Papua New Guinea seek Chinese security cooperation. What are the reasons for this?

Papua New Guinea is purportedly in talks with the People Republic of China over security cooperation, talks that are sending shockwaves through both regional powerhouse Australia and the wider western world. Despite the racist rhetoric though, this is genuinely about security within the country. 

The move comes as Papua New Guinea (PNG) is seemingly changing its security priorities. Previously the country have stated that Australia and United States were its security partners, while China was an economic ally. This position has since seemingly shifted after delay riots hit the country in early January causing death, as well as billions in damage to infrastructure within the nation. 

According to the country’s foreign minister Justin Tkachenko PNG was initially approached in September with an offer to assist its police force with training, equipment, and surveillance technology. It would appear that this was initially refused with talks resuming following the recent unrest. 

“We deal with China at this stage only at economic and trade level. They are one of our biggest trading partners, but they have offered to assist our policing and security on the internal security side,” Tkachenko is reported to have said. 

He further added that the country would assess if the security deal would duplicate, or indeed infringe on existing agreements with Australia and the United States.

Why is Papua New Guinea seeking Chinese help?

The move comes as somewhat of a surprise after PNG signed a $200 million deal with Australia on assistance with policing, while Prime Minister told investors in Sydney that the country had not held security talks when he visited Beijing the previous October.

PNG also signed a defense deal with the United States last year giving it access to its ports and airports, which leads one to ask why they are now talking to China about defense.

And while the reasons for this are obviously multi-faceted, one only needs to look at neighbors the Solomon Islands to get some ideas.

In 2021 the Solomon Islands faced its own domestic issues, yet instead of reaching out to Australia, which they had always previously done signed a deal with China on security and policing. 

It would appear that Papua New Guinea are now in fact doing the very same thing, after delay riots in the country, which were in part caused by striking police officers that left 16 dead and at one point the country seemingly on the brink of civil war.

And as for the reason why Australia is being shunned in favour of China? It most likely boils down to the previous failures of Australia throughout the region. Long viewing themselves, much like the US does as the region’s moral police force, alas results and indeed morality have been called into question. Australia famously was complicit in the annexation of West Papua, Indonesian rule in Timor-Leste, as well as the brutal war to suppress the people of Bougainville.

There is also the feeling that whenever Australia helps the assistance comes with demands that are deemed unreasonable. 

China famously not only “gets the job done”, but tends to stay out of the politics of the host country, something which has made it a popular partner in the developing world on aid. 

What next in the Pacific theater?

For now we can expect money to be thrown about like confetti, as both the axis of the US and Australia fight it out with China for influence in a region that until recent years was pro-Taiwan and largely anti-China.

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Most recently Nauru switched allegiance from Taiwan to China in a high profile move that is likely to not just see more investment with Nauru, but also increased influence from China on the tiny Pacific island nation. 

This moves follows on from a slew of other island nations moving their recognition from the ROC to the PRC, including the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, with fears that Tuvalu may follow suit. 

For its part Australia is now also trying to flex having last month pledging A$35m to Timor-Leste for policing assistance. Despite claiming neutrality the regime of President José Ramos-Horta has often been accused of being “too pro-China”.

And while Australia is indeed free to throw around aid within the region, so too are the Pacific island nations free to seek aid from whom they wish. And whether the West like it or not, China is going nowhere.