US to Expand Pacific Base in Bid to Stop China’s Growing Influence

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The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning is accompanied by frigates and submarines, conducting exercises in the South China Sea last April. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)
The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning is accompanied by frigates and submarines, conducting exercises in the South China Sea last April. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

The United States has said it will join Australia in the development of a naval base on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island to “protect the freedom of the seas,” in a move apparently aimed at curbing China’s presence in the Pacific. Australia, a staunch U.S. ally in the Pacific, had already set its sights on Papua New Guinea’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island earlier in November, seeking to build a deep-water facility for its navy. Now, Washington apparently has also decided to join the effort, in a move clearly aimed at sending a signal to Beijing, which is already locked in a trade war with Washington and in disputes over the South China Sea. “We will work with these nations to protect the sovereignty and maritime rights of Pacific islands as well,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday, referring to Australia and Papua New Guinea, as he spoke about U.S. plans on the Lombrum base. “And you can be confident, the U.S. will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies,”he added, in a thinly veiled jab at China as he appeared to draw parallels with the South China, where the U.S. claims it seeks to protect “the freedom of navigation” as well. It is no surprise that the U.S. decision apparently came on the heels of rumors that China might also emerge as the eventual developer of the deep-water base. Some other reports suggested that China approached another Pacific island nation, Vanuatu, seeking to open a military base there. Apart from that, the U.S. also seems to be concerned that Beijing might use its growing influence over the Pacific island nations to get access to some military infrastructure in the vicinity of major maritime routes in the region. Pence even engaged in an indirect verbal duel with China’s President Xi Jingping at the APEC summit, where the two apparently fought for the attention of the smaller Pacific nations. "Do not accept debt that could compromise your sovereignty. Protect your interests," Pence called on the island nations, referring to China’s active policy of giving loans to the Pacific states, which might turn it into a major bilateral lender to island economies.

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