Lobbying in the Former Colony

In the tussle with China over influence, Germany uses Covid-19 aid in Papua New Guinea, a former German colony ("Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land").

BERLIN/PORT MORESBY (Own report) - In the tussle with China over influence, Germany is enhancing its position using aid in combating the Covid-19 pandemic in strategically located Papua New Guinea. The Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe ("St. John Accident Assistance"), a partner in Germany's foreign policy, recently sent a group of doctors and nurses to that Oceanic country to support its health system, which is currently moaning under the increase in severe Covid 19 cases. This operation is among the efforts being undertaken by Germany and other western governments to counteract China's growing economic influence. The USA, for example, seeks to upgrade the Lombrum Naval Base on Papua New Guinea's island province of Manus. Papua New Guinea is strategically located at the maritime trade routes leading from Australia into the Pacific. Until the Second World War, the country's north had been a German colony. The German colonial power's activities have an impact even today. The German government is drawing on colonial traditions, such as the work of missionaries.

Combating the Pandemic

Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe ("St. John Accident Assistance") has recently announced that it has sent a seven-member medical team from Germany to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The world's third largest island nation has experienced a significant increase in severe Covid-19 cases since February. The German team shall provide medical aid to the local health system. The international branch of the German Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe, Johanniter International Assistance is a sister organization of St John Ambulance, the largest operator of hospitals in PNG.[1] These humanitarian activities are no coincidence, but rather an element of Germany's efforts to shore up its influence in the Western Pacific.

Part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy

PNG, with its population of 8.8 million, is strategically located at the maritime trade routes leading from Australia into the Pacific. In 2018, US Vice President at the time, Mike Pence, announced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in PNG's capital Port Moresby that together, with Australia and PNG, the United States wanted to upgrade the Lombrum Naval Base on the Manus island.[2] By joining the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, USA) military alliance, PNG would be backsliding on its commitment to non-aligned principles. The country has been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) since 1993.[3] Whereas Australia and the USA count on consolidating and even enhancing their military and economic influence in Oceania, Germany, over the past few years, has been seeking to strengthen its position through political, cultural and diplomatic activities and through development aid.[4]

Weak Relationships

This is also due to the fact that Germany has no significant economic exchange with PNG. As the foreign trade agency Germany Trade & Invest (gtai) confirms, the economic exchange between the two countries is currently rather weak: In 2019, Germany imported only around €95 million worth of goods - mainly copper ore, tuna, coffee and spices - from PNG and exported €7.6 million worth - mainly machines.[5] In the past decade, there have been timid attempts to enhance relations between the two countries by the governments and parliaments in Berlin and Port Moresby, PNG, for example, plans to open a representation in Germany, however, it has not yet materialized.[6] Since 2013 it has been represented in Germany by an honorary consul.[7] Berlin, on the other hand, is only indirectly represented, through a presence at the EU mission in Port Moresby. In March 2019, a German parliamentary delegation visited the Island nation for the first time. The parliamentarians also met with the foreign minister and visited German-financed projects,[8] as well as a liquified gas terminal [9]. Since 2014, PNG has been exporting liquified gas.

First Peak Phase

A few decades ago, the Federal Republic of Germany had had a much greater influence in PNG. That country had strengthened its relations with Bonn immediately following its independence in 1975. Due to the strained relations with Australia, the government in Port Moresby accelerated its trade with West Germany. Conversely, Bonn upgraded its diplomatic representation to that of an embassy. In 1978, the CSU-affiliated Hanns Seidel Foundation began its first activities in that country.[10] At times, Germany's export market was more important to PNG than Australia's.[11] During the 1980s, 40 percent of PNG's exports were to the European Community, and most of that to West Germany.[12] It was only in the 1990s, when Australia massively strengthened its ties to PNG, did Germany lag behind. Berlin shut its embassy in Port Moresby in 2000.[13]

Civil War and Secession

While German influence in PNG subsided, a civil war raged from 1989 to 1997 on the country's island of Bougainville - the bloodiest conflict in the Pacific since World War II. Since the combat ended, the German government has financed projects for displaced persons in the region through the UNDP.[14] In 2005, the Province of Bougainville obtained its autonomy; in a non-binding referendum in 2019, an overwhelming majority (98 percent with 88 percent voter participation) voted in favor of secession from PNG. Subsequently, Germany's Green Parliamentary Group demanded that the German government "make a significant personnel, financial and advisory contribution" to state-building in Bougainville. The first step should be to "establish a German representation there."[15]

Missionaries in "Kaiser Wilhelm's Land"

