China, Papua New Guinea in talks on policing, security cooperation after deadly riots

Papua New Guinea is in early talks with China on a potential security and policing deal, Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko said, weeks after deadly riots in the South Pacific nation’s capital.

Amid jostling between Washington and Beijing for influence in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea (PNG) – the biggest Pacific island nation – has previously said Australia and the United States are its security partners, while China is an important economic partner.

China approached PNG in September with an offer to assist its police force with training, equipment and surveillance technology, Tkachenko said in an interview on Monday. Talks continued last week.

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Chinese businesses attacked, nationals injured in Papua New Guinea labour riots

Chinese businesses attacked, nationals injured in Papua New Guinea labour riots

“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 said.

PNG will assess if the Chinese offer duplicates security and policing help already being offered by Australia and the United States, he said.

“It is still in early stages of negotiation with our Commissioner of Police and our Minister of Internal Security,” he said. “They have offered it to us, but we have not accepted it at this point in time.”

Papua New Guinea declares 2-week state of emergency after 16 killed in riots

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China is a “strong economic partner” of PNG, and the two nations formed diplomatic ties in 1975, Tkachenko said.

PNG signed a A$200 million (US$132 million) security deal with Australia last month to boost policing, and days later Prime Minister James Marape told an investment conference in Sydney that he had not held talks with China on security when he visited Beijing in October.

PNG had chosen Australia and the United States as security partners, he said.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and PNG Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki show documents after signing a security agreement in May last year as PNG Prime Minister James Marape looks on. Photo: AFP

Riots in the PNG capital Port Moresby earlier in January left at least 16 dead, with major retail stores burnt and looted, after police held a strike over pay. Marape’s government called in the PNG defence force to restore order, but didn’t seek Australia’s help.

China’s embassy complained to PNG over the safety risk to Chinese citizens living in Port Moresby.

PNG struck a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the United States during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May, giving the US military access to PNG ports and airports.

Tkachenko said PNG would not do anything to jeopardise its defence and security relationships with Australia or the US, and was not a “fence-sitter”.

As PNG vows return to normality, will chaos mar its ties with US and China?

Riots in neighbouring Solomon Islands in 2021 saw China strike security and policing pacts with Manasseh Sogavare’s government a year later, alarming Washington and Canberra.

Australia’s Pacific Minister Pat Conroy pledged A$35 million in policing help to neighbouring East Timor on Monday during an official visit, amid concern in Canberra that Beijing is again aggressively targeting the police and security sectors in the Pacific.

Conroy will on Tuesday visit Nauru, which switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing this month.

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