USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) tied up at Fort Hill Wharf, Port of Darwin, northern Australia. The wharf and port where future US Navy ships tie up is now owned (well leased for only 99 years!) by a Chinese company called Landbridge Group. See September 17, 2013, We finally made it to Darwin! But Australia's leaders ignorant?
An increasing US presence in Port of Darwin and Marine barracks in Darwin. Fleet Base West, south of Perth, already hosting US carriers and submarines (SSNs and SSGNs) for visits.
Darwin. See Fort Hill Wharf (just to the left of this map of Port of Darwin) where US ships tie up. (Map courtesy ABC)
It would appear that the sudden changeover in Australia's Prime Ministers in mid September 2015 frustrated any careful Ministerial, Cabinet or Prime Ministerial consideration of a major alliance matter. This was the national security implications of the sale of strategic Port of Darwin to a Chinese owned company called Landbridge Group.
The Chinese company won't need to be told what type warship or submarine is visiting. It will just need to note the preparation patterns over 99 years to draw an accurate picture.
Over 1,000 US Marines and an amphibious assault ship are rotated through Darwin each year as part of the US pivot/rebalance. Other US and allied warships visit the port more frequently.
Basically in September-October 2015 Australia gained a new Prime Minister and new Defence Minister. Much was in disarray. So a sale of a strategic port to Chinese company Landbridge slipped through the cracks and we told the US about it two days after the sale.
So we told you after we did it. What's your problem allies!!
13 October 2015 - China's Landbridge wins Port of Darwin for $506m
Then, two days after the sale:
15 October 2015 - Australianbureaucrat Defence Secretary Richardson [first?] discussed the matter face-to-face with US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Robert Work, in Washington DC. This is according to Defence Minister Marise Payne.
So it appears the US was told after the sale - and then as a courtesy.
A month later Australia’s ABC, reported on the seeming ignorance of new Prime Minister Turnbull regarding the major defence significance of Port of Darwin, of US sensitivities and perhaps even Japanese naval security sensitivities.
ABC News reports November 21, 2015 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-20/turnbull-gets-it-wrong-on-whether-darwin-port-used-by-military/6958404 :
"PM Malcolm Turnbull gets it wrong on whether Darwin port is used by military"
By political reporter Anna Henderson
Updated Sat Nov 21, 2015 at 1:02am
"Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made a significant error in trying to justify the decision to lease Australia's crucial northern port to Chinese interests, by claiming it is not used by the military.
- Malcolm Turnbull's statements on Darwin port questioned
- PM previously claimed port was not used by military, but facility is advertised as catering to "frequent naval visits"
- NT Government has leased port to Chinese-owned company
- The Northern Territory Government sparked international controversy last month when it decided to lease the Port of Darwin facilities to a Chinese-owned company.
Some defence analysts have warned the company, Landbridge, has strong links to the Chinese Communist Party. They have also warned China will use the lease strategically to secure a presence in the north of Australia.
The ABC has also been told US president Barack Obama raised the sale directly with Mr Turnbull in a face-to-face meeting this week.
On [November 20, 2015] Mr Turnbull was questioned by Darwin radio station MIX 104.9 about the sale of the port.
"The port that is being leased is not being used by the military, it is a commercial port," he said.
But according to an announcement by the Darwin Port Corporation on November 16, the lease includes East Arm Wharf commercial port outside Darwin and the Fort Hill Wharf close to the city's CBD.
Fort Hill Wharf is advertised as a "cruise ship and Defence vessel facility"..."catering to "frequent naval ship visits"...international and domestic....
A spokesman for the Prime Minister has since issued a media statement, which said Mr Turnbull was making the point that the Darwin facility "is a commercial port not a military port".
The Prime Minister has repeatedly defended the lease arrangements.
The Prime Minister also stressed Defence could step in and take over management of the port for national security reasons. [during a war or something?]
"...Fort Hill Wharf that are used not only by the Australian Navy but also the militaries of other countries as well, so it would be good if the Prime Minister, when coming to the north, knew what he was talking about," Mr Gosling said.
see WHOLE ARTICLE.
Also see more recent reports of:
- December 4, 2015 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-04/corporation-confirms-darwin-port-strategically-important/7002768 and
Port of Darwin is in good hands with China's Landbridge Group. (Photo of operations in China courtesy Landbridge website)
USS America (LHA-6) coming to Darwin in 2016 "...and conduct on-load and off-load,”
Perhaps the company leasing Port of Darwin for 99 years will get a hint before ships visit? Diesel tankers or US preparatory teams on Fort Hill Wharf anybody? (see NT News)