PNG MP coy on security talks with China

Justin Tkatchenko

Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Affairs Minister Justin Tkatchenko Tuesday avoided questions about a potential security and policing deal with China, and instead extolled security relationships between PNG and Australia.

The Post Courier reports, this is despite media reports in Australia quoting Tkatchenko that there were talks between PNG and China about a potential deal.

The reports however said nothing concrete had come out of those talks.

Tuesday, a Foreign Affairs official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that there are talks between PNG and China about a potential security deal.

The security talks follow widespread looting and destruction of businesses in Port Moresby on 10 January. Many of these businesses affected where Chinese-owned.

Questions sent to Tkatchenko about the reported security talks were not answered, with the minister instead sending out a statement talking up security relationships between PNG and its closest neighbor.

The Reuters news agency reported that China had approached PNG in September last year with an offer to assist its police force with training, equipment and surveillance technology, quoting Tkachenko. The reports said the talks continued last week.

But Tkatchenko, in response to our queries, said PNG will maintain its security relationships with Australia, underpinned by last December’s security agreement between the two countries.

“Australia is our closest neighbour and a traditional security partner,” Tkatchenko said.

“We have a bilateral security agreement with Australia, especially in Internal Policing and Capacity Building and we will maintain that going forward now and into the future.

The agreement between the government of Australia and Papua New Guinea, which was signed last year, is a framework for closer security relations.”

Also Tuesday, Ialibu-Pangia MP Peter O’Neill said he was concerned about the reports of security talks, saying PNG should stick to its traditional partners in matters of security.

“I am deeply concerned to read that Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Affairs Minister is actively discussing our country’s internal, domestic Police and security arrangements with China,” said O’Neill.

“Before and since Independence, PNG has rightfully stuck to Australia when it comes to providing for security for our country and the Pacific region. Australia shares the Pacific’s geographic place in the world, and we value each other’s democratic and human rights principles.

“This makes sense, and we can see our nearest neighbour Indonesia also continues to enhance its security ties to Australia.

“There is no reason why the current Government, on shaky ground themselves, should be choosing to sign a secret security deal with China late last year and now, enter into practical discussions about Policing and other security arrangements.”

The reports have worried Australia, but Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also chose to be diplomatic when quizzed by journalists.

“PNG of course, is a sovereign government, but it’s a sovereign government that has no closer friend than Australia,” Albanese told journalists Tuesday.

“We are the security partner of choice for Papua New Guinea, as we are for most of the countries in the Pacific. We’re family and we’ll continue to engage.

“We have provided recently support for Papua New Guinea in issues such as police training, and I’ve been in regular contact with the prime minister.”

During the 10 January looting in Port Moresby, Australia sent word that it was standing ready to send police and other support to help the PNG government. Had that happened, it would have been done under the auspices of the security agreement between the two countries signed in December. Chinese ambassador to PNG, Zeng Fanhua, was the only foreign envoy who showed concern for the looting, visiting Chinese businesses in Port Moresby on 11 January.