destinationpng_059With Independence came responsibility in the international arena. The fledgling sovereign nation had to make up its mind about foreign affairs. When to be friendly. When to be cool. These decisions could have a profound influence at home. Very sensibly the first Foreign Minister Sir Albert Maori Kiki announced that “Papua New Guinea wishes to establish friendly relations with as many countries as possible and to be hostile to none.” This stance was called ‘universalism’. It gave PNG a breathing space.

The first white paper on Foreign Affairs was seen through parliament in 1981 by then Foreign Minister Noel Levi. He summed up the new approach as “active and selective engagement.” This orientation, for it is hardly a policy, enabled PNG to continue with universalism while pursuing specific interests. Over the years it had tended to keep the Soviets at arms length while welcoming the Chinese. The West was favoured over the East. Indonesia was treated with caution. As for the old colonial power Australia, PNG was anxious to be seen not as a stooge but as a natural friend.

It is significant that Papua New Guinea did not have to win Independence from Australia. Relations with Australia were amicable, often based on personal ties. Certain elements of Australian popular culture, beer, pies and rugby had been welcomed by PNG. Australian political institutions and administrative structures were left in place. Unlike other colonial po
wers Australia was a close neighbour. PNG and Australia were affected by the same strategic and regional issues.

In the mid to late 80’s a series of formal agreements were made which remain today: a treaty with Indonesia, membership of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), a joint declaration with Australia and a pan-Melanesian pact. Together with membership of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the South Pacific Forum and the South Pacific Commission these are the main planks of PNG Foreign Affairs. PNG has close international relations with over sixty countries. Twenty seven nations have a diplomatic mission in PNG, over half of them European.