The speech, Marape’s meeting with his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, and the neighbours‘ release of details of a security pact signed in December, come as Pacific nations deal with China’s growing ambitions.
Resource-rich Papua New Guinea has rebuffed overtures from China, which struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022 that caused worry among some in the region.
Papua New Guinea, which is in a strategically important part of the South Pacific, struggles with tribal violence and civil unrest and wants to increase its police numbers from 6,000 officers to 26,000. Anger over high unemployment and cost of living led to rioting and looting last month in its two biggest cities.
Papua New Guinea and Australia “reaffirmed their commitment to the region’s existing security architecture as a key driver of security cooperation”, a joint statement between Marape and Albanese said.
Papua New Guinea is a nation of mostly subsistence farmers where some 800 languages are spoken. With 10 million people, it is the most populous South Pacific nation after Australia, which is home to 26 million.
Australia Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Marape’s historic speech elevated Australia’s relationship with the Pacific.
“We know that China is a great power asserting its interests,” she told reporters. “What we are doing is reemphasising our part in the Pacific family and the importance of that engagement.”
After last month’s civil unrest, a number of Papua New Guinea ministers resigned and an under-pressure Marape may soon face a vote of no confidence.
“We must become a strong country standing on our own two feet, economically independent and strong so we too can help Australia maintain democracy, preserve peace and ensure stability…. in our Pacific,” he said in his speech.