Berlin first left its mark in PNG as a colonial power. In 1885 the German Reich laid claim to the northern part of the country and the offshore islands under the names of "Kaiser Wilhelm's Land" and "Bismarck Archipelago." Immediately, various German missionary societies began missionizing the population, beginning 1886, for example, the protestant Neuendettelsau Mission was on site, and beginning 1895, the Catholic Steyler Missionaries followed. [16] Even after Australia took over the colony in 1914, German missionaries remained active. In 1980, German Catholics founded the Divine Word University in Madang, (formerly Friedrich Wilhelmshafen). The digitalization of German-language books for the university is currently being funded by Germany's Foreign Ministry.[17] German missionaries are still active in PNG, where the population is 98 percent Christian. Since 2011, a German Lutheran youth exchange program with a community in Morobe, the most populous province of the country has been functioning.[18] There are various church-affiliated development projects in PNG, some of which have received German Government funding.[19]

Fraternal Orders with Tradition

The group of doctors and nurses that have now been sent, are members of the Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe, founded in 1952, a sector of the Protestant Order of St. John. Reconstituted in the aftermath of the Second World War, this fraternal order, with a near millennial history, currently has around 4,100 members. Women are not allowed regular membership - only honorary membership. The re-establishment of the order was undertaken by Oskar of Prussia, one of the sons of the last German Kaiser. After his death, he was first succeeded, by his son, then, when he withdrew from politics, his name-sake grandson took over leadership of the order, under the title of the "Master of Knights." Already back in 1961, the Protestant St. Johns Order had formed an alliance with the Catholic Order of Malta - an even closer partner in German foreign policy.[20]


[1] Johanniter entsenden medizinisches Team nach Papua Neuguinea. johanniter.de 08.04.2021. Rebecca Kuku: Papua New Guinea ambulance service given no money in budget. theguardian.com 07.12.2020.

[2] See also Die Indo-Pazifik-Strategie.

[3] Patrick Kaiku: Non-Aligned Amid Great Power Rivalry? The Case of Papua New Guinea. thediplomat.com 08.11.2018.

[4] See also Einflusskämpfe im Westpazifik (II).

[5] Wirtschaftsdaten kompakt - Papua-Neuguinea. gtai.de 12.12.2019.

[6] Stewart Firth: Security in Papua New Guinea: The Military and Diplomatic Dimensions, in: Security Challenges, Jg. 10 (2014), Nr. 2, S. 97-114 (hier: S. 108). Vertretungen Papua-Neuguinea. auswaertiges-amt.de (ohne Datum).

[7] Die Südsee lockt mit Gold und Kaffee. nordkurier.de 03.12.2013.

[8] Jeffrey Elapa: German lawmakers' visit reminds leaders of shared history. thenational.com.pg 01.03.2019.

[9] German Bundestag Delegation Visit Parliament House. postcourier.com.pg 01.03.2019.

[10] Edward P. Wolfers: Papua New Guinea in 1980: A Change of Government, Aid, and Foreign Relations, in: Asian Survey, Jg. 21 (1981), Nr. 2, S. 274-284 (hier: S. 282). Süd- und Südostasien. hss.de (ohne Datum).

[11] P. A. S. Dahanayake: Post-independence Economic Development of Papua New Guinea, Boroko 1982, S. 121.

[12] John Dademo Waiko: A Short History of Papua New Guinea, Melbourne 1993, S. 202.

[13] Christoph Hein: Der alte Mann und die Ananas. faz.net 08.05.2017.

[14] Deutschland und Papua-Neuguinea: Bilaterale Beziehungen. auswaertiges-amt.de 11.09.2020.

[15] Ottmar von Holtz: Neuer Präsident in Bougainville (Papua-Neuguinea): Deutschland muss Unabhängigkeitsprozess mehr unterstützen. gruene-bundestag.de 23.09.2020.

[16] Paul Steffen: Missionsbeginn in Neuguinea - Die Anfänge der Rheinischen, Neuendettelsauer und Steyler Missionsarbeit in Neuguinea, Nettetal 1995.

[17] Deutschland und Papua-Neuguinea: Bilaterale Beziehungen. auswaertiges-amt.de 11.09.2020.

[18] Lutheran youths set for exchange trip to Germany. thenational.com.pg 18.08.2017.

[19] Deutschland und Papua-Neuguinea: Bilaterale Beziehungen. auswaertiges-amt.de 11.09.2020.

[20] Der "Souveräne Malteser-Ritter-Orden": Kein Staatsgebiet, aber Regierung. apd.info 05.07.2008. See also Deutschlands Partnerorden.