PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Oct. 21) - Outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir, scheduled to visit Papua New Guinea this weekend, is creating waves less than two weeks before his retirement.

The waves are likely to continue, with reports by the Sydney Morning Herald that Dr Mahathir’s mission is to "forge new economic ties which could see Australia replaced as PNG’s major trading partner".

Chief Secretary Joshua Kalinoe and the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Betha Somare, were at the forefront of pushing this view.

The Herald reports that Ms Somare said Astralian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer "has been raising at every opportunity that PNG is dependent on Australia". So, I guess what PNG is looking at is getting away from that dependence on aid. One of the ways we can get away from that is through investment outside of Australia," she said.

Mr Kalinoe, when asked if Malaysia could eventually outstrip Australia’s investment in PNG, said: "It is possible. It depends on how Malaysian businesses see things. But they do think of PNG having great potential and they don’t regard us as a failed state."

Dr Mahathir, the Herald reports, will be accompanied by six cabinet ministers and 30 business leaders. They will hold talks with Sir Michael Somare, looking at discussions how Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas could invest in PNG’s oil and gas.

Mr Kalinoe has reportedly indicated PNG was also interested in Malaysian investment in forestry and agriculture as well as information technology. 

Singapore has also expressed interests developing PNG’s information technology industry.

In Bangkok last week, Dr Mahathir rocked the APEC summit by taking exception to United States President George W. Bush’s push for a greater military role in the region.

"APEC was formed as an economic co-operation group," Dr Mahathir said on Sunday. 

"But we don’t agree with taking away economic matters into security, military or politics, which are not really for APEC."

The media reports show that without identifying the United States, he added "there is a tendency to have agenda of strong countries inserted into APEC".

His view is that APEC should stick to its original objective since 1989, which is to be a forum for Pacific Rim economies to forge economic co-operation.

PNG currently has a trade relationship with Australia of more than K1 billion (US$307 million) and an aid relationship around K600 million (US$184 million) per year. 

But Malaysia has been making steady in-roads through Rimbunan Hijau (RH) and other logging firms and companies into the PNG economy. RH and retail chain TST have been in the forefront of the welcome of Dr Mahathir together with the National Capital District Commission in sponsoring posters and banners for the weekend visit.

October 22, 2003

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