SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday he would travel to Papua New Guinea this week in a bid to boost bilateral ties and aid “friendship” in the Pacific region.
Speaking to media in the city of Geelong, in Victoria state, Mr Albanese said he would address PNG’s Parliament in the country’s capital Port Moresby on Thursday.
Mr Albanese would be the first non-PNG leader to address the Pacific Island nation’s Parliament, he said.
“I want to thank Australia’s great friend Prime Minister (James) Marape on giving not just me, but I believe Australia, that great honour,” Mr Albanese said, speaking alongside Defence Minister Richard Marles.
On the trip, Mr Albanese said discussions would cover the countries’ economic and security relationship, support for PNG’s economic development and Australia “advancing our friendship in the region,” especially on the issue of climate change.
Australia’s centre-left Labor government is negotiating a defence pact with PNG, its closest neighbour to the north, and has recently boosted its diplomacy in the Pacific islands amid competition with China for influence in the region.
Australia has previously said it wants to strike an “ambitious” security treaty with PNG that will see navy, air force and army personnel from each nation working alongside each other more often.
Mr Albanese in December deferred a visit to PNG until early this year after testing positive for Covid-19.
Also on Saturday, Mr Albanese said the government remained on a “very positive” footing with the United States on the Aukus security pact, which remained on its “optimal pathway.”
Aukus, an agreement between the US, United Kingdom and Australia, is a plan to provide Australia with the technology and capability to operate conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines.
Mr Albanese’s comments come after reports this week of concerns from two senior US politicians that the deal would damage America’s industrial base.
“One of the reasons both the US and UK are doing this is because it’s in their strategic interest to have Australia with this capability,” Mr Marles told reporters. REUTERS