Wang Yi heads to PNG amid tensions over election

Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting Papua New Guinea on Thursday, as he continued on his regional trip to shore up relations with Pacific island nations.

A Xinhua commentary published on Thursday said Wang's 10-day trip has reflected Beijing's sincerity and commitment to deepening the "comprehensive strategic partnership" with countries in the region.

It highlighted that these partnerships feature "mutual respect and common development", adding China has accumulated a great deal of experience in socio-economic development and is always ready to lend a helping hand.

In Papua New Guinea, tensions are high in the lead-up to a national election, with an official telling media that Beijing's proposal for a regional security pact has caused resentment.

On Monday, a virtual meeting hosted by Wang in Fiji with counterparts from 10 island nations deferred consideration of a sweeping regional agreement spanning policing, security, fisheries, data and a free trade zone, proposed by Beijing.

"There has been resentment over the Pacific agreement on security matters," Papua New Guinea's Foreign Affairs secretary Elias Wohengu was quoted as saying by the Post Courier newspaper.

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He indicated Papua New Guinea was unlikely to sign a security deal. "On the security status of Papua New Guinea, we will deal with it ourselves," he added.

The timing of Wang's visit has also been criticised by the country's former prime minister Peter O'Neill, who is campaigning for the top job.

In a series of media interviews, he said it would be "improper" for China to donate security equipment or offer security support for the election.

The United States and its allies have expressed concern about Beijing's ambitions for security ties with Pacific island nations which control vast areas of resource-rich oceans and access to a region with strategic military significance.

Meanwhile, Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Thursday arrived in Samoa, and will also visit Tonga on Friday, days after Wang visited both nations. (Additional reporting by Reuters)

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