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Australia eyes Naval base in PNG's Manus Island

A report by The Australian news paper said Papua New Guinea is working on plans with Australia to develop a joint naval base on Manus Island, to edge out China's interest in the strategically vital port with a new facility that would be capable of hosting Australian and US warships.

The newspaper said it understands, former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Peter O’Neill discussed the proposed defence partnership at a July 11 meeting in Brisbane ahead of this year’s third State of Origin match.

The Australian reports Mr O’Neill as “very interested” in working with Australia to redevelop the Lombrum Naval Base as a joint facility, prompting a scoping mission by Australian defence officials.

Mr O'Neill was was briefed on the results of the scoping study, and later wrote to Mr Turnbull to formally express his support for the project.

The Turnbull government had hoped to finalize arrangements for the investment before the APEC meeting, which will be preceded by a special summit for Pacific leaders in Port Moresby hosted by China’s President Xi Jinping.

Australian officials have expressed concerns over Chinese interest in the redevelopment of four PNG ports, at Wewak, Kikori, Vanimo and Manus Island, fearing the Asian super power is working towards gaining a military foothold in the region.

The deep-water port at Manus is considered the most strategic ally significant of the four because of its sweeping command of the Pacific Ocean and the maritime approaches from Asia.

The newspaper said, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne, declined to comment on the proposed joint facility, but said Australia was in frequent contact with PNG officials regarding their development priorities.

The Lombrum Naval Base has long been the site of close co- operation between Australia and the PNG Defence Force.

Australia operated the base from 1950 until it was handed back to PNG at independence in 1975.

NBC News- The Australian
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