PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) — Papua New Guinea hosts leaders from Pacific Rim countries, including the United States, Russia and China, this weekend in a coming-out party for the jungle-clad nation that is regarded as one of the world's last frontiers for trade and investment.
The largely undeveloped South Pacific nation of more than 8 million mostly subsistence farmers hopes the rare world attention generated by its hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Economic Cooperation meetings will highlight its potential and draw more investors and aid. But its deeply entrenched troubles, including widespread poverty, corruption and lawlessness, also stand to be scrutinized.
More than 1,000 tribes with over 800 different languages are scattered across 22 provinces, including in its capital Port Moresby and faraway mountain hinterlands and islands. Inadequate infrastructure and potholed roads, however, have kept apart diverse tribal groups more than the language barrier. English, which is widely spoken, and a creole English called Tok Pisin, have helped bridge the divide. The isolation has helped preserve ancient traditions in the most remote villages, where belief in black magic and sorcery has persisted in an era of great technological advances.
The APEC host is the most challenged on many counts in the free-trade club, which includes the world's leading economic heavyweights — the United States, China and Japan — and accounts for 60 percent of global gross domestic product and nearly half of world trade. Although it's resource rich, Papua New Guinea is the 21-member bloc's most impoverished and youngest member. It declared independence from its Australian colonizer only in 1975. It was helped by Australia, which remains its biggest aid provider, along with China, the United States and New Zealand to deal with the logistical challenges of hosting a year of APEC meetings, including construction of the main venue.
When it joined APEC in 1993, Papua New Guinea had to court the backing of Asian neighbors to gain entry into the prestigious bloc of Pacific Rim nations and explain that it's located in the region, its former prime minister, Julius Chan, said. "First they don't think that PNG was an Asian country," Chan told the Nation newspaper. "I insisted that we are right in the center of the Asia and the Pacific."
LAW AND ORDER
Crime and violence in Papua New Guinea are notoriously prevalent based on anecdotal accounts and media reports, and are a national concern. Statistics are at best spotty but a World Bank study several years ago reported that crime levels have stayed consistently high for more than a decade, with robbery and assault the most common. Family and sexual violence were highly prevalent too and homicide rate in at least two areas, including the capital, is among the highest in the world.
Concern over lawlessness has made hosting 20 world leaders and more than 12,000 APEC delegates Papua New Guinea's biggest security worry. "It is risky for expatriates to travel alone at any time of the day or night," a government do's and don'ts primer warned foreign delegates, some of whom were billeted in luxury cruise ships along with visiting journalists because there weren't enough hotels in Port Moresby.
Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand provided armed personnel, navy ships, jets and surveillance helicopters to help augment security. Still, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence decided to spend nights in Cairns city in neighboring Australia while attending the meetings on behalf of President Donald Trump, who decided not to go.