Anthony Albanese, James Marape to walk Kokoda Track in symbolic Anzac Day visit

PM Albanese meets PM Marape in PNG (January 13, 2023)

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will mark Anzac Day on the Kokoda Track in a highly symbolic visit designed to highlight the shared World War II legacy and growing security relationship between both countries.

It is understood Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape is likely to join Albanese for at least parts of the walk.

The visit will likely involve a multi-day trek along a section of the Kokoda Track.

Each year, many Australians make the trip to PNG to walk the track and honour the sacrifice of those who fought in World War II.

A dawn service is also held in Isurava, a small town along the track.

The visit comes just a few months after Marape delivered a historic address to Australia’s parliament, and as both countries work to carry out a sweeping security agreement signed late last year.

Albanese’s visit could also coincide with a trip to Port Moresby by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is expected to travel to PNG’s capital shortly before him.

It is expected that while in Port Moresby, Yi will have a bilateral meeting with his PNG counterpart, Justin Tkatchenko, and will also meet with Marape.

It is not yet clear whether China’s foreign minister will visit other Pacific nations, but Australian and U.S. officials are monitoring his trip closely.

The timing of the trip is particularly sensitive because PNG’s neighbour Solomon Islands will go to the polls the week before, and MPs will be beginning negotiations to form a new government while the foreign minister is in the region.

Beijing also remains intent on bedding down policing agreements with Pacific Island nations — most recently offering to assist Tonga with security for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders meeting in August.

The federal opposition says the development is deeply concerning, but PIF Secretary-General Henry Puna played down concerns while visiting Tonga this week, saying it was “not really an issue.”

“Let’s not be alarmed by outsiders, to change our thinking and to be involved in these geopolitical games,” he said.

The Kokoda Track campaign is considered an extraordinarily important period of World War II in Australian military history.

From July 1942, Australian and Papuan infantry battalions fought Japanese soldiers who were advancing toward Port Moresby.

Australian troops were forced to withdraw along the track before a counteroffensive.

More than 600 Australians were killed along the track, with more than 1,600 wounded and 4,000 dying from sickness. In PNG’s capital of Port Moresby, the Bomana War Cemetery contains more than 3,800 Commonwealth burials from World War II.