Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed public concerns over the leasing of the strategically important Darwin port to a Chinese company. This follows a recent US opinion poll among Australians, whose results showed half of the respondents wary of the lease as a “risk” to national security. Ninety percent of the respondents agreed that there was “some risk.”
Turnbull said Australian defence and security officials had scrutinised the $506 million deal and found no threat to national interests.
“That’s how we determine security issues, not – with all due respect – by text message opinion polls,” Turnbull told reporters.
Media reports had said President Barack Obama queried Turnbull on the port deal when they met in Manila in November.
“The United States government is satisfied that the security issues relating to the lease of the port were examined carefully and professionally and appropriately,” Turnbull added.
The opinion poll was widely reported in Australian media, which said the US State Department conducted the poll via test messages. The questions sought to elicit Aussie opinion on Chinese company Landbridge securing a 99-year lease of Darwin port.
Darwin is a major military base in Northern Australia where the US marines have a sizable presence. Landbridge claims that it is a private company and has nothing to do with the Chinese military, reports Washington Times.
An opinion analysis document had warned of Landbridge’s “reported ties” with the Chinese armed forces. It raised concerns that port access could facilitate “intelligence collection on U.S. and Australia military forces stationed nearby.”
The polls commissioned in February had 1,000 respondents across the country. It was done for the Office of Opinion Research, which is a wing of the Bureau of Intelligence Research.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Australia, John Berry, said the State Department conducts public opinion polls “to supplement available polling and help us understand international perspectives.” However, he clarified that such low-level polls do not reflect the views of the US government in terms of policy or position.
The reaction of the PM also coincided with the visit of the Commander of the US Pacific Air Forces Lori Robinson.
Commander Robinson cautioned that countries vacillating on freedom of navigation in international waters and airspace will face the risk of losing it. Though Australia stepped up its air and naval patrols in the South China Sea, Turnbull has been evasive on committing more public exercises, reports The West Australian.