U.S. warns Papua New Guinea of consequences of potential security pact with China

U.S. official Richard Verma warns Papua New Guinea against a potential security pact with China, citing the high costs and consequences of such relations with Beijing.

A senior U.S. State Department official, Richard Verma, has advised Papua New Guinea (PNG) to reject China’s offer of a potential security pact, cautioning that any security guarantee from Beijing comes with consequences and costs. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Verma highlighted the high costs associated with Chinese commitments in defence or investment. He expressed concerns about the potential ramifications of security deals with China, emphasizing that the U.S. and its ally Australia have considered the Pacific as their sphere of influence for decades.

Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister, Justin Tkachenko, recently disclosed that the country is in early talks with China regarding a potential security deal. China has proposed aiding its police force with training, equipment, and surveillance technology. This move by China has raised alarms in the U.S. and Australia, as they aim to dissuade Pacific nations from forming security ties with Beijing, especially after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022.

Verma, who visited the South Pacific and competed for influence in the resource-rich region, characterized the situation as a competition for dominance. He stressed the need for aggressive competition to maintain influence in the Pacific, signalling the strategic importance of the region.

Ahead of PNG Prime Minister James Marape’s address to the Australian parliament, Verma conveyed the U.S.’s desire for nations to choose security arrangements, investment opportunities, and advanced connectivity with countries adhering to international rules and standards. Verma criticized China, asserting that it has demonstrated a disregard for the modern rules-based order.

The U.S. official also cautioned against the “false promise of authoritarian regimes,” underscoring the potential risks associated with countries entering into investment arrangements with China, which he referred to as a “debt trap.”

The geopolitical dynamics in the Pacific are evolving, with the U.S. and China vying for influence. Verma’s remarks highlight the U.S.’s efforts to counter China’s expanding presence and influence in the region, emphasizing the importance of aligning with nations that uphold international norms and standards. As Pacific nations navigate these complex relationships, the strategic choices they make will have broader implications for the regional balance of power.