The precipice: An open letter to the Prime Minister of Papua-New Guinea

May 24, 2023
Papua New Guinea flag.

The cancellation of Joe Biden’s visit to PNG is a gift. A gift of more time to step back from a precipice. The brutal choice, Mr. Prime Minister, is now between your nation’s finest hour and its flip side, its darkest, its recolonisation, this time, as an American client state, a pawn in America’s plans for nuclear war with China.

Open letter to the Hon. James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua-New Guinea.

President Joe Biden’s Monday, May 22, 3 hour ‘pit stop’ in your nation’s capital has been canceled – for good or ill. For reasons and forces unknown. Divine intervention, perhaps.

A gift of more time to step back from a precipice, however you cut it, is a gift.

The penciled-in 3-hour pit stop got erased. You got left in the dust. Message in that for you.

And you are disappointed to put it mildly. Some sources, unconfirmed, say that you are angry, in a rage, depressed even. Some say you have ‘egg on your face.’ And some add: “But you refuse to look in any mirror.”

There’s plenty of talk everywhere. The Internet is supersaturated with talk, news, opinion, whispers of embarrassment, jokes – about you, at your expense.

Among your own people your stock has fallen, so it seems. And you are in hiding.

Your people all over the country are embarrassed, hurt, offended. They feel that their national dignity and their integrity have been dishonoured, taken for granted and rubbished. Not just by Joe Biden’s failure to show up but by the way you have handled this major foreign policy issue.

Radio NZ (16 May 2023) reports: “… PNG government departments and agencies … [are concerned]… that the proposed deal may be unconstitutional….” “There are also fears that signing the pact will draw PNG into the militarisation of the region as it pertains to the AUKUS security pact.” No comment from the White House or the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister.

For what, Mr. Prime Minister? Thirty pieces of silver? – or is there more lurking in the fine print of the yet to be signed ‘agreement’ drawn up behind closed doors in Washington just waiting now for the magic of your signature.

The Washington ‘boys’ and their boss, the President, know your driven ambition: to make Papua-New Guinea “the richest, Black, Christian nation on planet earth.” Your words, Mr. Prime Minister, written in sacred Ambua (yellow clay) and the no less sacred, red ochre. Holy materialism.

A worthy ambition, perhaps, but at what cost? What will you and your people, future generations included, gain on the proverbial swings and lose on the roundabouts?–from this ‘agreement’ conceived in indecent secrecy and shrouded in sinister silence?

And what are the implications for all of us islanders? I am from Fiji where my umbilical cord is buried. On Viti Levu. Yours, you, of Tari, the ‘Highlands’, once of splendid isolation, now of less splendour and even less isolation. Pipelines for massive LNG projects, at least one already sullied by a ‘loan scandal’. Both measured in billions of US dollars. Tell us, Mr. Prime Minister, is the yet to be signed agreement with Biden part of some yet to be written general 50 year plan that lurks in the back streets of your mind or is it just another Highway to Heaven, another Road Bilong Cargo?

Your colleague, former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, says:
“The document … wasn’t made public nor debated or approved by Parliament…. Only a few of our officers have seen the document.”

Papua—New Guinea’s Major-General Mark Goina, firmly–and perhaps foolishly, in your court– is reported as saying: “We made sure that our legal team, especially state solicitors, defence officers and foreign affairs … [have examined] … all possible ways it [the proposed agreement],,, could affect relations with other countries.”

Made sure, Major-General? How? How sure? What opinions? by what legal team? and what solicitors rendered what opinions? In writing? Why were these opinions not placed before Parliament? Public disclosure? Are issues of transparency irrelevant and of no consequence in a matter of such importance? Really, Mr. Prime Minister?

Gardener (Justin Tkatchenko, naturalised P-NG citizen of Australian birth) elected to Parliament, promoted to Foreign Minister and now demoted and in apparent disgrace, spilled some of the beans before his unceremonious downfall. He is reported to have said: “… a Defence Cooperation Agreement had been finalised (yes, ‘finalised’, past tense) was to be signed when President Biden visited PNG.” (National Pac News, May 18, 2023). So, from this one strand of leaked information some of us are compelled to conclude that Biden wasn’t bringing any cargo at all. He was just making a 3 hour pit stop to say hello and pick up cargo (the signed agreement) and then head off to his next pit stop. Cargo pick up, NOT cargo for delivery. Got it! You get it, Mr. PM?

Then, Mr. Prime Minister, there is this gem: “Papua-New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape last week quixotically cautioned his fellow citizens to be cautious when commenting about the visits and to “refrain from unnecessary inferences, especially on matters that you know little of, such as global geopolitics and various other issues.”” “Unnecessary inferences?”, Mr. Prime Minister? Like what? Give us an example or two. “Especially on matters you know little of” – let me see if I have that right. You keep your citizens (and your immediate islander neighbours, New Zealand included, by the way, and the world) in the dark. You apparently allow, encourage and are fully complicit in the framing of a so-called ‘agreement’ crafted almost entirely by America ready made for your signature in a ceremonial ritual behind closed doors on a mere shabby pit stop. You cling tenaciously to silence of your own making and then wave a threatening finger at your fellow citizens in a deliberate effort to shut them up. Is that what your country’s ‘democracy’ is all about or is there more? Please, Mr. Prime Minister, open the door a tad wider.

I talked to the spirits of your now gone wantoks in the very early hours of this morning, Sir Albert Maori Kiki and Sir Michael Somare. Knew them both from way back in 1967, 4 years before your birth. Neither was ‘Sir’ anything then. We talked of independence and more way into the shadow of 1975 when independence finally came. They were uneasy and uncomfortable in the wee hours of the morning. One of them mentioned the Nuclear Free Pacific and asked–has he (referring to you) thrown it out, or doesn’t he care any more? Both Albert and Mike (as I knew them in 1967 and years afterwards) said that they would have a chat with you, urge you to seek wise counsel, search your soul, pray on bended knee to whatever God you now worship

At the end of our conversation just before the light of early morning broke free of night’s darkness, both Albert and Mike said in unison, as if reading from a prepared text: May the PANGU Party turn this dangerous moment around now that we have more time. May this time be a time to which future generations will refer as our finest hour, rather than our darkest.”

Mr. Prime Minister, as one Pacific islander to another, I am just passing Albert and Mike’s message along.

The brutal choice, Mr. Prime Minister, is between your nation’s finest hour and its flip side, its darkest, its recolonisation, this time, as an American client state, a pawn in America’s plans for nuclear war with China.

Loloma yani vaka bibi Na wekamuni dina


Editors’ note: After this letter was dispatched, the US signed a security pact with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister that is understood to give American forces, aircraft, vehicles and vessels unfettered access to the whole of the country and to give US personnel and contractors immunity from being prosecuted under PNG law for any crimes they might commit. The pact has not been made public, let alone been scrutinised or approved by its parliament.

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