Manus Island offers Australia counterbalance to security pact


“Once you dominate the air and sea space around them, you just chop off the troops and let them wither away on the vine. Most of them spent their time cultivating vegetable gardens, trying not to starve.

Yes, this is the same Manus Island known to house refugees hoping to make it to Australia. It is just over 1000 kilometers from the northernmost tip of Australia. Its Port of Lombrum is a large deep-water port capable of holding large fleets.

Australians are more likely to associate Manus with his role in refugee policy rather than defence.Credit:Refugee Action Coalition

Former director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, said China was operating “roughly a carbon copy of the Imperial Japanese Army’s plan to dominate the Pacific, which makes sense because geography doesn’t has not changed”. This story also offers pointers for Australia and its allies.

Australia and PNG happen to already have a security agreement as part of a 1987 joint statement on guiding principles for the relationship. The Crisis Security Operational Clause “is about as good as the ANZUS treaty,” observes Dean.

And there also happens to be a modest PNG naval base on Manus Island, a legacy of WWII, Lombrum Base. In 2018, Australia and PNG reached an agreement for Australia to upgrade the base at an estimated cost of $175 million. The idea was that Australian ships could also step up port visits. The United States under President Donald Trump quickly agreed to join the effort.

The Chief of the PNG Defense Force, Major General Gilbert Toropo, committed a truth last year when he clearly pointed to China as the threat. His presence posed “a challenge” for PNG, he said.

Manus has a large deep-water port capable of holding large fleets.

Manus has a large deep-water port capable of holding large fleets.Credit:Kate Geraghty

“In the sense that when we don’t have an effective and strong security force element, we are vulnerable to the presence of this country,” he said. “The redevelopment and rehabilitation of Naval Base Lombrum will truly lay the foundation for our effective maritime patrols.”

It was such a sensitive truth that his prime minister, James Marape, chided him: “I don’t see China as a security threat. It was an important development and investment partner, he said.

But if that base is already underway and a security arrangement is in place, what’s the problem? ‘If we had a base in PNG, and Manus was talked about, that’s a decent response to the Solomons deal with China,’ former army chief Peter Leahy said today. director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra.

“At the moment they’re talking about patrol boats – that’s not a decent answer. Even the Chinese coast guard, which has destroyer-type vessels, would easily deal with patrol boats. Patrol boats are for law enforcement. borders, in search and rescue, in pursuit of drug traffickers and illegal fishermen, not in the fight against the largest navy in the world. “Manus must be able to take warships.”

The new docking facilities at Manus are only large enough for patrol boats because, says Jennings, the Australian Department of Defense “designed the renovation almost deliberately to be too small”.

How? “The Navy, in particular, is very wary of foreign bases,” says Jennings, a former chief defense strategist. “They have a very narrow corporate mentality to benefit the defense organization rather than contribute to the defense of the country.” He parodies a naval response: “We wouldn’t want to post personnel there, what a horror!

Nearly four years after the initial announcement, there is not much to show, he says, because of “poor processes, lack of money and lack of seriousness of the Defense”. He says Defense is caught in a vacuum, realizing Australia is facing a crisis but unable to mobilize to respond urgently.


For Manus, Jennings proposes that whoever leads Australia after the May 21 election proposes to PNG that Australia share the base and move two new Australian patrol boats, currently under construction, to port. The wharf could be extended to accommodate larger ships: “It’s not difficult, you just need concrete. Even we could do it.

And then there is the overview. A Chinese state-owned company is expanding a nearby airport on Manus, just as China is buying, building or renovating dozens of airstrips across the Pacific.

So Australia’s strategy of cutting the Chinese tendril into the Solomons using a base at Manus is simple in theory, but faced with the proliferation of multiple fast-growing Chinese tendrils everywhere and mistaken for Australia’s traditional enemy. , complacency. Australia has options and strengths, but it must discover its purpose and urgency.


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