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Delay in Security Treaty With Australia as PNG Consults 'Domestic Processes'

FILE - In this image from a video, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, and Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape shake hands outside the parliament in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Jan. 12, 2023.

Papua New Guinea said a proposed security treaty with neighbor Australia would be delayed as it consults "domestic processes," a week after signing a defense agreement with the United States that sparked student protests.

Papua New Guinea (PNG), a few kilometers to Australia's north, is being courted by China and the United States amid rising tensions between the two major powers.

Washington and its allies are concerned at Beijing's security ambitions in the strategically located Pacific Islands region, after Beijing struck a security pact with Solomon Islands.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape met with Australia's Defense Minister Richard Marles Monday on the sidelines of the Korea-Pacific Islands Summit in Seoul and discussed the "proposed bilateral security treaty," Marape's office said in a statement Tuesday.

"It is a work in progress and requires the PNG side to consult our domestic processes and sovereign laws in relation to certain wordings and provisions," the statement said.

Marape had "conveyed his apologies to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for the delay in formalizing this proposed Treaty with Australia," it added.

Negotiations with Australia on upgrading defense ties to a security treaty — which would need to be ratified by parliament — had been expected to be finished by April, Marape and Albanese said in a joint statement in January.

Australia is PNG's biggest aid donor and Marape's government last year sought to upgrade a defense cooperation agreement.

Marles has said Australia wants to strike an "ambitious" security treaty that will see navy, air force and army personnel from each nation working alongside each other more often.

PNG's defense ties have come under intense domestic political scrutiny in the past week, after the U.S. agreement was signed during a visit by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, prompting criticism from opposition politicians the deal could embroil PNG in strategic competition between the United States and China.

In response to student protests, PNG's defense force has held community briefings on the U.S. deal, and Marape has offered to release the wording of all of defense agreements with foreign nations.