Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape says Papua New Guinea has a “healthy relationship” with China.

“They also are important and a big trading partner,” he said.

Marape was responding to criticisms over the signing of defence cooperation agreements with the United States in Port Moresby on Monday, with some seeing it as putting at risk the PNG-China relationship.

“But we (PNG, U.S) are moving into finalising this (defence cooperation) agreement.

“We did not need to tell anyone else what we’re doing,” he said.

He said China had assured PNG “in our conversations that we have every right to engage with the U.S as much as we have with them.”

“The Secretary of State (Antony Blinken) stated that this has nothing to do with the bigger issues, the headline issues that keep on going off every now and then,” Marape said. “PNG invited the U.S to move beyond an ordinary agreement to a specifically defence-focused agreement. In my view, that strengthens our Defence Force.

“They will come in at the invitation of our Defence Force and not at their own will.”

He said the signing of the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) was a culmination of many years of engagement with the Pentagon and Washington.

“It (DCA) wasn’t shoved down our throat. It wasn’t forced upon us. It was a mutual agreement.

“A conversation held expressly on the need for Papua New Guinea to have our defence force assisted, supported, and stepped up.”

He said the documents would be made public soon.

The two agreements will boost cooperation between the PNG Defence Force and the U.S Coast Guard to build capacity, and combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Meanwhile former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has called on the government to exercise skill and care to simmer down rising tension between China and the United State.

In a statement, O’Neill appealed to his successor to “slow down and utilise the skillful, traditional practices of our Melanesian way to show leadership to our powerful partners in the U.S and China and encourage a simmering down to business as normal rather than a ramping up towards war in our region”.

O’Neill’s comments came as the U.S secretary of state Antony Blinken signed a PNG-U.S defence cooperation agreement, to beef up an existing status of forces agreement and a ship-rider agreement.

Blinken stepped in for President Joe Biden who cancelled his Quad meeting in Australia to ensure his 2024 U.S budget was not railroaded by a strong republican opposition in Congress.

Said O’Neill: “You (Marape) have a responsibility to all of us to pursue peace over all else even if the demands to do otherwise are made by powerful forces. And if there are to be benefits of entering into these agreements, then respectfully let the U.S or China make good on those benefits.

“They have both the financial and human capital to help PNG develop and we welcome this, but it should not come attached to a defence cooperation agreement.”

O’Neill also said if the defence cooperation agreement with the U.S granted immunity from prosecution to any U.S personal as reported, such laws would be struck down by any PNG court.

PNG tested a similar agreement with Australia in 2005 in the Special Reference to the Supreme Court made by the Morobe provincial executive.

The Supreme Court found that agreement was “not valid where non-citizens are given immunity from prosecution if laws of PNG are broken or undermined.