This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.
SYDNEY, Australia – United States President Joe Biden will sign defense and surveillance agreements with Papua New Guinea, the island nation’s foreign minister said, on a visit that renews the strategic importance of the nation where Biden’s uncle died in World War II.
PNG, the South Pacific’s most populous nation, will also see a doubling of US development assistance to $32 million, including $25 million to tackle its security priority of climate change, State Department documents submitted to the US Congress show.
Washington is seeking to deter Pacific island nations, which span 40 million kilometers of ocean, from security ties with China, a rising concern amid tensions over Taiwan.
Biden will visit PNG capital Port Moresby on May 22 on his way to a summit of the Quad countries – the United States, Japan, India and Australia – in Sydney, the White House has confirmed. There he will meet 18 Pacific island leaders.
Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko told Reuters a Defence Cooperation Agreement between the US and PNG was finalized last week, “which now allows us to officially sign it when Biden comes here”.
A separate agreement to allow the U.S. Coast Guard to patrol PNG’s vast exclusive economic zone, with PNG officials on board as “ship riders”, also will be signed and cover satellite surveillance, he said in an interview.
“We will be able to utilize the US satellite security systems. Once we sign that it will help monitor our waters, which we can’t at the moment,” he said.
“It will be a fantastic agreement protecting our natural resources from being illegally poached and stolen, especially our fishing,” he added.
China has a decade-long history of infrastructure projects in the region, and last year struck a security pact with Solomon Islands, which has since placed a moratorium on US Coast Guard vessels entering its waters.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited the region three times, including a 2018 visit to PNG, but Beijing last year failed to sign 10 nations to a security and trade deal.
For Biden, the visit also will have personal significance that highlights PNG’s importance to regional security.
Two of his uncles were based in PNG in World War II as airmen, including one who died in a plane crash in May 1944, Biden recalled during a 2016 visit to Australia.
Historians have said PNG was essential to the US drive across the Pacific to liberate the Philippines in the war, and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has urged people to look at history to understand “the strategic importance of Pacific islands to Australia’s security needs”.
Classified portions of an Australian defense review were reported by local media to warn Australia would be unable to defend itself from a Chinese missile attack launched from the Pacific.
Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles, if positioned in the Pacific islands, could stop United States and Australian navy movement, University of NSW professor David Kilcullen, a former special advisor on counterinsurgency to the US Secretary of State, wrote in Australian Foreign Affairs.
China and the Solomon Islands have denied their security pact allows a navy base.
The US pledged an $800 million economic assistance package after meeting with Pacific island leaders last year, which must be approved by Congress in negotiations not due to progress until the autumn. US embassies recently opened in Solomon Islands and Tonga, but consent for proposed embassies in Vanuatu and Kiribati is yet to be gained, an official told a congressional hearing.
Biden’s meeting in person with Pacific leaders is seen in the region as a major step in restoring trust.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was told by Pacific leaders in Fiji last year: “We have felt at times, to borrow an American term, like a flyover country. Small dots spotted from plane windows of leaders en route to meetings where they spoke about us, rather than with us, if they spoke of us at all.”