Travel 5,000 km south of Japan and just 150 km before the northern tip of the Australian Continent, and you will find this mostly undiscovered land—Papua New Guinea. Upon hearing that it is located in the Oceania Region, you might imagine PNG to be a small island country; but it is, in fact, the second largest country in the region after Australia. The land area of PNG (462,000 square km) is 1.25 times larger than that of Japan. The population is estimated at 7.5 million. The New Guinea, where the nation's capital Port Moresby is located, is also the second largest island in the world, following Greenland. Of the entire island of New Guinea, PNG occupies the eastern half, whilst the western portion of the island is Indonesian territory.
Recently, PNG's presence in the international community is becoming stronger because of its abundant natural resources—forestry, fisheries (tuna, bonito, shrimp), agriculture (oil palm, coffee, cocoa) and mineral resources (gold, copper, nickel, petroleum, liquefied natural gas). Another asset of this country is of course, its people. Some say there are more than 800 traditional tribes which make up this vast land. "Wantok" is a commonly used term when referring to a relative or someone who comes from the same area/Province but not necessary connected by blood/family ties. You may notice that each tribe has succeeded in passing down its traditions, values, customs and cultures from generation to generation. Although somewhat transformed under the influence of modern civilization, the essence of the people's spirit is still kept alive. It seems to me that locality and diversity within the colourful wantok society is something that shapes PNG's unique characteristics.
Although rich in natural resources and culture, PNG faces many challenges today. Low accessibility due to its diverse landscape—ranging from hundreds of small islands in the Solomon Sea to the rugged mountains in the jungles of New Guinea Islands—is a notable example. Another challenge is the complexity of land acquisition. Issues pertaining to customary land ownership generally causes delay in land development. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods also pose threats to the region. Affected by these challenges, PNG is making slow progress in terms of the provision of public services. For example, there is no road connection between Port Moresby and the three neighbouring provincial capitals (Lae, Madang and Mt Hagen). PNG's electrification rate is also low at 15%, leaving majority of the rural people without electricity. In addition, progress in human development is lagging behind in PNG. The United Nation's Human Development Index ranked PNG at 158th place out of 188 countries in 2014— the lowest figure in the Oceania region.
Despite all these challenges, the future outlook of PNG seems promising. The upward trend in the international market prices of natural resources has elevated PNG's economic base after the mid-2000s. This has, in turn, led to an aggressive investment in the mining, energy, marine processing, and other sectors. Furthermore, commercial operation of the country's first LNG plant had commenced in May 2014. Experts predict that the strong growth in these natural resource sectors will continue to fuel the overall growth of the PNG economy in the foreseeable future.
Since his re-election in 2012, Prime Minister of PNG, Hon. Peter O'Neill has been seeking ways to transform the wealth accrued from export of the country's valuable natural resources into sustainable and responsible economic development so that the contemporary generation and the future generation can benefit from these natural blessings. The seriousness of the O'Neill administration seems to be genuine and so far successful, evidenced by a number of new and drastic initiatives such as free primary education, realistic need assessment and prioritization of public works, among others.
In PNG, the history of Japanese cooperation started in 1974—a year before PNG declared independence from Australia— with a grant assistance project for the construction of Kavieng National Fisheries College. The bilateral cooperation has thrived since then. The first Japanese yen loan project was implemented in 1978, followed by the arrival of the first batch of Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) in 1980. Then, in 1983, JICA PNG office was officially established to accelerate our cooperation efforts. Today, we are proud to provide a number of projects with schemes such as the grant assistance, Japanese yen loan, technical cooperation (including grass-roots technical cooperation), training programs in Japan, and JOCVs. As of 2014, the PNG counterparts who participated in training programs in Japan stand at 4,657, while JOCVs dispatched in PNG stand at 726. I consider our PNG counterparts, a team with whom we have built an excellent relationship, great human assets. Therefore, we are actively seeking their cooperation by asking them to serve as core persons or supporters upon implementation of projects, thereby contributing to the development of project quality.
About 50% of the LNG produced in PNG will be exported to Japan for the next 20 years. This will undoubtedly turn the bilateral relationship between Japan and PNG into the next level. We expect the next level to be a win-win relationship propelled by the energy and economic sectors, in which Japan can benefit from strengthened energy security from LNG import from PNG, while PNG can equally benefit from burgeoned trade earnings from LNG export to Japan. As a trusted donor partner to Papua New Guinea, JICA PNG in its mission will continue to strive for the development of this country.
Takashi TOYAMA, Chief Representative
JICA Papua New Guinea Office