The Chinese temptation of Australia
The strategic port of Darwin belongs to a Chinese company and welcomes American soldiers: it is the symbol of the dilemma that arises in Canberra. Its main trading partner, China, is also the most serious rival of its historic ally, the United States.
Darwin, with its bay infested with crocodiles, is the most Asian of Australian cities. At the far north of the country, it is closer to Jakarta than Canberra, the capital of its own country, and Sydney is more than four hours by plane. The port of the city is mainly due to exports of live cattle to Indonesia and liquefied natural gas to Japan.
Since November 2015, the port of Darwin is owned by Landbridge, a Chinese company in Shandong Province that, although private, does not hide its close ties with the Beijing authorities. The sale of this strategic infrastructure was not to the taste of the great American ally, who discovered it once validated. “Tell us next time,” said Barack Obama to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the fall of 2015.
1,250 US soldiers a few kilometers from the port
Darwin played an important role during the Second World War: Allied forces were installed there and the city was bombed by the Japanese two months after Pearl Harbor in February 1942 – the first time that Australia was attacked in its history. The renewed American interest in the region, in the face of the new Chinese ambitions, has put Darwin at the center of the stakes.
US troops are rotated every year since President Obama launched the “pivot” policy in 2011, which was supposed to shift the center of gravity of US diplomacy to Asia-Pacific. In April, for the sixth time, 1,250 US troops arrived to train for six months with their Australian counterparts. They reside a few kilometers from the port on an Australian base. Some of their equipment is unloaded on the docks, so under the eyes of the Chinese. Beijing may have bought a prime spot to spy on Australian military activities …