The Guardian • Issue #2055


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2055

Hannah Middleton

Papua New Guinea is being pressurised by the US and Australia to join their plans for war on China.

PNG’s location north of Australia makes it strategically significant. It sits in a chain of several hundred US military bases running through Tokyo to Saipan, the Philippines and Guahan (Guam), forming a noose tightening around China.

In May this year, the United States and Papua New Guinea signed a security pact that will underpin the expansion of the US military presence and increase joint training exercises between the two countries.

The final text of the arrangement has not been made public.

Prime Minister James Marape said there would be an increased presence of US military personnel and contractors but that a US military base would not be established.

However, questions have been raised about how the growing interdependency with the AUKUS powers will impact on PNG’s sovereignty and foreign policy.

Many in the Pacific are concerned about the increasing militarisation of the region and that Papua New Guinea could be stuck between China and an increasingly aggressive US.

University students held protests at campuses against the signing of the Defence Co-operation Agreement, while some opposition politicians have warned it might undermine the country’s relationship with China.

Former prime minister Peter O’Neill accused Marape of placing the country “at the epicentre of a military storm between China and the USA.”

Opposition leader Joseph Lelang said his country “should not be blinded by the dollar sign or be coerced into signing deals that may be detrimental to us in the long run.”

PNG and the US also signed an agreement which will permit the US Coast Guard to patrol PNG waters, ostensibly to help crack down on drug smuggling and illegal fishing. Part of the agreement allows PNG military personnel to be trained on board the US vessels.

The Obama administration shifted US military focus to the Indo Pacific with its 2011 Pivot to Asia. In the following year the Gillard government agreed to increase the US military presence in the north of Australia. This was officially established under the 2014 Force Posture Agreement (FPA).

The FPA allows the US military access to, and in some cases control over, dozens of local bases. It also provides for the presence of 2500 US marines in Australia, as well as increasing interoperability between the two countries’ air forces and navies.

In a similar manner, Australia now has access to PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island. This was established with the 2019 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Joint Initiative at Lombrum Naval Base which aims to redevelop it and to increase interoperability between the two nations’ defence forces.

It is rumoured that secretive MoU arrangements permit aspects of the multimillion-dollar redevelopment to remain hidden even from PNG cabinet ministers.

The question now being asked is whether Australia and the US are planning to use Lombrum as an AUKUS nuclear submarine base.

The US has also recently gained access to four new bases in the Philippines. These include three on the main island of Luzon, close to Taiwan, and one in Palawan province in the South China Sea.

The new US facilities will be inside existing Filipino bases. US troops will come in small groups and on rotation.

The new bases, opened under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Co-operation Arrangement, allow the US to rotate troops to nine bases throughout the Philippines.

The US return to the Philippines is strongly opposed by many community and political groups. Renato Reyes, secretary general of New Patriotic Alliance, says: “The Philippines has been forced to shoulder the social costs. There’s a history of rape, child abuse and toxic waste.”

These developments are all part of US military agreements throughout the region, including plans to share defence technologies with India and to deploy new US Marine units to Japanese islands.

Earlier this year, the US Marines also opened a new base on the already heavily militarised Pacific atoll of Guahan (Guam). Camp Blaz could eventually host 5000 Marines.

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