On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India conducted a summit with leaders from Pacific Island nations in Papua New Guinea. Later in the day, the United States Secretary of State was also scheduled to meet with the same leaders and sign a defense agreement with Papua New Guinea.
In his opening remarks to the summit, PNG Prime Minister James Marape said India was the leader of the Global South, a term used to refer to some low and middle income countries, adding “our people have been left behind.”
Modi told the 14 leaders of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation that India would be a reliable partner to small island states amid difficulties caused by supply chain disruptions and climate change. India was committed to a free and open Indo Pacific, he said.
Earlier, Modi wrote on social media he had discussed “ways to augment cooperation in commerce, technology, health care and in addressing climate change” with PNG in a bilateral meeting with Marape on Monday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to sign a Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and PNG, and also hold a Pacific Island leaders meeting in the afternoon.
Washington would provide $45 million in new funds as it partnered with PNG to strengthen economic and security cooperation, including protective equipment for the PNG defense force, climate change mitigation and tackling transnational crime and HIV/AIDS, the US State Department said.
The United States Commander for the Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquino, on Monday attended a ceremony at PNG’s Murray Barracks to present personal protective equipment to PNG’s defense force, the PNG Post Courier reported.
Marape told media on Sunday the defense agreement would also see an increase in the US military presence over the next decade.
Police Commissioner David Manning said there was a heavy police and military presence around the capital Port Moresby with roads blocked, and defense patrol boats in the water around the meeting venue, for the biggest assembly of international leaders in the country since a 2018 APEC summit.
Several universities held protests at campuses against the signing of the Defense Cooperation Agreement, amid concern it would upset China. Marape has denied it would stop PNG working with China, an important trade partner.
China, a major provider of infrastructure to the Pacific Islands in recent years, signed a security pact with Solomon Islands last year, prompting concern from the United States and its allies over Beijing’s intentions in a region covering vital sea lanes.
The US defense agreement would boost PNG’s defense infrastructure and capability after decades of neglect, the PNG government said earlier.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters in Port Moresby the defense agreement between the United States and PNG was “an extension of an existing relationship and it isn’t just about military presence but it’s also about development.”
Blinken will also sign a Ship Riders Pact, allowing US Coast Guard vessels with PNG officials aboard to patrol its exclusive economic zone, PNG’s government said in a statement on Monday.