HONOLULU - It is believed that North Korea’s missile program is moving close to achieving the range to hit targets as far away as the United States and Papua New Guinea.
But it is premature for vulnerable countries like PNG to openly condemn North Korea’s intentions and possibly provoke the hermit kingdom to see PNG as a target to attack or be threatened, especially as APEC convenes in Port Moresby next year.
PNG has military support from Australia and other allies but not having significant military assets and capability leaves it in a vulnerable state.
The hostile words to North Korea expressed by the PNG's foreign affairs minister in local newspapers recently were childish and regrettable but are too late to recall.
PNG needs to be sensitive to its geopolitical alliances and affiliations so neutrality maintained. We should avoid becoming intertwined in the North Korea – America conflict.
There are already indications that PNG already may harbour terrorist elements and other transnational criminals. These criminals see PNG has a safe haven and a transit point into Australia.
On numerous occasions, unidentified foreign fishing vessels have been sighted by locals in PNG’s coastal waters and most escape with their illegal catches. This has been going on for a long time despite the establishment of the Border Protection Authority which does not have the capacity to perform the border protection task.
Each year some illegal immigrants arrive in PNG and are registered by PNG Immigration. But many more illegal immigrants cross the border from Indonesia or arrive on landing barges that bring supplies to logging camps in remote locations.
There are number of foreign businesses in PNG that recruit non-nationals to do jobs supposedly reserved for Papua New Guineans. Some of these businesses provide false information to labour and immigration officers.
For instance, the Foreign Employment Permit indicates that a migrant claims to be a manager or has trade qualifications but this person gains employment as a stock-filler, cash-register operator, delivery truck driver or something that nationals can do.
These are the obvious indicators of PNG’s weak internal security system which needs to be toughened up for our independent and sovereign nation.
In light of the North Korea issue and APEC 2018, the critical question the immigration ministry and related state agencies must answer is: ''What have you done to eradicate or minimise the internal security threats that are making our country vulnerable?”
The answer to this question will form the basis of our confidence in how secure PNG really is.
The foreign affairs minister’s statement on North Korea was too shallow and has implications for APEC and beyond.
PNG has unresolved internal security issues and, at a regional level, needs to form alliances with Pacific island nations in our mutual security interest.
These matters are much more important than a simple remark to North Korea which pretends that PNG has the capacity to defend itself against the military might and other threats from hostile countries.
Naith Lati is studying with the Pacific Islands Leadership Program student in the East-West Centre at the University of Hawaii