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Security has been stepped up in Papua New Guinea as police prepare to control any protests set to disrupt this week’s Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) in the capital Port Moresby, officials said.
More than a dozen Pacific leaders, including Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is there in place of President Joe Biden.
The PNG government declared Monday a public holiday amid tight security measures, traffic restrictions and flight disruptions across the capital.
Delegates had to travel to Bitapaka and East New Britain provinces to get to the summit, one official told Stuff.
* Chris Hipkins arrives in Papua New Guinea for ‘significant’ summit
* US-China competition: New Zealand, Australia accused of ‘sabotage’
* US-PNG defence pact pushes ahead as Biden eyes new Pacific summit
* Pacific criticises AUKUS: ‘Deal keeping America engaged in the region’
Police have blocked roads near the summit sites and routes used by delegates, including arterial roads, the official said.
“Localised transport disruptions and rerouting of public buses are likely. The runways at Jacksons International Airport were closed for the arrival and departure of the heads of state.
“Intensified security measures may cause screening and ground travel delays at the airport, as the foreign leaders arrive and depart Port Moresby from May 18-22.”
Blinken and PNG Prime Minister James Marape will sign a defence pact on Monday, Marape said in a statement.
University students are protesting the deal, with rally leaders calling for more transparency from the government.
A US-PNG security agreement would give US armed forces “uninhibited access” to PNG’s territorial waters and airspace.
While the Government remained tightlipped about the new security agreement, Hipkins said New Zealand would never accept any militarisation of the Pacific.
Fronting the media, Hipkins said Aotearoa respected the sovereignty of all nations.
When pressed about New Zealand’s position on the US-PNG pact, given the Government had raised its concerns over China’s security deal with the Solomon Islands last year, Hipkins said: “That’s a matter for those two countries.
“Of course, we don’t want to see militarisation in the Pacific… ultimately, they are autonomous countries, and they can enter into whatever arrangements that they like,” the prime minister said.
Hipkins’ comments came amid China’s warning against the introduction of “geopolitical games” in the Pacific region after the US announced it was pursuing a deal with PNG at this week’s summit.
Discussions will include security and defence, trade, and climate change, with India’s high-level business delegation seeking investments in oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, education, satellite and space industry, renewable energy projects like solar and hydroelectricity, defence co-operation and agricultural sectors.
NBC News PNG
Palau’s President Surangel S. Whipps Jr. arrives in Port Moresby to a traditional welcome. Whipps Jr. will sign new strategic pacts with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in PNG.
Biden cancelled his original plan to visit the Pacific in order to return to the US after the Group 7 summit in Japan on Sunday.
In PNG, Blinken will also sign new strategic pacts with Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, and hoped to seal a deal with the Marshall Islands in the coming weeks, the White House said on Monday.
Biden also cancelled a visit to Sydney for a meeting of the Quad partnership on Wednesday with Japan, India and Australia’s leaders, with the president to focus on debt limit talks in Washington.
Congressional negotiations are under way to raise the US borrowing limit after the Treasury Department warned the government could run out of money to pay its bills by June 1.
The White House said Biden would invite Pacific leaders to Washington later this year for the second US summit – the first was held in September last year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited the Pacific region three times, including a trip to Papua New Guinea in 2018.
Australia is set to seal a security pact with PNG next month, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying the Bilateral Security Treaty would cover defence, troop training and joint operations, climate change and cybersecurity.
Amid growing tensions over Taiwan, both the US and Australian agreements are seen as a counter to “China’s growing assertiveness” in the Indo-Pacific region.
China said on Monday it had “no objection” to normal exchanges and co-operation between relevant partners and Pacific island nations.
“The international community should pay more attention to and support the development and revitalisation of Pacific island countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a daily briefing.
But Wang warned China would “oppose any introduction of any geopolitical games into the Pacific region”.
Hipkins said New Zealand’s message to the Pacific remained unchanged: “We see co-operation with the Pacific as very important and militarisation isn’t something that we’re aiming towards.
“We like to think of ourselves as a trusted, strategic partner for Pacific countries.
“We are not interested in the militarisation of the Pacific. We are interested in working for/with the Pacific on issues where we have mutual interests, issues around climate change.
“We are not going to be attaching military strings to that support.”
Hipkins, who will hold discussions with Blinken and Modi, said New Zealand is “keeping a close eye” on developments in the region.
Hipkins said he held talks with Pacific leaders, many of whom he said he didn’t get the chance to meet at the Pacific Islands Forum special leaders retreat in Fiji in February due to Cyclone Gabrielle which claimed 11 lives.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni attended the retreat in his stead.
“It will be a good opportunity to catch up with them… to further the relationship with India as well, one that is also important to New Zealand,” Hipkins told journalists.
“We have a lot of people-to-people exchanges with India and trade opportunities, so it’s a good time to have those conversations.”
Hipkins will return home on Tuesday.
The last India-Pacific summit was held in Jaipur, northeastern India, in August 2015.