US is not seeking a permanent base in Papua New Guinea, says Austin | Military News


In first visit to Papua New Guinea, US defence secretary says Washington’s goal is to strengthen Pacific nation’s ability to defend itself and protect its interests.

The United States defence secretary has said that Washington was not seeking a permanent base in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as he announced the deployment of a US coast guard ship to the Pacific nation.

Lloyd Austin made the comments on Thursday during a trip to Port Moresby, the PNG’s capital.

Austin’s visit makes him the first Pentagon boss to visit the country and comes as the US seeks to boost its military footprint in the region amid fierce competition with China.

PNG and the US signed a defence cooperation agreement in May that sets a framework for Washington to refurbish the country’s ports and airports for military and civilian use. The text of the agreement shows that it allows the staging of US forces and equipment in PNG, and covers the Lombrum naval base which is being developed by Australia and the US.

“I just want to be clear: We are not seeking a permanent base in PNG,” Austin told a news conference in Port Moresby following a meeting with Prime Minister James Marape.

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

“Our goal is to make sure we strengthen PNG’s ability to defend itself and protect its interest,” he added.

Under the effort to boost ties, a US coast guard cutter will visit PNG in August, Austin said. The deployment, he said, will help the country stop the plundering of its thinly protected marine resources, stopping activities like illegal fishing and trafficking.

The defence agreement comes as the US 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 the Solomon Islands.

Marape on Thursday said the defence cooperation with the US 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,” he told reporters in response to questions. “They have bases in the Philippines, in Korea, elsewhere, much closer to China,” he added.

PNG’s parliament is yet to ratify the deal, which has been questioned by some opposition party politicians concerned about upsetting major trading partner China.

Marape said his government prioritised diplomacy.

“In the Pacific, we are not about war, we are about peace, tolerance and, of course, promoting our values of democracy, Christianity and living well with each other. The USA has always been showing that character also in their global footprint,” he said.

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