Australia is reportedly working on a secret plan to construct a new deep-water port to accommodate US Marine deployments on its northern coast, a move that is aimed to counter China’s growing presence in the region.
Citing several defense and government officials, the ABC reported on Monday that the new port facility would be built just outside Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, which was leased to a Chinese energy and infrastructure firm in 2015.
The Darwin port already includes military facilities and hosts visiting US ships.
The new maritime facility could be able to accommodate large amphibious warships such as Australia’s Landing Helicopter Docks, and American vessels such as the USS Wasp, which recently arrived in Sydney, the report said.
Experts say the new port would be ideally suited for the more than 2,000 US Marines and their equipment during regular rotations through the region.
“The Americans are clearly not withdrawing from the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s because of their strategic competition with China or more generally,” said Rory Medcalf from the Australian National University.
The new port would also include commercial and industrial operations in addition to facilities for military activities.
According to the report, officials would announce the plan in the next few weeks.
The US and Australia have been building up their military presence across the western Pacific to counter China’s influence in the region.
As part of that effort, the two recently announced plans to build a joint military base on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, northeast of Australia.
This comes amid the growth of China’s military power throughout the region and across the world, which has long been a concern for the US.
The Pentagon said in a report last month that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could help the Chinese navy gain access to “selected foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to sustain naval deployments in waters as distant as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.”
The project aims to link China by sea and land with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the ancient Silk Road.