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Australia needs to help PNG improve border surveillance

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 25 February 2022

The incident last week in which a Chinese warship focussed a laser on an Australian RAAF aircraft off Darwin has wider consequences, especially for Papua New Guinea.

The two Chinese vessels travelled through the Torrest Strait....meaning they were within a short distance from Daru and the Papuan coast. I had hoped the incident would attract attention in PNG - sadly, hardly a mention in the local media and no political comment.

The problem in PNG today is that national security, and border surveillance, simply don't rate as key issue as PNG's election campaign is about to be formally launched.


When the Chinese vessle sailed past Daru, and along the coast towards Ihu-Kikori, the ships' captains maye well have told their crew - these ports will soon be ours!

If they are, then Chinese navy vessls in the Gulf of Papua and the Torres Strat will be almost daily occurences. No major political party in PNG has a substantiial policy on it...none!

This suits China perfectly. It has already locked in a claim to the Ihu-Kikori Special Economic Zone, and building a major fishing processing factory on Daru rermains very much alive. Progress might be slow, but it remains a priority for the PRC Embassy in Port Moresby.

Just how much these proposals - right on our northern doorstep - progress may well depend on the upcoming PNG elections. The Marape Government has done nothing whatsoever to discourage these projects so strategically located.

If Australia has objected then there are no signs it has been successful. Indeed in recent weeks Prime Minister Marape signed up to a wide-ranging agreement with the Chinese Premier that focusses on infrastructure, ports, fishing anf agrculture. China is already dominant in PNG in electricity expansion, communications,and a range of other areas so great they are almost impossible to monitor.

The one certainty is there has been no retreat, just a total shift away from "aid" to Belt and Road type initiatives that by my latest calculation have seen PNG commit to at least K5 billion in tied-loan projects in the last six months alone.


The sad reality is that PNG's capacity to repay loans has been reached, yet the borrowing continues. Close to $800 million owed to Australia in loans approved in the last two years as "budget support" are not being repaid with Canberra generously agreeing to "defer" repayment. But the debts remain and grow annually.

China would be carefully monitoring the capacity of PNG and state owned agencies to repay debts to China, which probably now exceed K10 billion. Any request by PNG to defer repayment or even have the loans forgiven is unlikely to find China as generous as Australia!

Most of the loans have been entered into by state owned businesses, most notably by the PNG Government, widely regarded as a financial "basket case". But it keeps borrowiing almost all from China, with the loans tied to all work being undertaken by PRC companies. Both PNG and Australian companies in the construction sector just dont get a look in - and won't.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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