Biden Planning Papua New Guinea Stopover Ahead of Quad Summit, Official Says

U.S. President Joe Biden will briefly visit Papua New Guinea (PNG) during his trip to Australia next month, an official from the southwestern Pacific nation said, in a move that will help boost the U.S. engagement in the region.

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PNG’s Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko told reporters on Thursday that Biden is planning to visit the nation’s capital Port Moresby for a three-hour stopover on his way to Australia next month.

“He is coming on May 22, in the morning, and will be here for three hours only,” Tkatchenko said, according to the Pacific News Service.

Tkatchenko said that Biden is expected to meet with PNG leaders to discuss the economy, security, and climate change, without elaborating further.

The White House has not officially announced Biden’s stopover in PNG. If this goes ahead, Biden will become the first-ever sitting U.S. president to visit the nation.

Biden will attend the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Sydney, Australia, on May 24 alongside his Indian and Japanese counterparts. The White House said the summit will focus on issues “that matter to the people of the Indo-Pacific,” such as critical technologies and climate change.

This will be the first time Australia has hosted the Quad Leaders’ Summit, which will follow a three-day Quad Leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 19 that Biden will also attend.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Wednesday that he looks forward to discussing with Quad leaders and key regional institutions ways to shape the Indo-Pacific region “we all want to live in.”

“Leveraging our collective strengths helps Australia advance its interests and more effectively respond to the region’s needs. We are always better off when we act together with our close friends and partners,” he said.

Negotiating Defense Cooperation

The United States has sought to enhance its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region to counter Beijing’s growing influence. In February, PNG sent a delegation to Honolulu for security talks with U.S. officials.

The U.S. State Department said they discussed the foundational framework of the U.S.-PNG Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) to establish a “mutual understanding of core issues.”

“When completed and signed, a U.S.-PNG DCA will be the foundational framework around which our two nations will enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defense Force and increase stability and security in the region,” it stated.

Tkatchenko said earlier this year that the DCA will help with “America’s investment into capacity building of the PNG defense force, in training, infrastructure, and other items that have to do with defense.”

“Basically, everything is there; the most important thing is the legal clearance—making sure our sovereignty is protected and making sure we get things right from the beginning and not halfway through,” he said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

However, the minister said there was no plan to have U.S. warships stationed in PNG and that the deal was more focused on training.

“But it’s a big one that will ensure we have the cooperation agreement that will have both defense forces working together now and in the future for the security of the Pacific region and the region that we live in,” he said.

The move occurred as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing has been increasing diplomatic efforts in the region.

Beijing signed multiple agreements with some Pacific Island nations last year, including a security pact with the Solomon Islands that would allow it dispatch police, troops, weapons, and naval ships to the island.

The Solomon Islands occupies a strategic position in the Pacific and is less than 1,200 miles from Australia.

The CCP tried to have the region’s nations sign a sweeping security and economic deal in May 2022 but failed due to a lack of consensus among Pacific Island leaders.

Victoria Kelly-Clark contributed to this report.


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