FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER REAFFIRMS AUSTRALIA'S COMMITMENT TO PNG

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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 2, 1999 – The National)---Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, during his four hour visit here on Saturday, reaffirmed Australia's commitment to help Papua New Guinea out of its economic difficulties.

Mr. Downer arrived on an RAAF Falcon from East Timor and held talks with the Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, at his residence and Foreign Minister Sir Michael Somare at Parliament.

The Australian Foreign Minister assured both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sir Michael of Australian support in overcoming the economic challenges facing PNG.

The three leaders, during their separate meetings, discussed the economy, Bougainville and Taiwan issues.

Mr. Downer told a press conference at Jackson's Airport before leaving that Australia had been very supportive of PNG re-engaging with the World Bank and IMF.

"I had talks with the World Bank about the political environment and the political social problems of PNG which, as you know, they see it as we in Canberra."

He said Australia would play a role in assisting the PNG Government in its negotiation with the World Bank and IMF, noting Sir Mekere's commitment to the re-engagement.

Mr. Downer said if that process were successful it would have an enormous impact on the stability and prosperity of the PNG economy.

"The IMF team is arriving here next week for preliminary discussions, that I think is important, and we believe the best way forward for PNG is the re-engagement of the World Bank and IMF."

On Bougainville, Mr. Downer reaffirmed Australia's commitment to work with the PNG Government, and New Zealand as well, in order to continue the momentum of the Bougainville peace process.

"The Prime Minister is very committed to the Bougainville peace process, and we are obviously delighted to hear that."

Mr. Downer said Australia had been supportive and had been impressed by the way the Skate Government had handled Bougainville.

"I am confident that the new Morauta Government will handle Bougainville equally well."

Australian aid was also discussed with both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for a new aid treaty between PNG and Australia, to be signed probably in December, to lay the foundation of aid relationships over the next three years.

"I know that our aid is appreciated and important to PNG economy, important in the context of delivery of health and education services and a number of other things and hope to maintain that aid program in the years ahead," Mr. Downer said.

Discussions were also held over the question of the recognition of China and Taiwan.

Mr. Downer said he was pleased that the new Government had made the decision to return to the One China Policy.

"A so-called two China policy would never have been viable in the end. It would have led to a close down in relations between Beijing and Port Moresby, obviously, that could have been regrettable considering the significant amount of trade that PNG has with China."

Mr. Downer said an attempt to achieve a two China policy was inconceivable and was not possible.

"Of course the previous government did not want to sever relationships with Beijing, it just wanted to establish relations with Taipei, but the reality is, if you establish a relationship with Taipei, you lose relationship with Beijing, not the other way around."

Mr. Downer also made the point to the PNG Government that in Australia's case, it had a One China Policy but has a very active and very successful economic relationship with Taiwan, and there was no reason at all why PNG cannot have very strong economic relationships with Taiwan without getting into the complexity of recognition.

"People have been saying it is a matter for PNG, but I am entitled to my opinion and I do have an opinion.

"My opinion is that the new government policy of going back to a One China Policy rather than doing the impossible of a two China policy is sensible and it would be more sensible for the new government to work at an economic relationship with Taiwan."

Mr. Downer's visit followed on from Treasurer Peter Costello's visit on Thursday, and Mr. Downer summed it up when he said: "With a new government it (is) a new start."

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Provided by Vikki John (VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au)

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