United States boosts PNG support during APEC
The United States will join forces with Australia to redevelop a Manus Island naval base in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as part of a counterbalance to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) expanding Pacific influence.
“We will work with these nations to protect the sovereignty and maritime routes of Pacific Island nations,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said during a trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November 2018, according to Reuters. “And you can be confident, the U.S. will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies.”
Manus Island is PNG’s smallest province. In October 2018, Australia announced that it would work with PNG to upgrade a dilapidated base there. The additional attention brought to the plans with the U.S. involvement is likely to further anger the PRC, analysts say.
In fact, tensions between the PRC and the U.S. resulted in this year’s APEC ending without a joint statement by its leaders.
“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt. We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road,” Pence said, alluding to the PRC’s One Belt, One Road initiative without calling China by name, The Straits Timesnewspaper reported. “Some are offering infrastructure loans to governments across the Indo-Pacific and the wider world, yet the terms of those loans are often opaque at best.”
Pence said such projects are often “unsustainable and poor quality.”
“Too often, they come with strings attached and lead to staggering debt,” he added.
The PRC’s competing vision for the Pacific didn’t hinder the U.S. from forging other partnerships to better the region.
The U.S. — in collaboration with Australia, Japan and New Zealand — will bring electricity to 70 percent of PNG’s residents by 2030. The four countries signed the electrification agreement during APEC.
“The commitment of the United States to this region of the world has never been stronger,” Pence said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s remarkable to think of the impact this will have on people’s lives across this nation. Electricity will drive economic growth, but as other have said, it will simply improve the quality of life for people across Papua New Guinea for generations to come.”