Papua New Guinea PM Angrily Slams Joe Biden over ‘Cannibals’ Claim

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape reacts as he speaks during an interview i

U.S. President Joe Biden’s claim his uncle — an American World War II pilot — had been eaten by “cannibals” in Papua New Guinea after crashing on the Melanesia island chain was firmly rejected Sunday by Prime Minister James Marape.

Biden’s comments offended a key strategic ally as China moves to increase its influence and build alliances in the keenly contested region.

“President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue; however, my country does not deserve to be labeled as such,” Marape said in a statement issued to the Associated Press.

Biden sparked the diplomatic furore when he spoke at a Pennsylvania war memorial last week about his Army Air Corps aviator uncle Ambrose J. Finnegan, who was aboard a plane brought down in an area then dominated by Japanese forces, as Breitbart News reported.

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle’s name, Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (Alex Brandon/PA Images via Getty Images)

“They never found the body because there used to be — there were a lot of cannibals for real in that part of New Guinea,” Biden said, referring to the country’s main island.

Marape said in a statement Biden “appeared to imply his uncle was eaten by cannibals.”

“President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue; however, my country does not deserve to be labeled as such,” Marape said in a statement provided by his office to The Associated Press on Monday.

“World War II was not the doing of my people; however, they were needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing,” the prime minister added.

File/The U.S. 5th Air Force’s B-25 Mitchell bombers drop “parafrag” bombs on a Japanese air strip near Dagua, New Guinea on February 3, 1943. (Photo by © Museum of Flight/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty)

File/August 1943: A Papua New Guinea soldier using a Bren machine gun on a practice range. He is a member of the local infantry fighting alongside Allied forces against the Japanese. (Keystone/Getty)

Going on to defend his country, Marape also urged Biden to “clean up” the remains of World War II casualties “scattered all over” Papua New Guinea.

“Perhaps, given President Biden’s comments and the strong reaction from PNG and other parts of the world, it is time for the USA to find as many remains of World War II in PNG as possible, including those of servicemen who lost their lives like Ambrose Finnegan,” he said.

This is not the first time Biden has disappointed Papua New Guinea, the largest Pacific Island nation by population at just over 10 million residents.

In 2023 a public holiday was declared by Port Moresby in anticipation of an historic visit by Biden only for the president to cancel at the last moment.

(L-R) Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, US President Joe Biden, and Kiribati President Taneti Maamau  following the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Summit in Washington, DC, on September 25, 2023. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Police were tightening security, billboards went going up, people readied to sing and dance in the streets. Expectations were high for what would have been the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to any Pacific Island nation.

“I am very honored that he has fulfilled his promise to me to visit our country,” prime minister Marape had written on Facebook.

Those expectations were dashed when Biden canceled the visit to focus on debt limit talks at home.

Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: or e-mail to:


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.