Papua New Guinea PM James Marape embarks on first official visit to Australia

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will host newly elected Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape in Canberra today. Australia’s

James Marape australia

Photo: AFP

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will host newly elected Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape in Canberra today.

Australia’s historical influence over PNG was challenged by former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s close ties with China. Mr O’Neill met with Chinese President Xi Jinping 12 times in his eight years as leader and signed PNG up to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Mr Marape’s visit—the first state visit of any leader since PM Morrison’s own re-election in May—underlines the importance Canberra places on its relationship with PNG as the anchor of Canberra’s “Pacific Step-up” strategy to counter Chinese influence in the region.

Mr Marape has signalled that PNG will not be as closely aligned with China as his predecessor. Many MPs who voted him into power seek a review of PNG’s relationship with Beijing given the country’s rising debt owed to China—at $590 million, a quarter of its external debt.

Expect Mr Morrison to seek Port Moresby’s realignment away from Beijing. This may include further Australian investments in PNG’s multi-nation funded electrification programme. China is not likely to be disturbed unless Mr Marape seeks to rescind an agreement for Huawei to build PNG’s internet network; especially in favour of a western company. In such case, Beijing-Port Moresby relations would likely be strained.

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