U.S. President Joe Biden will become the first U.S. sitting president to visit Papua New Guinea with a trip this month following the G-7 in Japan, marking the administration’s investment in the Pacific region to counter China.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would meet Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape and other Pacific Island Forum leaders.
“The leaders will discuss ways to deepen cooperation on challenges critical to the region and to the United States such as combating climate change, protecting maritime resources, and advancing resilient and inclusive economic growth,” she said.
Biden’s expected May 22 stopover in the capital Port Moresby will be the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the resource-rich but largely undeveloped country of 9.4 million people just north of Australia.
Papua New Guinea is being courted by China and by the United States and its allies, as Marape seeks to boost foreign investment. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited in 2018.
Washington has stepped up efforts to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the region after China struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands last year. China failed to reach a wider security and trade deal with 10 Pacific island countries.
China and Australia have been major aid and infrastructure donors.
Papua New Guinea is negotiating security pacts with the United States, and Marape has been invited to visit Beijing this year.
The 18 countries and territories in the Pacific Islands Forum cover 30 million square km (10 million square miles) of ocean. The region’s leaders say climate change is their greatest security threat, amid worsening cyclones and rising sea levels.
Biden will stop in Papua New Guinea on the way to Sydney, Australia, for a May 24 summit of the Quad, which also includes Japan and Australia.