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PNG sticks with Australia on security, calls for poverty focus

Dominic Giannini -

Papua New Guinea did not seek to involve China in security talks and instead pigeonholed ties to the economy, its prime minister has confirmed after inking a new pact with Australia.

The Pacific island nation opted to stick with Australia as its traditional security partner as it worked to boost economic ties with China, Prime Minister James Marape said.

Mr Marape met with both the Chinese president and premier while in Beijing earlier this year but told the two leaders he only wanted to discuss economic links.

"We told them before we went to Beijing, don't talk security, don't talk politics, let's talk commerce and trade," he told a Lowy Institute event on Monday.

"The greatest threat facing humanity after climate change, if not greater than climate change, is poverty."

The Pacific leader urged the West to heed the same call and not solely focus on security partnerships.

"The West cannot be ignorant to this, economies need to survive," he said.

"If you don't come in, people are coming in to pick up the cheque ... it's more powerful than just security."

PNG PM James Marape and Australian PM Anthony Albanese signed a Bilateral Security Agreement. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Australia and PNG signed a defence pact last week that mandates consultation if either nation is attacked or if the peace and stability of either nation is threatened.

Australia will also provide $200 million to help boost PNG's policing and justice system, including through the establishment of a training centre in Port Moresby where officers from around the Pacific can also be trained.

The Australian agreement worked in tandem with a similar pact signed with the US as the former addressed domestic concerns while the latter covered external security, Mr Marape said.

He faced domestic blowback after signing the agreement with Washington over concerns it stripped PNG of its sovereignty.

The US had always been around the Pacific and had common values, including democracy, Mr Marape added.

"They haven't budged into PNG, we work with them in that space," he said, referring to his nation's security.

PNG needed to have access to the resources necessary to protect its sovereignty, including by cracking down on illegal fishing throughout the nation's some 600 islands, he said.

"It is in that interest that we have (the) US to partner in our sovereignty, defence," he said.

"I'm cognisant of the fact that I need to secure my external borders."

Neither the American nor Australian pact jeopardised the relationship with any other nation, Mr Marape added.

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