Papua New Guinea is in early talks with China on a potential security and policing deal, the country’s foreign minister Justin Tkachenko has said, weeks after deadly riots in the country’s capital.
Amid jostling between Washington and Beijing for influence in the Pacific, the biggest Pacific Islands nation, Papua New Guinea (PNG), has previously said Australia and the United States are its security partners, while China is an important economic partner.
China approached PNG in September with an offer to assist its police force with training, equipment and surveillance technology, Tkachenko said on Monday. Talks continued last week.
“We deal with China at this stage only at economic and trade level. They are one of our biggest trading partners, but they have offered to assist our policing and security on the internal security side,” Tkachenko said.
PNG will assess if the Chinese offer duplicates security and policing assistance already being offered by Australia and the United States, he said.
“It is still in early stages of negotiation with our commissioner of police and our minister of internal security,” he said, adding, “they have offered it to us, but we have not accepted it at this point in time. “
PNG signed a AUD$200m (US$132 million) security deal with Australia last month to boost policing, and days later prime minister James Marape told an investment conference in Sydney that he had not held talks with China on security when he visited Beijing in October.
PNG had chosen Australia and the United States as security partners, he said.
Riots in the PNG capital Port Moresby earlier in January left at least 16 dead, with major retail stores burned and looted, after police held a strike over pay. Marape’s government called in the PNG defence force to restore order, but didn’t seek Australia’s help.
PNG struck a defence cooperation agreement with the United States during a visit by U.S secretary of state Antony Blinken in May, giving the U.S military access to PNG ports and airports.
Tkachenko said PNG would not do anything to jeopardise its defence and security relationships with Australia or the U.S, and was not a “fence-sitter.”
Riots in neighbouring Solomon Islands in 2021 saw China strike security and policing pacts with Manasseh Sogavare’s government a year later, alarming Washington and Canberra.
Australia’s pacific minister Pat Conroy pledged AUD$35m (US$23 million) in policing assistance to neighbouring East Timor on Monday during an official visit, amid concern in Canberra that Beijing is again aggressively targeting the police and security sectors in the Pacific.
A spokesperson for Australia’s foreign affairs department said: “Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest economic and security partner. We are working actively with PNG to meet its needs across the security sector.
“Pacific Islands Forum Leaders share the view that the security of the Pacific is the shared responsibility of the Forum family, of which Australia is part, said the spokesperson.