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China and PNG discuss free trade agreement | Daily Express Online

China and PNG discuss free trade deal

Published on: Saturday 04 June 2022

By:AFP

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A Chinese laborer and a Papua New Guinean laborer holding national flags at the Port of Moresby in Papua New Guinea. (GTC)

PORT MORESBY: China and Papua New Guinea held talks on a free trade deal on Friday, as Beijing’s foreign minister wrapped up a historic tour of the Pacific islands with a stopover in the resource-rich nation. Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said talks in the capital Port Moresby had focused on economic cooperation and a long-standing trade deal. China is already a major investor in Papua New Guinea and buys much of the country’s gas, minerals, timber and other resources.

Beijing is vying with Australia to become Papua New Guinea’s top trading partner. Marape, who is committed to making his country the wealthiest black Christian nation in the world, said he wants to shift the economy from raw materials to more lucrative end products. He invited more Chinese investment and said work was underway on a trade deal. “Officials from China and Papua New Guinea are fine-tuning China-PNG free trade agreements,” Marape told reporters. “Details of the free trade agreement are being finalized as we go, so that Papua New Guinea’s interests are not suppressed or harmed, but maintained and indeed enhanced,” a- he declared. His comments come as China, Australia and other Western allies vie for influence across the Pacific islands. The vast but sparsely populated region is home to vital shipping channels and, due to its location near areas where the Chinese and American military operate, is considered strategically important.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has crisscrossed the South Pacific for more than a week, advocating for a greater role for Beijing in regional security. But his visit to Port Moresby has been overshadowed by complaints that he is getting too close to elections in Papua New Guinea, which will take place in the coming weeks, with a result expected in August. Marape is facing a challenge for the premiership of former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. “Now is not the right time” for foreign visits, O’Neill said, adding that the government “should not sign any agreement on behalf of the state.” Marape rejected this argument, saying “our country is still functional”. The two sides signed a series of agreements on investment in “green development”, Covid-19 assistance, aid and healthcare. Wang’s 10-day tour saw the Pacific islands reject a regional deal that would have given Beijing a much bigger role in sensitive areas such as policing, cybersecurity and maritime surveillance. His trip prompted Australia’s new foreign minister, Penny Wong, to make quick visits to three Pacific island states, seeking to cement decades-old alliances.

Speaking in Tonga on Friday, Wong’s host Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni stressed the importance of ties with Australia. “There are common threads that bind us. They include respect for democracy, the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of others. This remains the important principles of our relationship,” he said.
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