US Building New Military Base to Counter China
As tensions increase between the U.S. and China, the U.S. is looking to counter China’s growing influence in the South Pacific by building a new military base in the region.
The U.S. will cooperate with Australia to build a joint naval base in Manus Island at the request of Papua New Guinea (PNG). U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced the move during his visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Port Moresby, which wrapped up last Sunday.
According to Pence, Washington and Canberra will also partner with PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base.
“We will work with these nations to protect the sovereignty and maritime rights of Pacific islands as well. And you can be confident, the U.S. will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies,” Pence addressed the summit.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Pence held a bilateral meeting on the eve of the latter’s speech. O’Neill opened the forum by thanking Washington for its support of PNG.
The U.S-Australia Cooperation Aims at Countering China’s Influence
Previously, Australia had announced its plan to redevelop Lombrum Naval Base, which is also home to asylum seekers. The cooperation is seen as a move to counter China’s influence in the Pacific region.
The news that China wanted to build a military facility in Fiji such as at Blackrock Island, Manus or Vanuatu spread to Australia and the White House and raised concerns that a new Chinese military facility would ruin the balance of naval power in the Southern Pacific.
Earlier this month, Australia launched a multi-billion dollar fund for infrastructure in the Pacific region, as an effort to contain Beijing’s influence in the region.
The tension between Washington and Beijing exploded at the APEC Summit held in PNG. The U.S. accused China of conducting a debt-trap diplomacy by pressuring and ensnaring smaller states with loans while the latter warned the former over the danger of protectionism following the trade tariffs between the world’s two biggest economies.
No Details Yet Revealed About the Naval Base
Pence has yet to release financial figures for the base or the size of the budget the Trump administration will contribute for the development of the Lombrum Naval base; nor is it known whether U.S. ships will be based permanently there.
Australia’s Minister of Defense Christopher Pyne stated that some Australian’s naval ships will likely be deployed permanently at Lombrum based on the agreement.
The U.S. and Australia are members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance along with Canada, New Zealand and the U.K.
PNG is next to Indonesia’s province of Papua. The redevelopment of the Lombrum Naval Base will have a significant impact on Indonesia.
Indonesian military and defense observer El Mouradi suggested that Jakarta should follow suit by building a military base in Papua, which is part of Indonesia.
“From the security and defense point of view, we cannot liken the partnership to build a military base to building a friendship. That’s wrong. It is seen as a competitor in security and defense,” he told CNNindonesia.
However, Satya Widya Yudha, a lawmaker, said that Indonesia does not need to set up a military base and Jakarta can play a role in defusing the tension between the U.S. and China, which the trade issue triggered.
Yudha, Deputy of the House of Representative’s Commission, overseeing international issues, added that Indonesia can involve other ASEAN members who have close ties with Washington as a mediator.
Will Australia Repeat the Same Mistake?
Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin raised a concern over the plan to build a naval base in his area, saying the island’s community must examine the military base plan to avoid the same mistakes Australia made with their recent handling of asylum seekers.
“On behalf of the people and government of Manus, I say Manus will not be used again by the governments of PNG and Australia to further pursue the interests of Australia without first engaging meaningfully with the people and government of Manus,” Benjamin warned.
Last year, the PNG Supreme Court issued a verdict that Australia’s use of the islands of Nauru and Manus to detain asylum seekers and immigrants indefinitely was illegal and in violation of the constitution and human rights.
Human rights activists have called for the closure of the asylum centers in Nauru and Manus, and thousands took to the streets in Australia recently to protest the asylum centers. Most of the immigrants in the centers have been dubbed refugees but many still have been detained for five years while awaiting placement. There are also reports of deteriorating mental health in children, with some contemplating suicide.
Australia argued that its harsh policy on illegal newcomers is aimed at preventing more deaths and guarding its border. The current policy is known as “Stop The Boats” and was introduced by Australia’s current prime minister Scott Morrison when he was then an immigration minister (2013-14).