U.S. President Joe Biden will briefly visit Papua New Guinea (PNG) on May 22, officials from the Pacific island nation said on Thursday, as Washington seeks to counter growing Chinese influence in the strategically important region.
The Biden stopover would be the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the resource-rich but largely undeveloped country of 9.4 million people just north of Australia.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the nation in 2018.
Biden will stop in the capital Port Moresby for three hours on his way to Australia to attend the Quad leaders summit, a spokesperson from the PNG Prime Minister’s office told Reuters.
A Pacific islands source told Reuters that Biden was also expected to meet with more than a dozen Pacific islands leaders during his May visit.
Fourteen Pacific island leaders will meet in Port Moresby on May 22 with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and planning for Biden to also meet the region’s leaders during his visit was underway but not confirmed, a spokesperson for PNG Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said.
The meeting would be a significant move in U.S. efforts to push back against Chinese inroads in the region, and follows Biden hosting Pacific island leaders at the White House in September.
The Quad summit is being held in Sydney on May 24, with the leaders of India, Australia, Japan and the United States attending, Australia’s government has said.
Modi arrives in PNG on May 21 for a two-day visit en-route to Australia, the island nation’s government has previously announced.
The U.S. embassy in Canberra referred questions to the White House. The White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
White House officials have been considering tagging on a Pacific islands stop to Biden’s travel to the G7 in Japan and the Quad meeting in Australia, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The United States last year stepped up its diplomacy and aid to the Pacific region after China struck a security deal with the Solomon Islands, and Beijing attempted but failed to forge a wider security and trade pact with 10 island nations.
In a statement on Thursday, Fiji said its ministers for education, employment and women had met in Beijing with China’s foreign minister Qin Gang, and he had “highlighted the need to formalise the China – Pacific Island Countries relationship”.