Thu. Jun 13th, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape at a Joint Press Availability

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:  All right.  Thank you.  Thank you very much for your extreme patience.  I just want to sincerely appreciate all of you from our various media outlets who have spent almost a whole today to wait for this occasion to happen.  I just want to sincerely apologize, but also thank – thank each and every one of you for your patience, especially those of you from Papua New Guinea.  This is extraordinary day for us.  We have two extremely important meetings today – separated but joined at the hips, if I can call it this way.  And the President of the United States is represented by Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken.

For this press, I will also cover the earlier meeting that took place and I think one (inaudible) of the outcomes of the earlier meeting that we later released to press for each and every one of you.  But on this – on this note, let me again thank you, Secretary Blinken, for your patience to remain through – right through as we dispense informations that we have to the press that is awaiting us, (inaudible) likewise (inaudible) to the viewers, to the business, and to the group leaders here and far and wide.

This morning the Pacific Island leaders had the extraordinary pleasure of being with Prime Minister Modi.  We completed successfully our third Pacific Island and India leaders meeting and dialogue.  President – I beg your pardon – Prime Minister Modi flew out this afternoon extremely satisfied.  The leaders of Pacific were satisfied that outcomes that we wanted to secure for this meeting, especially establishing great rapport between Delhi and the Pacific, was established in today’s meeting we had earlier with Prime Minister Modi.

We engaged in serious conversations, most of pointing to Prime Minister Modi and the Indian Government that they must rise as the leader of the nations from the south, (inaudible), and the nations expressly – those of us who are still (inaudible), knowing that he has a role to play especially in mobilizing Indian technology, Indian capacities to help – and he himself also did pledge support to the small Pacific Island nations solar energy solutions – for instance, desalination solutions.  Also, his response to climate change upkeep.

He also committed to ensure that there’s a contribution from the Indian people and the government to having a modern health facility and health facilities in the center of Pacific, in (inaudible), as well as supporting the information system capacities that already India has partnered, invested in Papua New Guinea, in our country.  Conversations were of warmth (inaudible), and frank; and I think we all can be richer in our dialogue because of this India dialogue going back and for possibly can take that relationship west from us.

I want to also indicate to all of you in the press that we had a successful meeting with Secretary of State Mr. Blinken.  Earlier, PNG had a special bilateral meeting with Secretary Blinken.  It was concepts of issues of the Defense Cooperation Agreement that was discussed.  But far from it, general conversations were discussed on the important relationship we have with U.S.A.

Just like we rank India as the biggest democracy by population size, and I imagine a strong economy, expressly ranked fourth and fifth – going fourth very soon – U.S.A. remains number one economy.  The U.S.A. remains the leader of the free world.  For those of us who believe in democracy, for those of us who believe in a Christian worldview, we share many commonalities with the United States of America.

The Secretary of State conveyed the apologies of President Biden that he would not come, but Secretary of State is the seniormost under President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to come to us to convey apologies, and also conduct an important bilateral with Papua New Guinea and a multilateral with members of the Pacific Island foreign nations.

I just wanted to place on record that we don’t take your trip for granted. You could have picked another place – another time and place for us to have this occasion, but you picked Port Moresby, you picked our nation’s capital, and you picked Papua New Guinea – and we sincerely appreciate you very much for this kind gesture.

Today, in our bilateral meeting, you were witness to the signing of our Defense Cooperation Agreement.  That was a culmination of many years and months of engagement with Pentagon, engagement with Washington, engagement with U.S. officials and our team.  I just want to stress this point: It wasn’t shoved down our throat.  It wasn’t forced upon us; it was a mutual agreement.  A conversation was held expressly on the need for Papua New Guinea to have our defence force assisted, supported, stepped up.

Papua New Guineans, you must know you have domestic security issue, as well as closer to home security issues.  We cannot forever remain in (inaudible) in as far as our defence force is concerned.  Our defence force needs to be stepped up and supported.  We’ve had similar defense cooperation agreement with Australia, Indonesia, and other nations we enjoy strong long-term partnerships with.  We have every right also, in the same vein, to engage in a straight partnership with United States of America, where we have had no problem with similar defense force cooperation agreements – have been foundation of our relationship.

And today, the defense force cooperation comes with a backdrop of elevating what was originally the umbrella status of force agreement that kept us together.  We are now elevating that to a specific relationship exclusive for U.S.A.-PNG military cooperations and military engagements and partnership.  There is nothing for us to be fearful about.  I just want to needless repeat but for emphasis because of a lot of misconception and confusion out there in the public.  This agreement is subsidiary to a treaty – it’s below the treaty level.  This agreement in no way breaks or encroaches into our country’s legislations, (inaudible) the fundamental constitution of our country or every other (inaudible) legislations we have.

