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New Australia-PNG Agreement to serve US imperialism

Written by: (Contributed) on 11 September 2020


The updating of a bilateral security treaty between Australia and Papua New Guinea shows the systematic strengthening of neo-colonial ties for new Cold War diplomatic positions.

The position of Australia has followed US-led regional foreign policy, specifically designed to counter the rise of China.

The position taken by Canberra, furthermore, contains a number of dangers which include the likelihood of being drawn into real-war scenarios as diplomatic tensions between the US and China escalate.

In early August, the Morrison coalition government in Canberra signed a new Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) with PNG. The publicised document carried all the hallmarks of a neo-colonial relationship being updated to serve new Cold War US-led diplomatic positions in the South Pacific. (1)

While the CSEP was constructed to rest on six pillars, pillars three and four were quite clearly regarded as the most important for Australia. Pillar Three dealt with economic partnership; Pillar Four dealt with strategic co-operation for security and stability and included joint activities for information and intelligence sharing with specific reference to the planned upgrade of the Lombrum Naval facilities on Manus Island. (2)

A sense of urgency prevailed for the Australian government, which noted the moves would 'accelerate our strategic and economic co-operation'. (3)

Only weeks later a large trade delegation led by billionaire Andrew Forrest, owner of the Fortescue Metals Group, arrived in PNG for meetings with senior government officials. A number of planned projects were discussed although 'a spokesman for Fortescue would not comment on the trip of its chairman and executives to PNG'. (4)

Despite the diplomatic and corporate protocol from the unnamed 'spokesman' it should be noted the Fortescue Metals Group is essentially a mining organisation and PNG is well-known for its massive mineral deposits.

The Fortescue delegation were not, however, pursing a new Australian-led foreign policy toward PNG; similar initiatives took place during the earliest days of the Australian colonial administration, long before independence took place, to enable mining companies to exploit the vast wealth of PNG. The neo-colonial policies created a dual economy with a small, dynamic, extractive sector which acted like a siphon; vast wealth disappeared off-shore and into shareholders portfolios leaving about 80 per cent of the local population to continue lifestyles based in subsistence agriculture. (5) The lop-sided economic development has had far-reaching implications with social and political considerations. The environmental damage caused by the former has, likewise, also had far-reaching implications for the latter, where whole areas of the country have been devastated.   

The recent Fortescue delegation were, nevertheless, actively pursuing policies based in the enforced compliance of PNG to Australian expertise and financial capital for investment, with little in return except aid package allocations from Canberra which often serve the needs of mining companies as opposed to ordinary people.

Military “interoperability”

It was, however, information contained in Pillar Four which related to defence and security provision which has raised serious considerations with the present US-led Cold War.

PNG, as part of the South Pacific, is strategically-placed as a buffer to the north of Australia; dominant military thinking has assessed any threat to Australian sovereignty is likely to originate from the north. PNG, together with the neighbouring Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, are therefore, front-line positions for Australian defence and security provision.

Pillar Four was, therefore, couched in military-style jargon about 'shared security interests' and defence and security 'inter-operability' with specific reference to the planned upgrade to the Lombrum Naval base on Manus Island. (6)

The moves, by Canberra with PNG, have been accompanied by a number of military projects in northern Australia 'tagged for accelerated funding including Robertson Barracks, RAAF Base Darwin, Larrakeyah Defence Precinct and the Delamere Air Weapons Range', together with extra duties for about 27,000 reserve forces. (7)

The distance from the Australian military facilities to the Lombrum Base has provided an arc which can be swung through countries in the western Pacific region which are regarded as sensitive by the Pentagon. PNG also has strong links with many of the countries concerned through membership of various Pacific regional forums, often with cordial relations with China.

It has, therefore, been interesting to note the planned Lombrum upgrade was almost casually announced in a media release 'to send a clear message to China and cement plans for the development of a joint naval base'. (8) It is significant to note the same media release also named the US as part of the planned upgrade, a position previously denied by the Pentagon.  

A number of US-led military assessments of the wider Asia-Pacific region have predicted that 'a major war with China would be confined to the western Pacific' and it is, therefore, highly significant to note the Lombrum naval base would provide ready access for deployments to the western Pacific and also the South China Seas. (10)

The Lombrum upgrade, however, has not been as straightforward as Pentagon military planners wanted. In fact, it has proved very difficult and the project may never become operational for reasons completely overlooked by the Pentagon.

There has already been a massive reaction to the planning from within PNG, with former PM Rabbie Namaliu stating the moves were incompatible with long-standing PNG foreign policy provision where the country is a 'friend to all, enemy to none'. (11) PNG, for example, has had long-standing diplomatic relations with China, Cuba, Vietnam and the DPRK.

The dominant Limondorol ethnic grouping on Manus Island, likewise, have also complained and opposed moves to transform Lombrum Base on land over which they retain absolute control. They argue government officials in Port Moresby did not have the right to authorise the military planning and upgrade. Manus Island Governor Charlie Benjamin has already vowed to prevent Australian-appointed contractors from entering the base. (12)

A tense situation has, therefore, arisen where localised grievances on Manus Island have challenged the central parliamentary control of PNG. With the recent Bougainville referendum likely to also prove contentious in parliamentary circles, ethnic tensions across PNG have risen, with far-reaching implications for successional demands in the ethnically diverse country.

When former PM Rabbie Namaliu stated 'he was concerned PNG could be drawn into a regional conflict under its deal to transform the base into a joint facility' it was a realistic assessment of the present Cold War mentality by the Pentagon to prepare for real-war scenarios, particularly when taken in the context of the recent statement that 'the Lombrum agreement was aimed … at … providing a forward operating base with a commanding view of maritime approaches from Asia. (13)

There is a great deal more to the CSEP between Australia and PNG than meets the eye, it was designed to serve 'US interests'.

We need an independent foreign policy!


1.     Australian Government, DFAT., PNG., PNG-Australia CSEP., 5 August 2020; and, PNG, Australia sign agreement, Post Courier (Port Moresby), 6 August 2020.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Prime Minister of Australia, Media Statement, Canberra, 5 August 2020.
4.     Australian mining magnate arrives in PNG, Post Courier (Port Moresby), 27 August 2020; and, Forrest eyes PNG power export plan, The Weekend Australian, 29-30 August 2020.
5.     See: Destitution on Australia's hardening border with PNG, The Conversation, 13 April 2020.
6.     PM of Australia, Media Statement, op.cit., Canberra, 5 August 2020.
7.     $1 bn to boost ADF projects, recovery, Australian, 26 August 2020.
8.     Alliance with PNG a 'signal' to Beijing, Australian, 6 August 2020.
10.   China military advances 'pose a higher threat', Australian, 26 August 2020.
11.   Australian, op.cit., 6 August 2020.
12.   Ibid.
13.   Ibid.


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