Australia will redevelop a South Pacific naval base, used by the U.S. as a World War II launchpad, at a time when China’s regional presence is becoming more visible.
The Wall Street Journal reports that ‘Australia and Papua New Guinea agreed on Thursday to upgrade the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, to Australia’s north. It is a move likely to give U.S. and Australian forces greater access to a port in the South Pacific and to the southern approaches to the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“I want to strengthen our engagement with the Pacific for the Pacific’s sake, because this is our home,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. His comments were made in a speech coinciding with a visit to the country by one of America’s top naval officers, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, to discuss strategic rivalry in the region.
— Jean-Marie PASCAL (@DefenseZone) November 2, 2018
“At a time of change, uncertainty, and strategic competition, Australia will need to act with even greater purpose and conviction,” Mr. Morrison said.
The move by Australia and US comes within a year after Fairfax Media reported that there have been preliminary discussions between the Chinese and Vanuatu governments about a military build-up in the island nation.
Fairfax Media said ‘While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu’s government, senior security officials believe Beijing’s plans could culminate in a full military base. The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.’
Reuters reported that ‘Australia is to help Papua New Guinea develop a navy base and train police, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, the latest Australian action to protect its interests in the Pacific in the face of a more assertive China.
Australia has for decades enjoyed largely unrivalled influence in the Pacific but China has in recent years turned its attention to a region blessed with abundant natural resources.