This agreement is congruent to the 1975 Visiting Forces Act, the 1975 Visiting Forces Act.  James Marape was still a child in 1975, when the fathers of this nation saw it important to have an act called the Visiting Forces Act to ensure we’re engaged in partnership with nations of similarities, nations where we have common bond, where exchanges can be made possible.

And so, I just want to inform the educated out there, especially those of you who want to pick a political bone with me – let’s not confuse everyone.  We are a nation of rule of law.  If you feel that this agreement encroaches into one iota of our constitutional law of the land, make reference to the supreme court.  I’m sure the court will find – I’m sure the court will find that what we have done is within the gambit of the constitution of our country and all subsidiary legislations.  It is meant to ensure that our country’s domestic as well as sovereign security is secured, beefed up, bumped up, and prepared for any challenges – not just military challenges, but more importantly, challenges of disaster, challenges of social issues, and every other challenge we go through, including securing our country to be a country known to have secured the security issue and prepared for investments that we are trying to attract into our country.

My conversation with India is not just purely on politics; my conversation with U.S.A. is not purely on politics.  But more importantly, deep inside – and Secretary Blinken knows this; those who worked with us on this one knows this – we want American-based investors to come to our country.  We want Indian-based investors to come into our country.  We are looking at diversifying our economic base, and growing it – and make it stronger so that government can in turn look after our citizens.  That is foundationally not so today because of the weak security structure we have in our country.  Strengthening our defense force, strengthening our police, strengthening our court system, ensuring that our democracy is secure is a key foundational interest of the state to make sure our country is secure.

It is in this vein that we are in partnership with the biggest democracy on the face of Planet Earth, and I just want to encourage our people, please don’t be – don’t think that something suspicious of funny is behind this.  It was a work over many years that has culminated over – into a six month of robust conversation between Port Moresby and Washington, (inaudible) and Washington, our own military head official or former head official as well as Pentagon and Washington officials.  Today is a result of many weeks, months, and years of work.

And I will be making available to the public, as we complete due process of key documents to be made known to public in the very near future – possibly in days, this agreement will be made public to everyone for all of us to understand.  The United States of America is always transparent about matters that is of importance to the public.  They too, I would believe – and I don’t like to speak for Secretary Blinken, but they too will make known to public, their own country, they will report – they have a duty to report back to their country the agreement that we’ve signed.  And for matters of transparency for the people and citizens of Papua New Guinea, people and citizens of U.S.A. will know exactly what we’ve signed.

I just want to conclude by saying what we’ve signed does not encroach – or affect, rather – Papua New Guinea’s own relationships we have with other nations we trade with, or we have relationships with, be it military or government-to-government relations.  Period.  It does not affect – whether in China or Australia or United Kingdom or Japan or India or any other nation, for that matter – this agreement does not in one way, shape, and form stop Papua New Guinea from continuing on doing business with those we do business with.  So, I just want to inform everyone to have a bit of understanding that your government is in the business of securing your future and your economic future as we (inaudible) on these matters.

Other matters we discussed with Secretary Blinken on behalf of President Biden, (inaudible) ways continuing issue on the climate change, our energy and security, our (inaudible) greater regional security in the region.  You would have been informed earlier that we did sign a subsequent agreement called a (inaudible) agreement that secures PNG’s maritime borders and our resources found in our seas.  That sort of conversation was also held in the Pacific Island Leaders Meeting, the concern of care for our resources and the security of our seas; all conversation made – Secretary Blinken was very generous with his time and ears.  He sat through, listened to our conversations (inaudible), but a substantial part of Pacific Island and U.S.A. engagements were put to a work-in-progress mode.  And we will arrive in Washington in September of this year, hopefully for substantial progress where United States is making a greater commitment to respond to some of the key development challenges we face in the region, including (inaudible) issues and the other insecurity issues that (inaudible).

On this note, Secretary Blinken, I have not stolen your time now.  There is now space for you.  (Laughter.)  And I just have (inaudible) the discussions that we held and (inaudible).  We’ll take a few questions (inaudible).

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Prime Minister, thank you so much.  And I fully endorse everything you said.  And you can speak for me, because you do it so eloquently.  And I can only fully agree with everything that you said.  But thank you.  Thank you for the incredibly warm reception, and thank you for the incredibly productive day – both on a bilateral basis between the United States and Papua New Guinea, but also with all of our regional partners – discussing and making progress on issues that are critical to our shared future.

There is an old Hawaiian saying that translates loosely to “united to move forward.”  And I think that’s the spirit in which we all came together today as Pacific nations.  Our partnership is crucial to how we deliver for our people, how we meet their needs and aspirations, and advance our common vision for the region – one that is free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.  Or, as your 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent puts it, a “resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity that ensures all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy, and productive lives.”  It is a powerful, positive ambition that we share.

