PNG’s Foreign Secretary Justin Tkachenko told ABC television he had discussed the defense deal with his Australian counterpart Benny Wong during a visit to Port Moresby on Tuesday.
The Solomon Islands have had tense relations with the United States and its Pacific allies since signing a defense pact with China in April. Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations have said that security needs within the region must be addressed.
“It was an idea put forward by PNG,” Marles told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“We’ve made it really clear that we want to be as close as possible with PNG. We want to build on the close military-to-military relationship we already have with Papua New Guinea, which we see as one of the most important military-to-military relationships we have,” he added.
Papua New Guinea is Australia’s nearest neighbor to the north, only a few miles away, and is a former colony, but the country has increasing trade and investment ties with China.
In June, China failed to sign a landmark trade and defense deal with 10 Pacific nations, including Papua New Guinea.
Following the failure of a Chinese proposal to redevelop the naval base in 2018, Australia and the US are funding the development of a naval base on the PNG island of Manus.
Chinese naval ships pass through the narrow Torres Strait that separates Australia and PNG, and the move sparked friction in February when it pointed a laser at an Australian military surveillance aircraft flying over Australia’s northern approaches.
The Solomon Islands, which shares maritime borders with PNG and Australia, said on Tuesday it would suspend port visits by foreign navies until a new approval process was put in place.
Marles declined to comment directly on whether Australia had been notified of the ban on port calls, a week after the US government was unable to make a port call at Honiara by a US Coast Guard ship.
“We want Australia to be a natural partner of choice in the Pacific, something we don’t take for granted,” he said.
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