Australia is the “security partner of choice”for neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG), Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday, after the biggest Pacific Island nation said China was seeking a policing and security deal.

Major trade partner China approached PNG in September with an offer to assist its police force with training, equipment and surveillance technology, PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko said on Monday.

Talks were at an early stage, and PNG would not jeopardise its security ties with Australia and the United States, he added.

PNG struck a AUD$200 million (US$131 million) security agreement with Australia in December to boost police training, after forging a defence agreement with the United States in May, although both deals are yet to be implemented.

“We are the security partner of choice for Papua New Guinea, as we are for most of the countries in the Pacific,” Albanese told reporters on Tuesday, in response to questions.

China’s ambassador to Australia said this month Beijing has a strategy to help Pacific Island nations with policing, not defence, and its growing presence in the region should not alarm Australia.

In a statement on Tuesday, Tkachenko said China’s offer of policing and internal security assistance was “being carefully assessed, as we do not want to duplicate or compromise agreements already in place with our traditional security partners, Australia and the United States of America”.

PNG has previously said it saw China as an economic partner, and Australia and the United States as security partners.

“We have a long standing and genuine relationship with China, where we can agree to disagree,” Tkachenko added.

In an effort to counter China’s push to increase security ties in countries where Australia has long provided policing support, Australia pledged AUD$35 million (US$25 million) for policing assistance in East Timor on Monday