Papua New Guinea and Australia will sign a broad security cooperation agreement this week that includes an Australian police presence in the Pacific island country that suffers frequent ethnic conflicts.
The agreement will also reinforce the two countries’ mutual security interests in the Pacific and allow for the possible establishment of a regional police academy in Papua New Guinea, the island country’s Prime Minister James Marape said Tuesday.
“The security arrangement is in the best interest of Papua New Guinea and also for Australia and its regional security interests,” Marape said in a statement. Any Australian police in Papua New Guinea would work under the local police’s chain of command, the statement said.
Stability for Papua New Guinea, which gained its independence from Australia in 1975, has remained elusive as it grapples with tribal violence and challenges such as corruption and lack of infrastructure.
Parts of the mountainous country, which makes up the western half of New Guinea island and shares a long border with Indonesia, have been largely outside central government control for decades. Its election last year was marred by deadly violence and lawlessness in highlands provinces is an ongoing threat to national security and economic development.
Australia and the United States have sought closer security and defense relations with Papua New Guinea, the most populous Pacific island nation, in response to China’s inroads in the region.
China, over several decades, has become a substantial source of trade, infrastructure and aid for developing Pacific island countries as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and build its own set of global institutions.
Last year, China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, alarming the U.S. and its allies such as Australia. The Solomons and Kiribati switched their diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019.
Marape said the agreement for closer security relations with Australia would be signed in the Australian capital Canberra on Thursday.
“Australia and Papua New Guinea share common security interests, and such security arrangements are vital to maintaining law-and-order in the region, safeguarding economic and trading interests,” Marape said.
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Marape had at the beginning of this year urged officials to complete negotiations by the end of April.
Papua New Guinea and the U.S. signed a defense cooperation agreement in May, which once ratified would give the U.S. military unrestricted access to six air and sea ports in the island nation. The U.S. would have criminal jurisdiction over American military personnel in Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea’s opposition leader has sought a Supreme Court review of the legality of the agreement, which critics say would impinge on the country’s sovereignty.
Marape said the agreement with Australia will extend to potential Australian support for Papua New Guinea’s Bomana Police Academy, which recruits and trains police cadets.
Papua New Guinea has one police officer for about every 1,800 people, nearly four times less than the level recommended by the United Nations to ensure law and order, according to a Griffith Asia Institute report released earlier this year.
The ratio of police to people has declined substantially in the past half century as Papua New Guinea’s population tripled to more than nine million, the report said.