November 24, 2015

US told 2 Days After Sale of Port of Darwin to a Chinese Company

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!!

   Then, two days after the sale:

15 October 2015 - Australian bureaucrat 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.

"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.

Key points: 
  • 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" 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.



Also see more recent reports of:

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)



Vigilis said...

Hi Pete

Mad magazine seems to have summed up China's Port Darwin lease fairly well with its comic "Spy vs. Spy" and Alfred E. Neuman's signature phrase "What? Me worry?".

Somewhat closer to the heart of the matter, however, is French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr familiar 1849 epigram: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." ... Literally “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”

Regards from CONUS

Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

Yes brings many childhood memories.

The way the Chinese Government thinks is that any Chinese companies are answerable to the Chinese Government on Chinese national security issues.

Even ethnic Chinese-Australians are expected to answer to the Chinese Government,

Hence Stern Hu - an Australian iron-ore businessman of Chinese origin, was detained on 5 July 2009 with three other Chinese colleagues by the Chinese government. After pleading guilty, on 29 March 2010 he was sentenced to 10 years' jail by a Chinese court for stealing commercial secrets and receiving bribes.

Basically Chinese-Australians working on sensitive Australian Defence projects can be got at, or any relatives back in China, can be got at, by the Chinese Government.

I believe there have been many cases in the US of Chinese-Americans forced into defence espionage by China?



Anonymous said...

JVs in China always have on board a CCP cell including a political commissar. I guess one will be based in Darwin?

Who is minding the store?

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

It is difficult to know how the various Chinese interests will treat their foothold in Darwin.

The Australian Federal and Northern Territory Governments want to attract Chinese investment but they should not sacrafice control of too many port facilities.



Anonymous said...

Defence's Richardson chose to defend his decision with what he thought was humour, ridiculing critics by claiming that Chinese spies sitting on the wharf could just as easily read the shipping news. The media took his bait. Not one explained to the public that the 'joke' was nonsense, comparing unlikes. Our PRC spy sipping a coldie on Stokes Hill is covert, whereas the shipping news is overt, oil and water, not something our man Bond from Beijing would be interested in.

So, what would he/she be interested in? Building relationships and buying influence of course, a medium term project, generational. If he manages to pass one piece of disinformation at a critical moment, or picks up one A1 piece of info through his relationships, Beijing would consider the whole exercise worthwhile. That the deal has already got this far demonstrates that the relationship building and influence peddling is off to a flying start. And this is what Counter Intel will be monitoring - not some Maoist wharfie who rents an apartment with a view of Hendo's crappy waterslide. And how might it play out? Well, the CLP in Darwin has a track record of selling out to potential adversaries - witness the shameful sellout to Jakarta over E.Timor. Pollies and public servants lined up for business opportunities. Heck some even sold out for dirty weekends. Cheapskates. Watch for associates of Landbridge to pay for student exchanges at the Uni, and Senior Highs. Watch for the exchanges to be withdrawn when the student union Tibet support group sells subversive T-Shirts at Darwin Expo. Should be interesting to see whether Beijing copies the Suharto New Order Darwin playbook. Same rodeo same riders, only the PRC is a bigger bull than Jakarta ever was.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [November 27, 2015 at 8:35PM]

While not Darwin specific I would say that current or former members of the the navy joining Confucius Institutes (eg ) might by fertile territory for grooming those who have/had access. Trips to China, scholarships, fee discounts, all soughts of possible inducements.

Even a former Australian Defence Minister

Protecting US interests in Australia is US Ambassador John Berry, whose views are very liberal More liberal than Obama. So Berry he may not have enunciated the concerns of the US military (especially USN) very clearly.

Here's Berry's latest explanation .