PNG – US sign defence and maritime pact, amid US debt ceiling crisis
By Tara Vele
Despite the cancellation of President Biden’s highly anticipated visit to PNG, the United States and PNG signed both a Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) and Counter Illicit Transnational Maritime Activity Operations Agreement. US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, headed the US delegation in place of President Biden said, “the defense cooperation pact would expand the Pacific Island Nation’s capabilities and make it easier for the US military to train with [PNG’s] forces. US partnerships with businesses would bring billions of dollars' worth of new investment to PNG, and the defence pact was simply an extension of an existing agreement signed, between the two countries in the late 1980s.”
The DCA will modernize the security relationship between the two countries, replacing both the outdated Status of Forces Agreement and Defense Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding. The DCA forms the foundational framework to enhance security cooperation, strengthen PNG-US bilateral relations, capacity build the PNG Defense Force. Ultimately, increasing regional stability and security amid the geopolitical tug of war for influence in the Pacific. Prime Minister James Marape said at the signing ceremony that, “the [DCA] is meant to ensure that our country’s domestic, as well as sovereign security is 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… [preparing] for investments that we are trying to attract.” The DCA will also enable the US to be more responsive in emergency situations, including disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. The DCA reflects the US government commitment to reinvigorate and modernize Pacific partnerships to advance shared security and prosperity.
The Counter Illicit Transnational Maritime Activity Operations Agreement will seek to address several maritime threats including illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, and illicit transport of weapons of mass destruction. This agreement further adds to the 11 existing agreements within the Pacific Islands region and strengthen maritime governance and enforcement. It also enables PNG to participate in the US Coast Guards Shiprider program, enhancing PNG enforcement capabilities, improving overall maritime awareness, and helping PNG protect its own sovereignty. Furthermore, this agreement puts into place an expedited mechanism for obtaining flag State consent to board and search vessels reasonably suspected of illicit trafficking, promoting robust cooperation and information sharing between PNG and the US.
Secretary Blinken in his final remarks made clear that, "we will be fully transparent of the details of the agreement, which contains elements from our previous agreement and updates it to reflect our shared commitment to deepen cooperation on issues that matter most to people here, as well as in the United States."