape also downplayed the significance of the timing of the two international visitors. 

“They didn’t plan to be back-to-back … but PNG is blessed,” he told reporters on Sunday, according to ABC News

Albanese, who walked parts of the Kokoda Track alongside Marape during his visit, has made serious efforts to strengthen Australia’s security ties with its northern neighbour. Late last year, the two countries signed a sweeping security agreement, partly intended to combat China’s influence in Papua New Guinea, and Marape recently made a historic speech to Australia’s Parliament.

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