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US, Australia to Develop Joint Pacific Naval Base to Counter Chinese Influence

© REUTERS / Major Jeff Landis,USMC (Ret.)/Naval Base Guam/Handout/File PhotoNavy vessels are moored in port at the U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Guam March 5, 2016
Navy vessels are moored in port at the U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Guam March 5, 2016 - Sputnik International
The US will join Australia in the redevelopment of a naval base in Papua New Guinea, countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The partnership was announced by US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Bloomberg reported.

“We will work with these two nations to protect the sovereignty and maritime rights in the Pacific Islands,” Pence said, addressing regional leaders and business executives. 

“With our renewed commitment to development financing, we’ve made infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific a top priority — from roads to railways, ports to pipelines, airports to data-lines. And the United States has a principled approach that stands in stark contrast to other nations.” Pence added.

Pence’s remarks came right after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech, where he noted that confrontation “whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, will produce no winners.”

READ MORE: APEC Summit Focuses on US-China Trade Row, Globalisation Issues

The US and Australia will jointly develop the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island in an effort to counter growing Chinese strategic influence. In recent years, China has been investing in the region, issuing loans and launching infrastructure projects in several nations in the Pacific as a part of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has traditionally been regarded as Australia’s diplomatic sphere of influence. 

Earlier in November, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australia was rapidly increasing its commitment in the region. He revealed his plans to partner with Papua New Guinea in redeveloping Lombrum amid speculations that China is going to build its own military base in the Pacific.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a joint press conference at the Istana or Presidential Palace in Singapore, November 16, 2018 - Sputnik International
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The joint project with the US could be a sign that the Trump administration’s focus on “a new, competitive policy toward China in the Indo-Pacific isn’t just rhetoric — it’s the real thing,” Philipp Ivanov, head of the Asia Society’s Australian branch, said in an interview in Papua New Guinea.

“This could be positive for the region, but the US has to ensure its commitment goes beyond the military component and into helping develop trade and infrastructure,” he added.

The US has also planned to launch a $400 million Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative to “help empower the region’s citizens, combat corruption, and strengthen sovereignty,” Pence said on Saturday. The US is working with Japan as well to invest $10 billion in the region’s energy infrastructure, partnering with Japan and Australia “to support a vast array of private development projects across the Indo-Pacific,” Pence added.

Earlier in the APEC summit, Pence slammed the Chinese president with harsh criticism over the Belt and Road project, as well as China’s regional ambitions, adding that the US is ready to double tariffs if Beijing doesn't agree to the Washington's terms.

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