Photo: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III /Twitter

U.S Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said on Thursday during a visit to Papua New Guinea that Washington was not seeking a permanent base in the Pacific Islands nation under a new defence agreement.

Papua New Guinea and the United States signed a defence cooperation agreement in May that sets a framework for the U.S to refurbish PNG ports and airports for military and civilian use.

The text of the agreement shows that it allows the staging of U.S forces and equipment in PNG, and covers the Lombrum naval base which is being developed by Australia and the United States.

Austin met with PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape on a visit to discuss the deepening defence ties.

“I just want to be clear, we are not seeking a permanent base in PNG,” Austin told a news conference in the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby.

He said the two nations were deepening an existing defence relationship, and would modernise PNG’s defence force and boost interoperability.

“Today, we’ll discuss the next steps in our bilateral defense relationship, including how the United States can support Papua New Guinea’s efforts to strengthen your defence capacity,” the secretary said in his meeting with PM Marape.

“The United States and Papua New Guinea share a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all countries enjoy the benefits of sovereignty, where all states adhere to international law, and where differences are resolved peacefully and without coercion.”

“Our countries also share a commitment to freedom and democracy, as well as to regional stability, economic development and responsible environmental stewardship to confront a worsening climate crisis,” he continued.

The United States has already provided personal protective equipment to the country.

The Defence Cooperation Agreement will allow the two countries to work closer together. It will allow the United States to support the continued modernisation of Papua New Guinea’s defence force.

“It will also help our countries work together more closely and more frequently on exercises, training, interoperability and defence-capacity building,” Austin said at his meeting with the country’s defence council.

The agreement will also “create opportunities for us to invest in infrastructure and to work together to expand our defence presence in Papua New Guinea beyond small-scale projects.”

The shiprider agreement will allow the country’s forces to ride along on U.S. Coast Guard vessels patrolling the area. This will help Papua New Guinea enforce its sovereignty and crack down on illegal fishing.

The United States and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific island nations from forming security ties with China, a rising concern amid tension over Taiwan, and after Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands.

Marape on Thursday said the defence cooperation with the U.S would build up PNG’s capability, and was “not for a war joint preparation”.

“USA do not need PNG’s ground to be a launching pad for any offence anywhere else in the world,” he told reporters.

“They have bases in Philippines, in Korea, elsewhere, much closer to China,” he added.

PNG’s parliament is yet to ratify the deal

Austin will next travel to Brisbane, Australia.