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Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato has said Australia will be PNG’s No 1 security partner “forever”, as Scott Morrison announced a navy ship and mobile defence training force would be dedicated to supporting Pacific neighbours.
Pato said Australia’s security support for PNG to host APEC this month, including the provision of F/A-18 Super Hornets, naval ships and up to 1500 soldiers, had strengthened the security relationship between the two countries.
“Australia is our principal security partner and its generous support cements that role in place forever,” he told The Australian.
Pato, who visited HMAS Adelaide off Port Moresby this week, welcomed the development of a joint naval base with Australia on Manus Island, saying Australia and PNG’s defence links “go back many generations”.
“We never abandoned a single Digger,” he said, referring to the Kokoda campaign.
Amid concerns in Canberra over China’s growing influence in the Pacific, the Prime Minister Thursday unveiled a major package of support for regional neighbours, including a $2 billion (US$1.4 billion) infrastructure financing initiative.
The fund, which The Australian understands will be delivered through a budget “reprioritisation”, will be used to provide grants and long-term loans for high-priority infrastructure projects.
Morrison said Australia would also create a new mobile training force to support Pacific defence forces and ensure a vessel was dedicated to the region to provide humanitarian assistance when necessary.
He said Australia would further strengthen security ties in the region by convening an annual summit for the heads of Pacific security forces in Canberra.
“We’ve got their back,” Morrison said. “It is our responsibility in this part of the world. I think we have a real duty of care to our Pacific family and friends.”
Pato said Australia’s APEC support for PNG, which has been put at about $130 million (US$94 million), would help his country to attract investment and realise its full potential. “The accountability of the funds provided by Australia is of a very high standard and Australian citizens can be confident funds are being employed for good purpose — to enable PNG to host a meeting that will help its economy take off,” Pato said.
He said the event, which has been criticised by PNG’s opposition parties as a waste of money, would draw attention to the “remarkable opportunities” for investment in the country.
“By hosting APEC ... we are drawing the attention of the world to our vast oil and gas reserves, to our copper, gold and silver, our extensive fertile agricultural lands, our high-quality coffee and cocoa, our seas teeming with tuna, our tourism potential and our population of eight million people with a potentially huge workforce,” Pato said.
Morrison will host a barbecue for Pacific leaders at the Australian high commissioner’s residence during the APEC conference.
The event is likely to be upstaged by a reception hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping for Pacific Island Forum leaders who uphold Beijing’s One China policy.
Pato said his country valued its relationship with China, which is pouring money into PNG for new infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative, but he said there was an awareness that “we are relatively new to working with each other”.
“That awareness ensures that both sides proceed carefully,” Pato said
SOURCE: THE AUSTRALIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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