Papua New Guinea Defence Force Commander Major General Gilbert Toropo
Papua New Guinea Defence Force Commander Major General Gilbert Toropo has corrected his statements in the Australian media where he was quoted saying China’s growing presence in the region presented a “challenge” for PNG.
The correction came after Prime Minister James Marape asked him to explain his statement.
Major General Toropo’s purported statement was about a multi-million-dollar contract awarded to an Australian company to redevelop PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base in Manus Province in the north.
“PNG’s position is that we remain close partners with China, as PNG benefits from it,” he told a local newspaper.
He said he had already met with Chinese officials and explained his statement after Mr Marape expressed concern over the ramifications of Toropo’s words.
“The People’s Republic of China remains our major development partner. This relationship remains strong since it was first entered into in 1975,” he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming it was not the first time “the relevant Australian media has hyped up the so-called ‘China-threat theory’”.
“Any attempt to attack, smear China and PNG relations, or drive a wedge between the two countries is futile,” the Global Times reported.
The military officer said construction of the naval base was due to start this month but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Skilled technicians have been unable to travel to PNG from overseas and construction material supply chains have been disrupted,” he said.
The project was announced in 2018 and would include an extension of the current wharf facility, which was built by the United States Navy during WWII.
Once started, the redevelopment is expected to provide more than 200 local jobs. It will commence soon but no date has been confirmed.