PM Jacinda Ardern isn’t too fussed about China’s expansion in the Pacific.
This is hardly surprising since she has been in Samoa, a recipient of recent Chinese largesse. But it does reinforce the view among NZ officials that she and Foreign Minister Winston Peters do not see eye to eye on the issue. On Peters’ recent Washington DC visit he reiterated his concerns; these are shared by the US, which is planning to ramp up its activity in the region.
Ardern’s sangfroid is not shared across the Tasman. There, Australia and the US have expressed concern about Cambodia giving China exclusive rights to a Cambodian naval installation in the Gulf of Thailand in a hitherto undisclosed agreement.
In response to China’s expanded military presence in the region, the US is preparing to spend $US211,500,000 on expanded naval construction in Australia’s Northern Territory. This includes around $US120,000 for new airport parking for the US Navy and US Air Force at RAAF bases. A draft bill is working its way through the congressional process. The Marine Rotational Force in Darwin is now at reached full strength with 2,500 US Marines deployed in the Top End.
Four years ago, Landbridge, a Chinese company was awarded a 99-year lease on the port of Darwin. The new US spending is seen as a way of the US Marine force stationed in the North End having to use the Chinese-owned port.
This might test Canberra in balancing US and Chinese interests. However, PM Scott Morrison is to visit the US in September and will be hosted at a state dinner by President Donald Trump at the White House.