US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to Papua New Guinea for talks on managing an energy windfall and boosting the status of women in the deeply impoverished Pacific country.
On the first tour there by a US secretary of state since 1998, Clinton will also discuss ways to fight climate change during her talks with Prime Minister Michael Somare and other officials.
"There's been enormous petro-finds, natural gas and the like," Clinton's top diplomat for Asia, Kurt Campbell, told reporters before Clinton's tour of Asia began a week ago.
Clinton will discuss "how the current government plans to manage this tremendous windfall that will be coming to the people of Papua New Guinea," he said.
PNG's massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, potentially the largest ever such deal for the nation, will supply four major customers in Taiwan, Japan and China and is estimated to have a 30-year life.
|US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Malaysia prior to her departure for Papua New Guinea at the Subang SkyPark Terminal near Kuala Lumpur on November 3, 2010|
But like the State Department, the World Bank is mindful of the experience of other developing countries that have experienced sudden energy investments only to become mired in corruption and political instability.
PNG's government must ensure "that the benefits of these natural resource projects should more materially and broadly accrue to the larger population and that the risks that these projects pose to the environment, to habitats, and to the means of livelihood of the affected populations should be seriously addressed," a World Bank report said last month.
US energy giant Exxon Mobil has a 33.2 percent stake in the 15-billion-dollar LNG project in Papua New Guinea, which borders Indonesia.
Its partners are Oil Search Ltd (29 percent), the PNG government (16.6 percent), Santos Ltd (13.5 percent), Nippon Oil Corp (4.7 percent) and local landowners (2.8 percent).
There are also "issues associated with the status of women," Campbell said.
Clinton will stress the importance of empowering women in a country that rights group Amnesty International says suffers from extremely high rates of abuse and discrimination towards females.
Violence against women is rife in the underdeveloped nation where most people live in remote villages, with studies showing some two-thirds of adult females experience domestic violence, Amnesty campaigner Hannah Harborow said.
Harborow said violence against women has reached epidemic proportions in parts of the Pacific, particularly in Papua New Guinea where women accused of sorcery have also been known to be tortured and killed.
During her political career, Clinton has been a strong advocate of improving the lot of women and girls, saying countries cannot develop to their full potential by marginalising and mistreating women.
The secretary of state is also due to promote projects to increase mangroves along the coast, to protect the shorelines from the effects of rising waters linked to climate change.
The State Department said the trip, which was to begin later Wednesday, underscores Washington's relationship with the Pacific region "where we have significant and growing interests".
"Our relations with the region are an integral part of our broader engagement with the Asia-Pacific," it said in a statement.
Papua New Guinea is the sixth stop on an Asia tour that has taken Clinton to Guam, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Malaysia. Later she will visit New Zealand, Australia and American Samoa.
President Barack Obama returns to the region this weekend, after the previous administration of George W. Bush was accused of ignoring Asia while China worked methodically to build closer ties in its backyard.