US Vice President Mike Pence announces American support for Australian base at Manus Island in PNG

US joins Australia in planning to build a new military base on Manus Island to ward off Chinese influence in the Pacific

The United States has joined Australia in planning to build a new military base in Papua New Guinea to ward off Chinese influence in the Pacific.

The announcement from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Port Moresby, has occurred four months after former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull floated the idea with PNG.

Under the deal, the United States will partner with Australia to redevelop the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, which is also home to asylum seekers.

 The United States has joined Australia in planning to build a new military base in Papua New Guinea to ward off Chinese influence in the Pacific (pictured is a map of Manus Island)

 The United States has joined Australia in planning to build a new military base in Papua New Guinea to ward off Chinese influence in the Pacific (pictured is a map of Manus Island)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (pictured at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Port Moresby) announced the Manus Island idea four months after Malcolm Turnbull floated it

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (pictured at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Port Moresby) announced the Manus Island idea four months after Malcolm Turnbull floated it

‘We will work with these nations to protect the sovereignty and maritime rights of Pacific islands as well,’ Mr Pence told the APEC summit.

‘And you can be confident, the U.S. will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies.’

The deal, announced at the APEC summit on Saturday, is set to heighten geopolitical tensions with China, which is also Australia’s biggest two-way trading partner.

The U.S., Australia’s biggest defence ally, has been engaged in a long-running dispute with China over maritime routes in the South China Sea.

 Under the deal, the United States will partner with Australia to redevelop the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island (pictured), which is also home to asylum seekers

 Under the deal, the United States will partner with Australia to redevelop the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island (pictured), which is also home to asylum seekers

Washington is also concerned Beijing may use its increased influence, as a provider of foreign aid to poorer Pacific nations, to secure access to infrastructure that could be used for military purposes, including deep-water ports and wharfs.

A Chinese presence on Manus Island could also hamper the American military’s ability to navigate the Pacific, particularly if China has close access to American bases at Guam. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month announced his government would fund the redevelopment of the Manus Island naval base with PNG’s support.

Australia ran the base until PNG gained independence in 1975.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured in Port Moresby) earlier this month announced his government would fund the redevelopment of the Manus Island naval base with PNG's support

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured in Port Moresby) earlier this month announced his government would fund the redevelopment of the Manus Island naval base with PNG’s support

Six weeks before he was overthrown as PM, Malcolm Turnbull discussed with this PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill the idea of re-developing the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island

Six weeks before he was overthrown as PM, Malcolm Turnbull discussed with this PNG counterpart Peter O’Neill the idea of re-developing the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island

Manus Island was also a major U.S. naval station during World War II, playing a key role in Washington’s Pacific strategy against Japan.

Manus Island is PNG’s smallest province with a population of about 50,000 people. 

PNG’s navy is made up largely of patrol boats, mostly donated by Australia, and landing craft.

In July, six weeks before he was brought down by a second Liberal Party leadership challenge, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull discussed with his then PNG counterpart Peter O’Neill the idea of re-developing the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island.

The political leaders met in Brisbane on July 11, with The Australian learning Mr O’Neill was ‘very interested’ in the idea and had even put his support in writing.

The base, run by Australia for 25 years until PNG gained independence in 1975, would be capable of hosting Australian and American warships on Manus Island

The base, run by Australia for 25 years until PNG gained independence in 1975, would be capable of hosting Australian and American warships on Manus Island

The base, run by Australia for 25 years until PNG gained independence in 1975, would be capable of hosting Australian and American warships on Manus Island, where asylum seekers are sent for processing.

The Australian Defence Force is understood to be conducting a scoping study of the area, with News Corp Australia reporting the former Turnbull government had wanted a deal signed with PNG before this month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, which is being held in Port Moresby.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also hosted a special APEC conference for regional leaders in the PNG capital.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured this week in Manila) also hosted a special APEC conference for regional leaders in the PNG capital

Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured this week in Manila) also hosted a special APEC conference for regional leaders in the PNG capital

The idea of stationing Australian and American naval warships in the area is set to infuriate China, with Beijing in 2011 expressing diplomatic concern about U.S. marines being stationed in Darwin.

While China is Australia’s biggest two-way trading partner, Australia is suspicious about Chinese espionage activity, banning telecommunications firm Huawei from bidding for the National Broadband Network.

In July, Mr Turnbull signed a deal for Australia to fund a $136 million internet cable between Australia, PNG and the Solomon Islands in a bid to stop Huawei from doing so.

He attended the State of Origin with Mr O’Neill and Solomon Islands PM Rick Houenipwela as part of the diplomatic charm offensive, as the Queensland Maroons defeated the New South Wales Blues 18-12.  

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