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The United States seeks to strengthen its security cooperation with Papua New Guinea

SYDNEY, April 26 (Reuters) – The United States is keen to expand security co-operation with the Pacific island nation Papua New Guinea, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, amid concerns in Washington over the motives of the China to enter into a security pact with the neighboring Solomon Islands. .

A U.S. delegation met with PNG Prime Minister James Marape and his defense chiefs last week and plans to hold further security talks in the coming months, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Environmental Affairs said. East Asia and the Pacific, Daniel Kritenbrink.

“There is a desire on both sides to ensure that we take concrete steps to expand our security cooperation,” he told reporters on a call.

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On Friday, the United States said it had warned Solomon Islands Prime Minister Mannaseh Sogavare that it would have “serious concerns and would respond accordingly” to any move to establish a permanent Chinese military presence. Read more

China has previously said the security deal signed last week poses no risk to the United States. China has criticized Australia, which is less than 2,000 kilometers away and has historically provided policing to the Solomon Islands, for opposing it. Read more

Kritenbrink, a member of a White House delegation that visited the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji last week, said Sogavare reiterated at the meeting that the China deal was focused on internal security needs and that there would be no military base.

However, the United States will monitor developments as it is concerned about the lack of transparency and China’s motives, he said.

“They are completely unclear because this deal has not been reviewed,” Kritenbrink said, adding that the concern was shared by regional partners, Pacific island nations and Solomon Islanders.

The Solomon Islands are strategically positioned for shipping lanes and communications in the Pacific and were the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in that theater of World War II, which the US delegation pointed out during a visit to a war memorial.

China offered to redevelop a naval base in Papua New Guinea in 2018, but the government struck a deal instead for Australia and the US to upgrade a former US WWII naval base on Manus Island. Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest northern neighbour.

“We know that the PRC is seeking to establish more robust overseas logistics and base infrastructure that would allow the PLA to project and sustain its military power at greater distances,” Kritenbrink said, referring to the People’s Republic of China and its army.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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