Fri, Sep 21, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Canberra eyes PNG naval base to curb Chinese clout

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia is planning to build new naval base in Papua New Guinea (PNG), reports said on Wednesday, an apparent move to curb China’s influence in the Pacific.

Canberra was aiming to finalize an agreement on the joint facility — to be built on the Pacific nation’s Manus Island — ahead of the APEC summit in Port Moresby in November, the Australian reported.

Australian defense officials visited PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus to review a potential redevelopment after Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill visited Brisbane in July, the newspaper said.

“The Pacific is a very high-priority area of strategic national security interest for Australia,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, refusing to deny the report. “But I’m not going to comment on speculation on national security issues, that would not be appropriate.”

Beijing has been showering billions of US dollars in infrastructure loans to tiny island nations across the Pacific Ocean, a region considered strategically important as a maritime gateway to Asia.

Canberra, which has a history of military cooperation in the Pacific with Washington, has warned of a need to counter China’s influence in the region.

Australia has been critical of Beijing’s Pacific “soft diplomacy” and announced that this year, it would negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu and build an undersea communications cable to the Solomon Islands and PNG.

Canberra’s PNG move follows reports that China had approached Vanuatu about the possibility of opening a military base there.

World leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), are to attend the APEC summit, an event both Canberra and Beijing have openly supported, throwing millions of US dollars at security and infrastructure improvements in PNG.

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