Sydney, Sep 20: Australia is planning to build new naval base in Papua New Guinea, reports said Wednesday, an apparent move to curb China's influence in the Pacific. Canberra was aiming to finalise an agreement on the joint facility -- to be built on the Pacific nation's Manus island -- ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Port Moresby in November, The Australian reported.
The newspaper said Australian defence officials visited PNG's Lombrum Naval Base on Manus to review a potential redevelopment after that country's prime minister Peter O'Neill visited Brisbane in July.
"The Pacific is a very high-priority area of strategic national security interest for Australia," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday, refusing to deny the report.
"But I'm not going to comment on speculation on national security issues, that would not be appropriate." Beijing has been showering billions of dollars in infrastructure loans to tiny island nations across the Pacific Ocean, a region considered strategically important as a maritime gateway to Asia.
Canberra, which has a history of military cooperation in the Pacific with close ally Washington, has warned of a need to counter China's influence in the region.
Australia has been critical of Beijing's Pacific "soft diplomacy", and announced this year it would negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu and also build an undersea communications cable to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Canberra's PNG move follows reports China had approached Vanuatu about the possibility of opening a military base there. World leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, will attend the APEC summit in November, an event both Canberra and Beijing have openly supported, throwing millions of dollars at security and infrastructure improvements in PNG.