By Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist
Pacific leaders are starting to trickle into Papua New Guinea for two high level meetings and a number of side talks.
The leaders are set to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a high-level US delegation in Port Moresby tomorrow.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape told local media on Thursday that President Joe Biden had called to apologise for his absence due to the need to return to Washington for meetings with Congressional leaders to raise its debt ceiling issue and avoid a default.
“He conveyed his sincerest apologies that he cannot make it into our country,” Marape said.
“I did place the invitation to him [that] at the next earliest available time, please come and visit us here.”
Biden has confirmed that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will arrive on Monday to meet with PNG for a bilateral meeting and engage in a separate meeting with the Pacific Islands Forum leaders.
Biden also invited Marape and other Pacific leaders to Washington later this year for the second US summit with the Pacific Islands Forum.
“He did invite again the Pacific Island leaders to go back for a progressive continuation of the meeting that we have initially held last September in Washington,” Marape said.
Fiji’s Rabuka already in PNG
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has already arrived in Papua New Guinea.
He was greeted by acting Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso.
“After being welcomed by young traditional Motu Koitabu dancers, PM Rabuka made a courtesy visit to Government House and met with Governor-General Grand Chief Sir Bob Dadae,” Rosso said in a statement.
He has since been hosted by Marape for dinner at the State Function Room at Parliament House.
“PM Rabuka will be joined by other Pacific Island leaders, including New Zealand PM Chris Hipkins, who will travel into PNG this weekend,” Rosso said.
The traditional presentation of kamunaga or whale’s tooth was accorded to Governor-General Dadae to convey Fiji’s respect and appreciation for the historical and traditional ties shared between our two countries and moreso to further advance regional cooperation. pic.twitter.com/vbFOCrmTLk
— Sitiveni Rabuka (@slrabuka) May 19, 2023
The leaders will be in Port Moresby for the third Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC).
According to Marape, 14 of the 18 Pacific Islands Forum member leaders, including New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, are expected to be in attendance.
Marape calls for calm
Marape said a Defence Cooperation Agreement that is being mulled over in anticipation of an upcoming bilateral meeting with the US was consistent with the country’s “constitutional provisions”.
The cabinet is aware of the agreement, “cabinet has not concluded on this. It is awaiting cabinet conclusion,” he said.
He has called for people to trust in the process as he believes it would have a positive impact on the country.
“Another agreement called a 505 agreement, separate agreement, allows for us to have a working partnership with the US, US Navy and the US Coast Guard.
“With the US Coast Guard, it now gives us an opportune time to access not just on maritime access, but satellite access to illegal fishing, drug traffickers, illegal loggers, all those illegal transportations and activities that happens on high sea,” Marape added.
Meanwhile, PNG’s National Executive Council has confirmed that the public holiday announced for Monday for the National Capital District still stands despite Biden cancelling his attendance.
Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz