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Austin, Papua New Guinea Leaders Discuss Plans for Defense Cooperation

The Indo-Pacific is the priority theater for the United States, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III's visit to Papua New Guinea is all about keeping the region free and open.

Austin and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape spoke following meetings in the country's capital city, Port Moresby. Both spoke about what the newly signed Defense Cooperation Agreement will mean to the Pacific.

Two men shake hands with an American flag in the background.
Leader Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III greets Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, July 27, 2023. Austin is the first ever sitting U.S. secretary of defense to visit the South Pacific island.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 230727-D-TT977-1132

"We're expanding U.S. participation in several exercises with the PNG Defense Force," Austin said. "We've also completed an important shiprider agreement that will mean greater cooperation on maritime law enforcement."

The agreement will allow Papua New Guinea personnel aboard U.S. Coast Guard ships as they patrol in the region, which will help the nation to tackle illegal fishing and trafficking in the huge, exclusive economic zone. "And we're not wasting any time," Austin said. "A U.S. Coast Guard cutter will be here in August to kick this program off."

The two men said the new Defense Cooperation Agreement will deepen ties between the United States and Papua New Guinea and strengthen cooperation and interoperability between U.S. and Papua New Guinea forces with an eye to better support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, if needed.

The nation's parliament is debating the agreement and ratification is expected soon, said officials.

Once ratified, the U.S. effort to help modernize the country's defense force will accelerate. This includes new equipment, more training and upgrades to defense facilities, Austin said.

The agreement is important, the secretary said. It will better enable the countries to work together to help the Papua New Guinea Defense Force become the security guarantor for the country that leaders want it to be.

Austin stressed that the United States is not seeking permanent basing in the country. He said he sees the agreement as a "fundamental, foundational framework, to deepen the defense relationship."

A man speaks with flags in the background.
Austin Speaks
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks during a news conference in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, July 27, 2023.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 230727-D-TT977-1228

The relationship between the United States and Papua New Guinea is decades old. Marape noted that Austin's father served in the U.S. Army in New Guinea during World War II. "Our defense capacity must be built," the prime minister said. "There is no better partner [than the] biggest democracy and the biggest military for this partnership. It is a partnership of choice that we made in respect to defense cooperation."

Marape noted the security relationship would mean "cascading benefits that links to the economy."

The agreement will last 15 years. Marape said how it moves forward will be through negotiations among friends. "That has been secured," the prime minister said. "I want you to appreciate the USA never tampered with our autonomy and independence or with respect of sovereignty."

"We invited them in the defense space; it is not them coming in," he continued. "We invited them in the defense space to help build our defense to protect our own borders, including stopping fishing losses and blight of the illegal [logging] from our forests. They came in our invitation."


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