Pence says US will join Australia on plan to redevelop Pacific naval base

Pence says US will join Australia on plan to redevelop Pacific naval base
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Vice President Pence announced Saturday that the United States would join Australia in bolstering a naval base on the Manus Island of Papua New Guinea.

The plan, which Pence unveiled during a speech at an Asia-Pacific forum hosted by Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, comes amid increasing tensions over China's influence in the Pacific and potential to develop infrastructure there.

"Today, it’s my privilege to announce that the United States will partner with Papua New Guinea and Australia on their joint initiative at Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island," Pence said during a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

"We will work with these nations to protect sovereignty and maritime rights of the Pacific Islands as well," he added.

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Pence did not offer additional details on the extent of the U.S. contribution for the efforts.

Australia's federal government has been working with Papua New Guinea to bolster the Lombrum base. Australia announced a $5 million contract in September to update wharf and shore-area infrastructure there, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The U.S. has long voiced issues with China concerning maritime routes in the South China Sea, though concerns have expanded to the Pacific that China is pushing for access to infrastructure such as deep-water ports and wharfs that could be used for military purposes.

The vice president during his speech Saturday emphasized that the U.S. would strive to protect freedom of travel in the "seas and skies."

"We will continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows and our national interests demand; harassment will only strengthen our resolve. We will not change course," he said.

Pence added that the U.S. would continue to support efforts within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to "adopt a meaningful and binding code of conduct that respects the rights of all nations, including the freedom of navigation, in the South China Sea."