Papua New Guinea
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US military presence ratchets up again

First, four military US planes in June stopped off at Jacksons International airport, barely a month after Papua New Guinea signed a defence cooperation agreement with the US. It was described as a "an unscheduled diversion to their planned flight path" and no further explanation was given.

The signing of this agreement between Blinken and PNG Defence Minister Win Daki took place amid day-long protests against it by university students and opposition MPs.

A statement by the US State Department said the signing, when it comes into force, "will serve as a foundational framework upon which our two countries can enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defence Force and increase stability and security in the region".

And now, AAP and other media outlets have reported that the US Coast Guard is in talks with Pacific island countries to expand its maritime law enforcement role.

Officials say the US wants its officers to be allowed to board and search vessels suspected of illegal activity within their economic zones.

AAP reported that Prime Minister James Marape has told parliament the US agreement would "establish an expedited mechanism" for consent to board and search vessels suspected of illicit activity from drug trafficking to fishing.

The US announced plans a year ago to battle illegal fishing in the Pacific as part of increased engagement with the region.

However, some observers believe the push to expand the role of the Coast Guard across the Pacific Ocean could entitle US officials to board Chinese vessels.

China is also trying to increase its security and fisheries roles.