Papua New Guinea cannot afford to be caught in a standoff between the US, Australia, and China, the country’s prime minister told The Guardian.
Prime Minister James Marape was invited to Washington in September for a summit with other Pacific nations as the US is looking to gain influence in the region to counter China. Marape said that he told President Biden that the US seems very “far away” from Papua New Guinea and that the country couldn’t afford to alter its current trade relationships.
“So keep your debates to yourselves and your fights to yourselves. Your enemy is not my enemy, that’s a line that is emerging in the Pacific,” Marape told The Guardian. He said because the country is still an “emerging economy” it “cannot afford the standoff between our trading partners.”
The US and Australia have been furious over China signing a security deal with the Solomon Islands, but Marape said Beijing has never approached him about security arrangements.
“The Chinese to be fair, they have never, in the last three years I’ve been prime minister, they have never pushed that space in terms of asking us to look at security arrangements, setting up a military base in PNG,” he said. Marape said that the country’s current security arrangements with Australia were satisfactory since “they’re closer to us, easier for us to have access to.”
He said there is a concern among Pacific leaders about being caught in between the growing US-China rivalry. Other countries in the region have expressed similar concerns, including Papa New Guinea’s neighbor to the west, Indonesia.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said in November that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should not allow the region to be a frontline for a new Cold War.