At this forum we’ve built on momentum from the first U.S.-Pacific Island Summit last fall.  There in Washington, President Biden pledged to open a new era in our partnership – one of mutual respect, trust, and benefit.  As I had an opportunity to tell Pacific leaders at our meeting today, over the past year the United States has been listening to you, engaging with your governments, working to deliver on our summit announcements that align with your broader vision.  And together, we’ve made considerable, tangible progress on many of the commitments in a short period of time.  Together, we are super-charging our climate action.

Today, I announced that the United States will support the PIF in standing up the new Pacific Resilience Facility.  This Pacific-owned, Pacific-led solution will drive investment into climate adaptation and resilience in front-line communities.  Together, we’re boosting our bilateral security relationship to ensure that the Blue Pacific remains a place of peace and prosperity.

The prime minister and I just signed, as he mentioned, two agreements which will boost cooperation between Papua New Guinea Defence Forces and the U.S. Coast Guard to help build up the Defence Forces’ capacity, and help combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

Together, we’re driving progress to expand trade, investment, and business initiatives that can lift up all communities.  In Papua New Guinea specifically, we’re working with Congress to provide over $45 million in new programming on sustainable and inclusive development, public health, and energy security.  And later this year the Department of Commerce will lead a first-ever U.S. business delegation to Pacific Island countries to explore opportunities in energy, in transportation, in health care, tourism, and telecommunications.

Together, we’re modernizing and enhancing the Compacts of Free Association.  These are the bedrock of U.S. engagement in the Pacific.  We just signed our agreement with Palau today, in this room.  And I’m grateful to President Whipps for his partnership.  Tomorrow, we’ll sign our agreement with the Federated States of Micronesia.  And I look forward to finishing negotiations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands soon, to ensure that this arrangement reflects the realities and the challenges of our time.  As part of these agreements, the United States will commit $7.1 billion to the Freely Associated States over the next 20 years.

Together, we’re also strengthening ties between our peoples.  We are very excited to announce the return of the Peace Corps to the Pacific Islands, and that we’re launching new educational exchanges to share skills and expertise, and forge enduring connections that will benefit our communities.

So, we’ve got a lot to work on, a lot to accomplish together.  And that’s why we’re expanding our diplomatic presence in the region, delivering on our commitments last year.  We’ve opened two new embassies, one on the Solomon Islands, the other just two weeks ago in Tonga.  And we’re working to do the same in Vanuatu and Kiribati by the end of this year.

We’ve named our first ever envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum, Ambassador Frankie Reed, who will continue to engage throughout the region to strengthen our partnerships.  We’ll continue to strive to meet the Pacific where it is, (inaudible) Pacific leaders and through the Pacific Islands Forum.  We’ll encourage other partners to do the same, including through the Partners in the Blue Pacific, to support the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.  And in that regard, we very much welcome India’s engagement with countries in the region.  That, too, is a very positive development for the future that we all want.

So Prime Minister, to you, thank you.  Thank you for this partnership at a critical time for the region that we share.  And thank you for the work that we’re doing every day to build it, to make it stronger, to deliver on our shared vision.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:  All right.  Thank you, Secretary Blinken.  Any questions?  We’ll just take two or three questions.

MR PATEL:  We will first go to Gorethy Kenneth from The Post-Courier.

QUESTION:  Prime Minister, (inaudible), the line credit – the line of credit program with India and Papua New Guinea (inaudible).  Was it – will it be extended or was it extended?

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:  The prime minister took note of this fact, and he is taking it back to his country.  We – for us, as a country, it’s important we also diversify our source of support.  India has opened up that facility – those facilities.  We’ve asked them to go back and maintain the facility and expressed the (inaudible) invite to procure a source.  So, he said he’ll take back to his officials.  We don’t run other forms of government.  We run democratic form of government (inaudible) our systems to go back to (inaudible) said he would look at (inaudible).

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Jack Moore from AFP.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you for taking the time to speak to us.  My question is for you, Secretary.  Given the inroads that China has made in the Pacific in places such as the Solomon Islands, how important was it for Washington to secure the deals today with Papua New Guinea and renew with Palau to counter Beijing’s rise and influence in the region?  And how satisfied are you with the outcome?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’d say a few things.  First, the agreements that we reached, the work that we’re doing, is not about any other country.  It’s about our relationship with the Pacific Islands and the shared vision that we have for this region.

