Papua New Guinea to host China, Australia high level visits

By Kirsty Needham

(Reuters) - China's foreign minister is expected to sign an economic cooperation deal on a visit to Papua New Guinea on Saturday, just days before Australia's prime minister arrives to mark historical defence ties by walking a famous World War Two trail.

The high-level visits underscore the competition between China and U.S. allies for influence in the strategically located Pacific Islands.

Papua New Guinea, only a few kilometres north of Australia, sees itself as a buffer between Asia and the Pacific Ocean, and is balancing trade ties with China and a defence deal that gives the U.S. military access to its ports and airports.

Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said on Thursday that his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi will arrive on Saturday for a two-day visit.

Officials have been working to finalise economic cooperation agreements to be signed during Wang's visit, Tkatchenko said in a statement.

PNG earlier this year ruled out police cooperation with China, after Beijing offered to assist its police force.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit PNG to commemorate ANZAC Day by walking a section of the remote Kokoda Track used by Australian soldiers and PNG's "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" during World War Two.

Albanese will arrive in PNG a few days earlier, and travel to Isurava on April 25 for the traditional dawn service, Tkatchenko said in a separate statement.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape will walk on the Kokoda Track with Albanese, he added.

Albanese said on Friday he was spending ANZAC Day on the Kokoda Track to "show my respect to the remarkable effort to protect our nation at one of its darkest hours."

PNG signed a A$200 million ($132 million) security deal with Australia last year to boost policing, after signing a defence cooperation agreement with the United States last May.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)