Pacific News Minute: PNG, Australia to Build a Joint Naval Base on Manus Island

Sep 27, 2018

Royal Australian Navy Adelaide-class frigate HMAS Newcastle and the Anzac-class HMAS Parramatta are moored pier side at Naval Station Pearl Harbor as they await the beginning of the multi-national maritime exercise Rim of the Pacific 2004 (RIMPAC).
Credit Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michelle R. Hammond / U.S. Navy

Over the summer, Australia moved to block the development of potential Chinese military facilities in Fiji and Vanuatu; now media reports say that Australia will build a naval base of its own in a Pacific Island nation.

It will be a joint base, shared with Papua New Guinea’s tiny maritime forces, in a familiar location: Manus Island.

The largest of the Admiralty Islands, Manus lies north of New Guinea and boasts one of the finest anchorages in the Pacific, Seeadler Harbor. American forces seized it from the Japanese in 1944 and built a major base.

Australia took over after the war, and the crumbling remnants transferred to Papua New Guinea on its independence in 1975. More recently, the Naval Base housed one of Australia’s notorious off-shore detention camps; that camp was closed last October and the migrants moved to another facility on Manus.

According to the newspaper The Australian, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed the agreement at a meeting with his counterpart, Peter O’Neill, in July. Despite the change in leadership in Canberra, Australia still hopes to complete the deal before Papua New Guinea hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic summit in November.

Flag of Papua New Guinea
Credit Nightstallion / Wikimedia Commons

Australia has already authorized three million dollars to upgrade a wharf but much more will be needed before the base is ready to receive Australian and, maybe, American naval vessels. The deal is expected to include access to an airfield nearby, and Australia will donate three or four modern patrol boats to bolster PNG’s tiny maritime forces.

Anna Powles, a regional security specialist at Massey University questioned the value and the purpose of the new base, she told RNZ Pacific, “For Pacific Island countries, the single greatest threat is climate change, not China.”