And as you heard the prime minister say, while we signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement today, the ship (inaudible) agreement – these are very important in helping to strengthen Papua New Guinea’s capacity.  We’re working across the board on issues of direct concern to people of Papua New Guinea and throughout the region, whether it’s climate, whether it’s energy, whether it’s investment, whether it’s building up healthcare systems.  But this is grounded in – I think what’s fair to say is a shared vision that we have for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

And we talk about that a lot.  And I just want to be clear about what we mean by that when we’re talking about a free and open Indo-Pacific.  We need a region where countries are free to choose their own path and their own partners, where problems will be dealt openly, transparently.  Goals will be reached in a transparent way, (inaudible) fairly, and goods, ideas, and people can float freely and lawfully across the land, the seas, the skies, and in cyberspace.  That’s the vision that we have, as well as making sure that the citizens in our countries have the opportunity to reach their full potential, providing the support necessary to do that.

But this vision doesn’t exclude anyone.  We welcome contributions by other countries, including the PRC – the regional development – so long as they adhere to the highest standards, including in areas like transparency and the rule of law.  If all of us are going to be engaged in a region as partners – well, if there’s going to be a race, let it be a race to the top.  That’s what we’re all about, and we want to simply see anyone who’s engaged engage in a way that advances the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

But as I said, the focus that we have is on building and strengthening these partnerships on their own terms, not with regard to any other country.

MR PATEL:  Take a final question from Tim Swanston from ABC.

QUESTION:  I’m happy just to talk loudly if you can hear me.  (Laughter.)  Secretary Blinken, I appreciate what you’re saying that this isn’t about any other countries, but ultimately, China has made very serious inroads with respect to the defense and security arrangement here in the Pacific.  Now that the Defense Cooperation Agreement is being signed, under what kind of timeframe would you like to see U.S. military or U.S. assets placed in PNG?  And what bases are you looking at of importance to the island states?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What we’re focused on is what our partners here are working and trying to achieve in strengthening their capacity.  As you heard the prime minister say, there’s a focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief.  That’s the main import of what we’re doing.  But the main point is that, as you heard the prime minister say, we’ve had this basic arrangement going back to 1975.  So, this is simply updating and modernizing what has been a longstanding agreement between our countries just to make sure that we can work together as effectively as possible.

And as I said in the first instance, we want to make sure that we’re being responsive to some of the challenges that the PNG faces.  There are other challenges that I mentioned that – where these agreements will be very helpful – for example, the issue of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing.  This is something that is having a devasting impact on livelihoods in the Pacific Islands, as well as the ecosystem that is so vital to nourishing these economies.  So, this could – I think the work that we’re doing with PNG can be of a real assistance there.

You heard the prime minister talk about other concerns with regard, for example, to (inaudible), where again these agreements will help.  But that’s the immediate focus of what we’re looking to do, but it’s all on the basis of simply bringing up to date and modernizing agreements that have been there for a long, long time.  And I would emphasize, again, something the prime minister said: these are being done in a fully transparent way, respectful of PNG’s institutions, of its sovereignty.  These are agreements that we reach together, not agreements that anyone is imposing on anyone else, and they take away no freedom of action from the PNG.  And as the Prime Minister said, we’ll be making these publicly available – as we always do, as we complete the process of finalizing the agreements in our respective countries.

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:   Mr. Secretary, if I could just add one or two more lines —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Please.

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:  — the presence of China, let me inform everyone, China is (inaudible) and people have no interest whatsoever with what they do in other nations.  We have a healthy relationship with Chinese Government, and they are important and big trading partner, but we are moving into finalizing this agreement.  We did not need to tell anyone else what we’re doing.  But they have given assurance to us in our conversations that we have every right to engage with U.S.A. as much as we have with them.

And so, I just want to inform Papua New Guineans in the first instance and the media, we’re trying to play out from this issue of China versus U.S.A.  The Secretary of State correctly has stated this has nothing to do with the bigger issues, the headline issues that keep on going off every now and then.  Papua New Guinea invited U.S.A. to move beyond just an ordinary agreement to a specifically defense-focused agreement.  In my view, that strengthens our Defence Force, and they will come in at the invitation of our Defence Force, and not at their own will.  That’s something that must be clear that everyone in the Pacific – upon our invitation, they come in.

That is subsequently a question on when that needs to be done that dwarfs other agreements and other processes.  This is just a framework agreement that now (inaudible) this element of specific relationship with U.S.A. like we’ve never had before.  And I want to assure Papua New Guinea’s – particularly with China (inaudible) to do with our internal security issue to ensure that our military is now responsive to the challenges of 21st century, living in this part of Planet Earth.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:  All right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And let me just say one last thing if I could.  The ocean that we share is called the Pacific.  And our ambition is for it to remain exactly that: an ocean of peace.  That’s what we’re looking to do together.

PRIME MINISTER MARAPE:  All right.  Thank you very much.

MR PATEL:  Thanks, everyone (inaudible).

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-papua-new-guinean-prime-minister-james-marape-at-a-joint-press-availability/

originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS