SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Pacific Islands nation of Vanuatu said on Tuesday a security treaty with Australia would be put to parliament before the end of 2023, as concerns over China in the region saw neighbouring Papua New Guinea delay signing another such treaty.

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said, during a visit by Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles, that a security treaty signed with Australia in December 2022 is still being examined.

Some Vanuatu politicians who favour ties with China have expressed concern over the deal.

Vanuatu’s National Security Council was “going through the text” and it will next be considered by his government’s Council of Ministers, Kalsakau said in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila.

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“It will be presented for ratification before the end of this year in Parliament,” he said.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) said a proposed security treaty with Australia will be delayed as it considers the impact on its sovereignty.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape told parliament last Tuesday an upgraded Australian security treaty was “a work in progress”.

PNG last month signed a defence cooperation agreement with the United States, which prompted some domestic political backlash, amid concerns it could embroil PNG in strategic competition between the U.S. and China.

Pacific Islands nations are being courted by China, a major infrastructure lender which struck a security pact with Solomon Islands last year, and the United States, which is re-opening embassies closed since the Cold War.

Washington and its allies are concerned about Beijing’s naval ambitions in a region occupying vital sea lanes, that played a pivotal role in World War Two.

On Tuesday, Marles said Australia was happy with the progress being made on the Vanuatu security agreement and that

it was “a profoundly important principle” that “the Pacific’s security has to come from the Pacific family itself”.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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