A report from a United States think tank has said that basing US nuclear attack submarines in Australia would boost the strengths of the US and its allies in the South Pacific.
The report from Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), written by former director of Asian Affairs for the National Security Council under George W. Bush, Michael Green, and Andrew Shearer, a former national security adviser to Tony Abbott, said the establishment of nuclear support infrastructure in Australia would be one of the best ways to "push back" against increased efforts from China to project its military power in the region.
"It is time to step up Quad-centered maritime presence and military capability-building in the Indian Ocean," the report said.
"Two cost-effective ways to do this would be to increase interoperability through an expanded Malabar exercise series and to establish a rotational presence of US surface combatant vessels at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia (and consider the possibility of investing in the nuclear support infrastructure necessary for basing of attack submarines as well)."
The report comes after fears have been heightened China is looking to take a more assertive role in the Indo-Pacific region by building up a string of bases and dual-use ports, including in Vanuatu, less than 1,500 miles from Australia's north-eastern coast.
Vanuatu has dismissed the reports that discussions were underway with China to establish a military base, but the move would come as no surprise given the relationship between the two nations. The Chinese government has previously provided a $54 million concessional loan for a Chinese company to build a 360-metre wharf at Luganville and Chinese state-owned enterprise, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, has signed a contract with Vanuatu to expand Bauerfield International Airport, the main aviation gateway to Vanuatu.
The report from Green and Shearer suggested, along with having nuclear submarines and supporting infrastructure based in Western Australia, members of the 'Quad security' - the US, Australia, Japan and India - offer "expanded support for civil society-building, transparency, and accountability" in littoral states participating in China's Maritime Silk Road development strategy to ensure greater attention to anti-corruption, labour and the environment.
"Members of the Quad should develop a more attractive alternative to the Maritime Silk Road through the Asia Development Bank, the Japan Bank for International Co-operation, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and other institutions committed to quality infrastructure projects that have better economic impact and lower life-cycle costs," the report said.
Green and Shearer also argued Australia, the US and Japan should work with India to "build a greater maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean", including by building up and networking the capacity of littoral countries.
A joint taskforce dedicated to anti-piracy and other operations was also floated in the report.
"Members of the Quad should establish a combined joint taskforce for low-intensity operations such as counter-piracy and humanitarian and disaster relief for the Indo-Pacific that would be inclusive of all regional navies and would establish clearer norms and communication with the People’s Liberation Army-Navy and Chinese Coast Guard."