UNITED States secretary of state Hillary Clinton has abandoned her trip to PNG because of the situation in Haiti. But she has assured Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare she will visit the country, probably next year given her busy schedule.
Mrs Clinton was due to arrive in Port Moresby yesterday for a six-hour visit on her way to New Zealand and Australia, but the devastating earthquake in the Caribbean nation of Haiti prompted her to cancel her immediate travel plans and return to the United States.
Sir Michael told reporters in Port Moresby yesterday he had spoken to Mrs Clinton.
“She assured me she will definitely reschedule her plans (to visit) PNG … but not before the end of the year.
“She apologised to all the people of PNG and all those who were looking forward to meeting her.
“But we also sympathise with Haiti, this incident (has caused) huge devastation, about seven on the Richter scale, and now millions of people in Haiti have been very badly affected,” the Prime Minister said.
Her brief scheduled visit yesterday would have been the first by a US secretary of state since Madeleine Albright in 1998.
Mrs Clinton’s husband, former US president Bill Clinton, visited PNG in December 2006 to promote HIV/AIDS awareness. The message Mr Clinton drove home during his visit four years ago was “get tested”.
Since his visit, a lot of HIV test centres have been set up throughout the country with the help of the Clinton and Global Foundations.
Anti-retroviral drugs were also made available to people living with the AIDS virus, giving a lot of hope to sufferers and raising awareness in both urban and rural areas in the country.
Mr Clinton was bestowed the title Grand Chief in honour of his visit and his contribution to the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in PNG and around the world.
The visit by his wife would have raised PNG’s profile on the global stage higher.
The director of the PNG think tank, the Institute of National Affairs, Paul Barker said Mrs Clinton’s planned trip would have highlighted PNG’s increasing world presence.
“PNG is growing in importance as a resource-rich nation, regional trading partner, energy provider while experiencing expanding China relations,” he told AAP.
“China’s resource purchases in PNG and increasing business deals, A$16 billion ExxonMobil-led liquified natural gas project in PNG just signed a deal with China to supply 20 years of gas,” he said.
“PNG’s extensive rainforest coverage with trees increasingly is recognised as important for carbon storage in the fight against climate change.
“These issues plus president Obama’s administration’s desire to build up global and regional cooperation are, in part, why PNG was scheduled on Clinton’s tour,” he said.
Officials travelling with her told Reuters she would have told the Prime Minister and his government the influx of wealth expected from the LNG project.
The project has the potential to double the island’s gross domestic product.
The recent 2010 budget forecast 8.5% growth, compared with 6.2% last year.
US officials said Clinton was to urge the country’s leaders to be cautious in managing the riches that could soon be flowing their way.
“We’re also going to talk about some ideas about how to preserve this enormous wealth that’s about to come into Papua New Guinea,” a senior US official travelling with Mrs Clinton said, prior to the cancellation of the visit.
“What the secretary’s primary concern is that this not be one of those situations that oil wealth is just lost, that there is a trust that’s put in place that will take care of not this just generation but future generations.”
The official said Clinton hoped to help Papua New Guinea’s leaders develop a framework to harness both oil and gas proceeds to help a population still mostly made of up subsistence farmers, many in isolated communities.
PNG being one of the planet’s richest ecological treasure houses, Mrs Clinton was to highlight the Obama administration’s commitment to environmental issues including climate change during her visit.
These issues will be still high on the agenda when she visits, either later this year or next year.