PNG delays bilateral security pact with Australia over sovereignity concerns

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

A proposed bilateral security treaty between Australia and Papua New Guinea has been delayed due to Port Moresby’s fears the proposed wording encroached on the nation’s sovereignty.

The security agreement was committed to in January, as both countries move to expand their defence and military cooperation.  

PNG Prime Minister James Marape revealed the sovereignty concerns in a press conference on Thursday, after confirming the delay earlier this week. 

Marape and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles met on the sidelines of the Korea-Pacific Islands Summit this week. 

There, Marape said he apologised for the delay of the bilateral security treaty and conveyed his concerns about the wording of the agreement. 

“I did inform the deputy prime minister, we do not agree on certain words that are used,” Marape said. 

“We felt that they encroach into our sovereign rights. 

“We did ask them to go back, these are matters of a work in progress for us.” 

Marape and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this year had agreed to finish negotiations in April, for a signing in June. 

In a statement in January, the leaders said the proposed treaty would “enhance our security partnership, by providing a legally binding framework for security cooperation across our many areas of mutual interest and contribute to bilateral and regional security, trust and stability”. 

The two countries intended to expand training and explore possible joint exercises, as well as further information sharing on strategic threats and challenges. 

Australian officials have said good progress has been made on the bilateral security treaty. 

In a statement to ABC, Marles said the nations “share a mutual strategic interest in a safe, stable, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific”. 

“[We] discussed progress on commitments to strengthen the already close partnership between our two countries – including on defence and security, visa processing and labour mobility,” the statement said. 

“Reflecting our longstanding cooperation, [we] spoke about ongoing work to conclude the Bilateral Security Treaty (BST).” 

Marape wasn’t willing to provide a time frame of when he expected the treaty would likely be completed and signed. 

He said negotiations were continuing. 

“We have responded back to what we feel are the correct words, I think from my information, they have responded back,” he said. 

“Whenever we find that we both agree this is correct text … we will get on with it, at the moment we have not yet reached agreed text of what should be the treaty. 

“Their proposal too is not way off, within reach … but wording must be something that my cabinet must approve, my parliament must approve”. 

It comes after PNG signed a contentious new security pact with the United States that could expand America’s military presence in the Pacific island nation. 

Marape has been facing political pressure over the agreement