Australian PM pushes defense ties with Papua New Guinea

Australia's Prime Minister has called on Papua New Guinea to strengthen defense ties with his country in order to bolster regional security amid China's increasing influence in the Pacific.

Anthony Albanese addressed the Papua New Guinean parliament on Thursday. He said their countries must work together and with other Pacific nations to build a stronger and safer region.

Albanese and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape later issued a statement announcing the start of talks on a security deal.

The agreement would formalize traditional military cooperation and also cover issues related to maritime security and climate change.

Canberra has said it wants to finalize a deal by June. It signed a similar agreement with Vanuatu last month.

Australia and other US allies in the region are seeking to counter China's growing influence there. Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands last April.

Marape did not rule out signing a similar deal with China, saying his country's relations with Beijing are a separate issue. He said his priority is boosting economic ties with Australia.

Papua New Guinea was an Australian colony until 1975 and Canberra remains the country's biggest aid donor. But China has become a significant trading partner in recent years.