Biden's 'Cannibals' Remark Sparks Outrage in Papua New Guinea

President Biden's comments about his uncle facing cannibals in Papua New Guinea spark outrage, straining relations with a key Pacific ally. The country rejects the outdated stereotypes, calling for the U.S. to address WWII legacy.

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Biden's 'Cannibals' Remark Sparks Outrage in Papua New Guinea

Biden's 'Cannibals' Remark Sparks Outrage in Papua New Guinea

President Joe Biden's recent comments about his uncle being potentially eaten by cannibals during World War II in Papua New Guinea have sparked controversy and outrage in the Pacific island nation. During a speech, Biden claimed his uncle's plane was shot down over Papua New Guinea, an area with "a lot of cannibals," implying his uncle faced the threat of being eaten.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape expressed his displeasure with Biden's remarks, stating that the characterization of cannibalism in his country was offensive. "When someone as high-profile as the U.S. President makes such false statements, it can be offensive," Marape said. He acknowledged that Biden may have misspoken but pushed back against the outdated stereotypes.

The official account of the incident differs from Biden's retelling. Military records show that Biden's uncle, Ambrose Finnegan, was on a flight that crashed into the Pacific Ocean, not over land in Papua New Guinea. The plane was forced to ditch in the ocean for unknown reasons, contradicting Biden's claim that it was shot down.

The White House later clarified that Biden was speaking to the bravery of his uncle and the many U.S. service members who lost their lives serving the country. However, the clarification did little to quell the anger and frustration felt by many Papua New Guineans who viewed the remarks as disparaging and based on outdated stereotypes.

Why this matters: Biden's comments have strained relations with a key strategic ally in the Pacific region at a time when China is seeking to increase its influence. The incident highlights the persistence of Western perceptions of Pacific island countries as uncivilized and backward, despite progress and development in recent decades.

Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister, Justin Tkachenko, warned that Biden's remarks could undermine bilateral relations between the two countries. "It's disappointing to hear such comments from a world leader like President Biden, especially as we are trying to build a strong partnership with the U.S.," Tkachenko said. He emphasized that cannibalism was rare in Papua New Guinea by the 1960s and that the country has made significant progress since World War II.

Prime Minister Marape also called on the U.S. to find its war dead in Papua New Guinea's jungles and to clean up the wreckage of war, stating that the remains of World War II are scattered throughout the country. The U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea acknowledged Biden's comments and reaffirmed the United States' commitment to respectful relations between the two democracies.

Key Takeaways

  • Biden claimed his uncle faced cannibals in WWII PNG, but records show plane crashed at sea.
  • PNG PM Marape criticized Biden's remarks as offensive and based on outdated stereotypes.
  • Biden's comments strained relations with a key Pacific ally as China seeks to expand influence.
  • PNG FM Tkachenko warned Biden's remarks could undermine bilateral relations with the U.S.
  • Marape called on U.S. to find and clean up WWII remains scattered across PNG's jungles.