Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Defense Cooperation Agreement and Shiprider Signing Ceremony

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SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you very much, everyone.  And I have to say I’m very tempted to say, “What the prime minister said,” and leave it at that because I could not and cannot say it more eloquently than he just has.  But let me first say good afternoon to everyone.  It is truly wonderful to be here in Papua New Guinea, to be joining the prime minister, to be joining the defense ministers, to be joining the entire team.

Mr. Prime Minister, we’ve spent a good bit of time together, including a visit to the Oval Office with President Biden during the Pacific Island Summit last year.  And you heard this from the President himself during your call a few days ago, but he asked me again to reiterate to you, to all of our friends in Papua New Guinea, his regrets for being unable to be here today.  The President values deeply our nations’ longstanding partnership and believes our cooperation is critical to addressing a series of shared challenges that are facing our people.  And he’s eager to welcome you, to welcome other Pacific Island Forum leaders, back to Washington for a second summit later this year.

We are deeply invested in the Indo-Pacific because our planet’s future is being written here.  Papua New Guinea is playing a critical role in shaping that future.  That leadership is on display this week as you’ve welcomed 16 delegations for the U.S.-Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting to make progress on priorities that we’ve established together, from tackling the climate crisis to improving public health to enhancing disaster preparedness and response.  And the United States is proud to partner with Papua New Guinea on these same priorities because they’re our priorities too.  We’re working together as regional security partners.  We’re boosting our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific though the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.

We’re driving economic opportunity through partnerships between our businesses, which are bringing tens of billions in new investment to Papua New Guinea.  And we are teaming up to bring preventative, lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment to people here in Papua New Guinea so that they can continue to lead healthy and productive lives.

Simply put, we are committed to growing all aspects of our relationship.  And to that end, today, as you’ve from the prime minister, we’re signing two agreements on defense and on maritime cooperation.

The Defense Cooperation Agreement, drafted by Papua New Guinea and the United States as equal and sovereign partners, will enhance the PNG’s Defence Force’s capability to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, including through providing medical care and temporary shelter to those who are affected by crises.  The agreement will also make it easy for PNG and U.S. forces to train together in new ways and in more places as part of our joint effort to uphold peace and security across the Indo-Pacific.  We will be fully transparent of the details of the agreement, which contains elements from our previous agreement and updates to reflect our shared commitment to deepen cooperation on issues that matter most to people here as well as in the United States.

And as you also heard from the prime minister, the Shiprider Agreement will allow the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the U.S. Coast Guard to deepen cooperation to combat illicit maritime activities, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which we know is destroying livelihoods and threatening green ecosystems that nourish Pacific Island economies.

At more than 2.4 million square kilometers, the PNG’s Exclusive Economic Zone is one of the largest in the South Pacific.  That poses a tremendous economic opportunity but also a serious challenge for monitoring, for controlling, for surveilling that vast expanse of maritime area.  Under this agreement, our forces will be able to board one another’s vessels, share technical expertise, and ultimately better patrol the seas together.  This is vital to protecting livelihoods for generations to come.

For nearly 50 years, Papua New Guinea and the United States have worked together to deliver prosperity for our people and promote security and stability for the region.  You heard the prime minister speak eloquently to that shared history.  But I think what’s so important is that shared history is also a living history, and together – even as we’re inspired by so much that we’ve done in the past – we are working together to shape the future.  That’s the task before us.  And Mr. Prime Minister, we are very much looking forward to taking our partnership to the next level.

Thank you.  (Applause.)


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