PNG students take to the streets against war

Students across Papua New Guinea walked off their campuses last month to protest against a 15-year military agreement between PNG and the US.

The deal is another brick in the US wall surrounding China and allows the US to pre-position military equipment.

On 22 May, the day that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew into Port Moresby to sign the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), students rallied at the University of PNG, the University of Goroka, the Divine Word University and the University of Technology in Lae.

The following day, hundreds of students from the Mt Hagen Technical College in Western Highlands Province marched through the town. Unionists and anti-corruption campaigners also condemned the DCA.

It was the first time students had taken to the streets since protests against government corruption in 2016, when the then government of Peter O’Neill authorised police to open fire, killing four.

The students on last month’s marches were angry that the terms of the deal were kept secret—and they were right to be so.

The ABC revealed on 14 June that PNG will concede “unimpeded access” to key PNG defence facilities, including the joint PNG-Australia Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, where a total of more than 3000 refugees sent offshore by Australia were locked up for years.

PNG has also agreed to allow the US Coast Guard to help patrol its waters, a massive 466,000 square kilometres.

In return the government of James Marape, which is under pressure as the cost of living soars, will get a mere $US45 million in development programs.


Solidarity spoke to PNG student Mary*. “It’s a brave thing to protest, given the shootings in 2016.

“Students’ main demand is to say No to the DCA. They don’t want PNG to be a battlefield and to invite the problems of the superpowers into the region.

“We feel PNG should remain neutral between the US and China. We don’t want to be part of a superpower conflict.

“We’ve seen how the US was responsible for wars in the Middle East and we know they don’t mean well.

“On top of that, under the DCA none of the US personnel in PNG will be subject to PNG law—whatever they do they can’t be arrested.”

The use of the Lombrum base is not just a military threat—it also risks damaging biodiversity and fishing in the area, which is central to the Manus way of life, Mary said.

According to media reports, the DCA gives the US “exclusive use” of some zones in PNG, where development and “construction activities” could be carried out.

The deal also includes surveillance, reconnaissance activities, bunkering of vessels and the deploying of forces.

The Lombrum deep water naval base was built by the US in 1944 as part of the war against Japan. Today, the US could use it as a staging post in the event of war with China.


It seems the student protests have had some effect, with Marape announcing on 1 June that he was delaying a proposed security treaty with Australia over fears the proposed wording encroached on PNG’s sovereignty.

Under the deal, agreed in principle in January, Australia and PNG would expand training and explore possible joint exercises and further information sharing.

The anti-war movement in Australia must offer solidarity to the PNG students. But we also need to learn from them and bring their fighting spirit on to Australian streets.

By David Glanz

* Name changed on request.


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