US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper will meet their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds in Sydney today.
Recently appointed as defence chief, Mr Esper is widely regarded as a China hawk. He is expected to confirm Australian plans to upgrade naval barracks and other infrastructure used by US forces around the northern city of Darwin. The US has committed $300 million to support the upgrades—mainly fuel storage facilities—which support some 2,500 US marines training in the city. Speculation also surrounds a local government plan for a new port at Glyde Point, 40 kilometres northeast of Darwin that may eventually be a US military base, although Canberra refutes such claims.
These developments are clearly aimed at counterbalancing the controversial 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company whose owner has direct links to the Communist Party of China. The Northern Territory government awarded the lease unbeknownst to the Federal Government in Canberra in 2015.
Esper likely shares Canberra’s view that the lease is a strategic threat to Australian and American interests because the company’s expanding projects along Darwin’s waterfront may increase Chinese soft power and influence in local politics. As US-China regional competition rises, expect further military infrastructural spending in Darwin and speculation over the proposed Glyde Point port to intensify.
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John is a Senior Analyst with an interest in Indo-Pacific geopolitics. Master of International Relations (Australian National University) graduate with study focus on the Indo-Pacific. Qualified lawyer (University of Auckland, NZ) with experience in post-colonial Pacific & NZ legal systems.