Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, made history on Thursday as the first Pacific Island leader to address Australia’s parliament, affirming enduring bilateral relations in the face of increasing overtures from China. Marape underscored the longstanding ties and Australia’s pivotal role in Papua New Guinea’s 1975 independence, emphasizing the unwavering bond between the two nations.
In recent years, Beijing has intensified efforts to diminish US and Australian influence in the South Pacific, including Papua New Guinea. The region’s strategic significance, owing to its abundant natural resources and geopolitical location, has made it a focal point for strategic maneuvering, especially in potential conflicts over Taiwan.
Chinese state-backed enterprises have made substantial investments in the region, while Beijing has extended loans and security assistance, triggering a competition for influence. Despite speculations regarding a potential agreement allowing Chinese law enforcement deployment in Papua New Guinea, Marape reiterated Sydney’s irreplaceable partnership.
Marape’s address garnered warm reception from Australian lawmakers, who applauded his remarks. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasized the significance of the moment, highlighting the close relationship between the two nations, particularly during challenging times.
However, Marape’s speech also touched upon the complex colonial history between the two countries and expressed frustration over the slow pace of economic development in Papua New Guinea, which remains one of the poorest nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite gaining independence nearly five decades ago, Papua New Guinea continues to rely heavily on Australian aid.
Marape conveyed gratitude for the assistance provided over the years while affirming Papua New Guinea’s commitment to achieving economic self-reliance and resilience. He pledged efforts to transform the country into a financially independent and robust economy, contributing to regional stability and prosperity.
Ahead of Marape’s visit to Canberra, Papua New Guinea’s police chief announced plans for Australia to bolster the nation’s law enforcement amid recent unrest. With Papua New Guinea facing security challenges exacerbated by recent violence, Australia will support the nation’s police force with additional personnel, with the first contingent expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2024. This assistance comes at a critical time as Papua New Guinea strives to address internal security concerns and strengthen law enforcement capabilities to ensure stability across the nation.