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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said on Thursday during a visit to Papua New Guinea that Washington was not seeking a permanent base in the Pacific Islands nation under a new defence agreement.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the United States signed a defence cooperation agreement in May that sets a framework for the US to refurbish PNG ports and airports for military and civilian use.

The text of the agreement shows that it allows the staging of US forces and equipment in PNG, and covers the Lombrum naval base which is being developed by Australia and the United States.

Austin met with PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape on a visit to discuss the deepening defence ties.

“I just want to be clear, we are not seeking a permanent base in PNG,” Austin told a news conference in the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby.

He said the two nations were deepening an existing defence relationship, and would modernise PNG’s defence force and boost interoperability.

The United States and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific island nations from forming security ties with China, a rising concern amid tension over Taiwan, and after Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands.

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Marape on Thursday said the defence cooperation with the US would build up PNG’s capability, and was “not for a war joint preparation”.

“USA do not need PNG’s ground to be a launching pad for any offence anywhere else in the world,” he told reporters.

“They have bases in Philippines, in Korea, elsewhere, much closer to China,” he added. PNG’s parliament is yet to ratify the deal.

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