Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 2 December 2020


US Navy to increase Australia port visits, in message to China




Australia will receive more port visits from United States Navy ships following the Trump administration’s decision to re-establish the nation‘s 1st Fleet as an expeditionary force in the Indo-Pacific.

Analysts said the announcement, which effectively “locks in” an incoming Biden administration, will send a message to China that “they aren’t going to have it all their own way” in the region.

US Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said the fleet, which was disbanded in 1973, would be re-raised to patrol the waters of Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.



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While Singapore was previously discussed as a potential home for the fleet, Mr Braithwaite revealed it would be “an agile, mobile, at-sea command”.

A navy drill involving ships from India, Australia, Japan and the US. Picture: AFPA navy drill involving ships from India, Australia, Japan and the US. Picture: AFP

The fleet will report to US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii and include the Straits of Malacca – which a quarter of the world’s oil passes through – in its area of operations.

The head of the ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Brendan Sargeant, said the fleet would be a check on Chinese expansion and coercion in the region.

“It will strengthen the American presence in the region and in that sense, be a force for stability,” Professor Sargeant told The Australian.

“It will send a big message to China that they aren’t going to have it all their own way.”

He said the announcement was a response to China and its “increasingly expansionist and assertive tendencies”.

“It’s also an attempt to give expression to rhetoric coming out of Washington that the Indo-Pacific is important, and that they’re not leaving,” Professor Sargeant said.

He said the incoming Biden government would be unable to reverse the Trump administration’s announcement without creating an impression the US did not care about the region.

Scott Morrison said the move reflected a “universal view” in American politics of the importance of the Indo-Pacific.

“They have been here for a long time and their presence is welcomed not just by Australia but (by) the many countries of our region,” the Prime Minister said.

“I would expect to continue in the same way it always has, regardless of the administration.”

Secretary Braithwaite told the US Senate‘s Armed Services Committee the government was determined to make the “bold changes” required to ensure US forces would “dominate any potential battlespace and return home safely”.

“In order to improve our posture in the Indo-Pacific we will reconstitute the 1st Fleet, assigning it primary responsibility for the Indo and South Asian region as an expeditionary fleet,” Mr Braithwaite told the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

“This will reassure our partners and allies of our presence and commitment to this region while ensuring any potential adversary knows we are committed to global presence, to ensure rule of law and freedom of the seas.”

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