SYDNEY • The United States is planning to build additional military infrastructure in Australia once Congress gives its approval to the US Navy for a US$211.5 million (S$289.9 million) proposal, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said yesterday.
The US plans for a bigger footprint in Australia come at a time when the West has become increasingly concerned by China's efforts to expand its influence in the Pacific.
"The development of facilities will support the Force Posture Initiatives," Ms Payne told Sky News, referring to agreements reached in 2011 between the US and Australia to enhance their defence ties.
These initiatives entail 2,500 US Marines training in Australia each year, as well as regular joint training between the allies' air forces.
Ms Payne did not say what the US aimed to build, but Australian media reported earlier this month that Washington had plans for a new port facility near Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory.
US Marines deployed to Australia in an annual rotation for training are housed in a base at Darwin.
"A port is the missing leg of the stool in US military engagement with Australia," said Dr Euan Graham, director of La Trobe University's national security programme.
A US Embassy spokesman in Canberra declined to comment, and Australia's Defence Department said it would expect concrete plans only when the proposal has been approved by US Congress.
If the US builds the facility in Darwin, it would be near the Port of Darwin, for which China's Landbridge Group secured a 99-year lease in 2015 - to the annoyance of the US.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have escalated since the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump, who ignited a trade war with China while stepping up military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region.