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Australian defense minister hints at new Darwin site to check Chinese-run port

Area could serve as logistics hub to supply forces amid a Taiwan Strait conflict

Port of Darwin. (Facebook, Darwin Port Operations photo)

Port of Darwin. (Facebook, Darwin Port Operations photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A major announcement is expected from Canberra on the potential for constructing a new port in Darwin, according to Australian media reports, amid ongoing concerns about the city’s current Chinese-operated facility.

A review conducted by Australia’s Department of Defence concluded in December that there was no significant national security risk that justifies terminating a 99-year-lease of the Port of Darwin to Chinese firm Landbridge. Contained in the media release on the review was mention of AUD$1.5 billion (NT$32.12 billion) for “new port infrastructure” in Darwin, according to a News Corp report.

Asked by reporters if the sum would be used to build a new port in Darwin, Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton did not rule out the possibility: “There's a massive commitment from the government into the Northern Territory and that does look at port development and ways in which we might be able to look at support through contracts in defense for example.”

“We will have more to say about that in due course,” he added.

On Thursday (March 31), defense department officials told a committee the funds would go toward port infrastructure and would be part of the government’s broader investment in Australia’s far north. Plans are still being drawn up and feasibility studies are ongoing.

Responding to reporters' questions on the issues, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the port was for economic purposes but hinted it may have additional benefits.

“It may also have benefits for defense, they're not to be discounted.”

The prospect of a potential new port follows a broader string of defense-related developments in the area. In January, construction began on a massive new fueling station for U.S. fighter jets just adjacent to the Port of Darwin and only 15 kilometers from downtown Darwin.

The refueling project’s developers describe it as a “forward-deployed strategic storage facility” while the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, said it would contribute to making Darwin a "leading hub for defense and national security.”

Peter Jennings, the head of the think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has described Australia’s northern frontier as “the essential southern rampart of the Indo-Pacific.” He says the area will be essential as a logistics hub in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Considering the importance of Australia’s far north (or “Top End” as it is known locally) to any potential plan to defend Taiwan, the development of a new Darwin port, if it comes to pass, will be closely monitored by strategists.