The US will join Australia’s plan to restore the former Lombrum naval base in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to contain China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region, US Vice President Mike Pence recently announced.
Mr Pence made the announcement on the sidelines of the APEC summit in the PNG capital, Port Moresby.
“The United States will partner with Papua New Guinea and Australia on their joint initiative at Lombrum Naval Base,” he said. “We will work with these two nations to protect sovereignty and maritime rights in the Pacific islands.”
The announcement came amid tensions between Washington and Beijing over the trade war and disputes over sea routes in the South China Sea, according to Bloomberg.
It is likely that Washington and Canberra will try to neutralize the Asian giant’s growing influence in the Pacific, the edition assumes. In this region – where Australia has had unprecedented influence for decades – China has begun issuing more and more loans and undertook infrastructure projects in several countries, the media notes.
Strategic naval base
The Lombrum military base was built during World War II as a US naval base, playing a key role in Washington’s Pacific strategy, Reuters reported. After the United States abandoned the infrastructure in 1946, it came under the control of Australia and in 1974 to Papua New Guinea.
Amid speculation about Beijing’s intention to build its own base on Manus Island, on November 1 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country would cooperate with Papua New Guinea in rebuilding Lombrum.
In addition, according to several analysts quoted by Reuters, the Chinese presence in the region could affect the West’s ability to navigate the Pacific and offer close access to the US base in Guam.
The joint reconstruction plan of the Lombrum base is not without controversy, in the sense that none of the parties sought the support of local residents, as noted by the governor of the island of Manus, Charlie Benjamin.
No one has sought support from the locals, Manus Island Governor Charlie Benjamin said, as cited by Reuters. The project was also criticized by a former Papua New Guinea MP from the island, Ronnie Knight, who said that “there is lot of questions to be answered” first.
“There was no discussion with any of the locals, it has just been bulldozed through again and that is what makes people cross,” he told Australia’s ABC broadcaster, expressing his concerns about potentially “having a foreign base on our soil.”