The Papua New Guinean capital, a tiny cluster of high rise and residential buildings housing some 300,000 people on the Pacific nation’s southern coast, has been preparing all year for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which begins on November 17. But for months, experts have been warning the city isn’t ready, and concerns remain over costs, infrastructure and security.
This is the first time Papua New Guinea (PNG), the poorest of the 21 countries in APEC, has hosted the summit. PNG ranks 110th worldwide for GDP, with an economy roughly the size of Cyprus or Afghanistan, according to the World Bank, and far behind richer APEC nations like Australia or China.
Some leaders won’t even be staying in the PNG capital — often ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world — and instead are flying in and out of the country via the Australian city of Cairns, across the Coral Sea.
Other leaders are staying away altogether. US President Donald Trump decided not to attend the summit, sending Vice President Mike Pence in his place, though Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Xi Jinping will both be in PNG.
Violence and disorder
But while some of these firms have helped provide vital services to businesses that the local police or government simply are unable to, officials have warned that this booming private industry may be compounding the very problems it is intended to correct.
“There is a huge gap between the state’s ability to deliver public safety and the society’s need for collective peace and order,” a 2013 government report said. However, it warned that the growing presence of foreign private security firms “undermines the state’s ability and authority” to deliver these services.
Regional militaries have largely stepped in to fill the gap, with both New Zealand and Australian providing training and resources to their PNG counterparts.
Putting PNG on the map
For the PNG government, APEC seems like a silver bullet to many of its problems, raising the country’s profile and helping it break free of a reputation for chaos and danger that has dogged it for decades.
“APEC will not solve PNG’s problems such as the rampant corruption, high unemployment, escalating crime, deteriorating state of health centers and hospitals as well as classrooms, roads, telecommunication and transport services,” he said.
Critics of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who has been dogged by accusations of corruption for years, have accused him of seeking to distract from other issues with the splashy international conference, a repeat, some said, of the 2015 Pacific Games.
Heavy security presence
O’Neill’s government has pulled out all the stops to ensure the summit goes off without a hitch, and residents of the capital can expect a massive security presence while world leaders are visiting PNG.
Police have vowed to crack down hard on any unlawful public assembly or protest around the summit, with Deputy Police Commissioner Jim Andrews saying in a statement last month that “all public servants including members of the Constabulary are duty bound and obligated towards ensuring that government efforts geared towards the 2018 APEC Summit is cohesively supported and maintained.”
Andrews warned police “would not hesitate to arrest and detain opportunists and trouble makers who defy lawful authority by disturbing peace and good order in the community.”
The US Coast Guard has also deployed around 95 troops to PNG, their boats are already patrolling parts of the waters around Port Moresby which have been declared restricted areas during the summit.
“The safety and security of the maritime environment surrounding Port Moresby will be critical during Leaders’ Week. Australia is pleased to enhance PNG’s maritime security arrangements for APEC by providing these capabilities,” Australia’s Minister for Defense Christopher Pyne said earlier this month.
“This support is a clear demonstration of Australia’s close and longstanding defense relationship with PNG and the interoperability our defense forces have developed over a number of decades.”