Shafaq News / The US military can develop and operate out of bases in Papua New Guinea, according to a landmark security pact that is part of Washington’s efforts to outflank China in the Pacific.
The full text of the deal was tabled in Papua New Guinea’s parliament on Wednesday evening and obtained by AFP, shedding light on details that have been closely guarded since the pact was signed in May.
With PNG’s agreement, the US will be able to station troops and vessels at six key ports and airports, including Lombrum naval base on Manus Island and facilities in the capital, Port Moresby.
Washington would have “unimpeded access” to the sites to “pre-position equipment, supplies and materiel”, and have “exclusive use” of some base zones, where development and “construction activities” could be carried out.
The agreement opens the door to Washington establishing a new military footprint in the western Pacific, at a time of growing rivalry with Beijing.
The details emerged as the president of the Pacific island country of Palau told Reuters he had asked the US to step up patrols of its waters after several recent incursions by Chinese vessels into its exclusive economic zone.
Palau’s president, Surangel Whipps Jr, said in an interview he would also welcome a bigger US military presence, with troops stationed alongside existing coastguard and civil action teams.
Palau identified Chinese vessels in its waters as recently as May, when a ship appeared to be surveying an area near fibre optic cables vital to Palau’s communications, Whipps said.
“No matter what, we’re going to be in the centre of whatever’s happening, so it’s important that we’re protected,” Whipps said during a visit to Tokyo on Wednesday, adding that “to get peace, you have to project strength”.
The Pentagon and China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Palau has a decades-old pact with Washington whereby the US retains responsibility for its defence and provides economic assistance – a legacy that has its roots in the second world war.
In PNG, access to Lombrum could be used to reinforce US facilities on Guam to the north, which could be key in the event of a conflict over Taiwan.
PNG’s prime minister, James Marape, has been forced to defend the deal against a wave of protests and criticism, with some opponents questioning whether PNG was signing away its sovereignty.
“We have allowed our military to be eroded in the last 48 years,” he told parliament on Wednesday evening. “Sovereignty is defined by the robustness and strength of your military.”
Rich in natural resources and close to key shipping routes, PNG increasingly finds itself at the centre of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing.