Politics | Papua New Guinea

US President Joe Biden confirms historic visit to Papua New Guinea

By NZ Herald reporter Michael Neilson. Photo / File

Joe Biden has confirmed he will visit Papua New Guinea, which will be the first time a sitting United States president visits the Pacific nation.

The visit to meet Pacific Forum leaders will be in between his travels to Japan for the G7 Leaders' Summit, and Australia, where he will hold talks with leaders of Australia, India and Japan.

The historic visit comes as the US continues to ramp up its diplomatic push in the Pacific to counter China’s rising influence.

Washington stepped up efforts after China struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands last year. China failed to reach a wider security and trade deal with 10 Pacific island countries.

Biden’s visit follows the first US–Pacific Island Summit in Washington, DC last year, and a major package of initiatives announced at last year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji by Vice-President Kamala Harris, which includes opening new embassies and NZ$1 billion over the next decade towards fishing payments and economic support.

Its Tonga embassy was opened this week in Nuku’alofa and in March the US signalled plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu. There are also plans for an embassy in Kiribati.

Countering Chinese influence

Papua New Guinea is negotiating security deals with the United States and Australia, and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has been invited to visit Beijing this year.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he is awaiting a formal invitation before confirming he will travel to Papua New Guinea this month to meet US President Joe Biden alongside other Pacific leaders.

Hipkins said he “welcomed” Biden’s visit to the Pacific.

“That’s something that New Zealand has encouraged and we’re very supportive of it.”

In Papua New Guinea, Biden will meet Prime Minister Marape and other Pacific Island Forum leaders, who had already planned to meet in Port Moresby on May 22 with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Hipkins and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese are also expected to be there.

Waiting for an invitation

“We haven’t received a formal invitation at this point,” Hipkins said.

But if he got an invitation, he would accept it, he said.

The White House said Biden and Pacific leaders would “discuss ways to deepen co-operation on challenges critical to the region and to the United States such as combatting climate change, protecting maritime resources, and advancing resilient and inclusive economic growth”.

“As a Pacific nation, the United States has deep historical and people-to-people ties with the Pacific Islands, and this visit – the first time a US President has visited a Pacific Island country [other than Australia or Aotearoa] – further reinforces this critical partnership.”