PNG offers to play peacemaker between Australia and China at APEC

PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill. Picture: RNZ

PORT MORESBY, 15 NOVEMBER 2018 (ABC) – Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister says the country will do all it can to ensure there are no conflicts between China and Australia during the APEC summit.

The leaders of China and Australia are about to arrive in Port Moresby for the event, amid tensions between the two countries over influence in the Pacific.

The PNG Government maintains it wants to stay out of the geopolitics that threaten to engulf it.

Australia, China and the United States are all jockeying for position in the region, and several aid and development announcements are expected to be made in coming days.

This will likely include an internet and electricity program for PNG being backed by Australia.

This weekend’s summit has taken on heightened interest as countries vie for favour and influence in the Pacific.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has conducted a final tour of the country’s APEC venues.

“We are not very interested in geopolitics, we are very interested in doing business with everyone,” he said

China and Australia had recently struck a more conciliatory tone, but this week China warned of a “Cold War mentality”, in an apparent reference to Australia’s pledge to increase its influence in the region.

“Like any family, there are going to be difficulties along the way,” O’Neill said.

“China and Australia are still very good friends, they still continue to trade with each other.

“Both economies are very important to the region.”

The jostle for power is increasing attention on PNG.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to announce new projects and assistance during his visit.

The US also looks likely to increase its spending in the region to try to counter Beijing.

O’Neill was playing coy about what may be to come.

“There will be a few announcements during the few days; let’s wait and see.”

Among the likely announcements is a massive internet and electricity project backed by Australia, New Zealand, the US and Japan.

“We want to bring electricity to all our citizens throughout the country,” O’Neill said.

“It is a big programme and we are very thankful to some of our development programs and the APEC economies who are participating.

“So we’ll look forward to finalising that over the next few days.”

PNG’s Foreign Minister, Rimbink Pato, said the country could pursue its own agenda without becoming a pawn in the political games.

“We do not think that any contests between the superpowers will be an impediment to our agenda,” he said.

“We will ensure that our own agenda and the agendas of the Pacific are addressed rather than the agenda of any one particular friend.”

Rato said PNG’s foreign policy was shining through.

“PNG’s foreign policy since independence is friends of all and enemies of none,” he said.

“So it’s clearly PNG’s foreign policy at work in its best form.”

But with tension between China and Australia on the radar, Pato said PNG was ready to play peacemaker at the APEC summit.

“It’s not for me to address either of those countries through the media as to what they should do, but as I have said, for us, they are great friends of this country.

“So we will do all we can to ensure, if we can, that there are no conflicts, to the extent possible,” he said

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