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Is China seriously considering military bases in the Pacific?

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 21 January 2022


Last week the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister indicated that Russia was "considering" a permanent military presence in Cuba and Venezuela.

His frank statement again brought to my mind a question I posed here and elsewhere over the last eighteen months – is China seriously looking at a permanent military presence (army, naval or air bases) in our region?

Since I first raised the question there have been several developments which in my view that at the very least indicate that bases in our region are an "option" China has under active consideration.

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When I initially raised the possibility my views were based on the steps a China-owned entity was taking to grab effective control of the township of Daru the PNG community closest to Australia.

The multi-million dollar proposal for a seafood processing industry and large port and industrial estate on Daru may seem farfetched but it enjoys the support of the Western Provincial Government, local MPs and community leaders. It has not advanced far, but it has not gone away.

For now I do not see this project being on China's "military base" agenda but if it proceeds it will provide China with a significant "listening post" and be a strategic irritant on Australia's northern border.

But since that project was announced one that is potentially of far more concern for Australia has emerged just a few hundred km to the east of Daru. And this one has the direct involvement of the PRC Government.

When I wrote about it after China gifted around $35 cash to the Ihu-Kikori Special Economic Zone I missed one important feature of the project. In the plans released by the project proponents, supported by the PRC Embassy in Port Moresby, included both a "naval base" and a "military camp".

Just how a naval base and a military camp would qualify for all the taxation and other concessions that go with the PNG "special economic zone" concept eludes me, but they were clearly included as part of the total concept.

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This project is being principally driven by the local MP, Soroi Eoe, who just happens to be the PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. He happens to be up for re-election when PNG goes to the polls midyear.

It is clearly in his political interest to ensure it gets high priority, and in recent days he briefed the PRC Ambassador on the works "agenda" for 2022. Notwithstanding the fact the project is strategically very close to Australia, I doubt if he has also briefed the Australian High Commissioner!

China establishing a military-naval base in Papua New Guinea would be very a controversial step in the ever-changing world of PNG politics!

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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