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Christmas Island - Military Significance

Christmas IslandChristmas Island is located about 2600 kilometers north-west of Perth, is only 360 kilometers south of the main Indonesian island of Java and nearby Sumatra island which is rich in natural resources. The Australian Christmas Island, properly known as Christmas Island (Indian Ocean), should not be confused with Christmas Island (Paciifc Ocean), is properly now known as Kiribati, a former United Kingdom possession.

The shores of Christmas Island consist almost entirely of perpendicular cliffs, from 6 to 24m high. These cliffs have, here and there, been undermined by sea action to form caves, some of them vented at the top; it is not uncommon to see spray forced through these vents as high as 18 to 21m. A reef that does not uncover fringes Christmas Island completely. The reef is steep-to all around the island, except in Flying Fish Cove, the only harbor, and off Egeria Point, the SW extremity of the island. The bottom off the E shore of the island is of a volcanic nature.

Flying Fish Cove (1025'S., 10540'E.) (World Port Index No. 50910) lies at the E end of a bight formed on the N coast of Christmas Island between Northwest Point and Rocky Point, 8 miles ENE. The cove is an indentation at the E end of this bight; it is about 1 mile wide between Rocky Point and Smith Point to the SW. The principal part of the harbor lies between Smith Point and a position about 0.1 mile N of Isabel Beach, which is about 0.6 mile NE of Smith Point.

In the 1980s Indonesia believed Australia might develop military facilities on the Cocos and Christmas Islands in the Indian Ocean and said it wanted to be consulted about such plans. Both island groups are much closer to Indonesia than to Australia and their inhabitants are mostly of Asian descent. An offical commentary broadcast in English on Indonesia's State radio, RRI, said the Christmas and Cocos Islands could become "a formidable fortress at the entrance of the Sunda Strait and the South Java Sea". It was broadcast on 10 April 1984, four days after the Cocos islanders voted for integration with Australia.

The RRI commentary said "In the event of a conflict between the superpowers over control of the Indian Ocean, the Cocos islands are bound to play a decisive role. Together with the nearby Christmas Islands, they will become a formidable fortress at the entrance of the Sunda Straits and the South Java Sea." The RRI commentary said Indonesia had declared often that it had "no ill will against Australia and no territorial ambition"." On the contrary, Indonesia had the desire to cooperate with Australia for the benefit of both countries. The commentary said Indone-sia was "keenly interested . ... in maintaining peace and security in this area.... But one thing Australia has to remember is that as a member of ASEAN and the non-aligned movement, Indonesia is working for the realisation of a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality in South-East Asia, and for a nuclear-free zone on the Indian Ocean."

In March 1984 the 'National Times' published excerpts from a secret Australian defence document which said the Cocos and Christmas Islands could be targets of attack if Indonesia turned hostile. Referring to possible threats to Australia, the document published in the 'National Times', said that "in a campaign of harassment of Australia. . . (the) Christmas and the Cocos Islands could be favored targets". The document said: "Both islands are much closer to the (Indonesian) archipelago than to Australia and, while they continue undefended, it could seem feasible to an Indonesian Government,even with such limited military capabilities as at present, suddenly to seize either or both islands, should it see value in such a dramatic and challenging gesture." Once taken, and were the Indonesians able to achieve a logistic build-up, the islands could be difficult to retake and to attempt to do so could place important high-capability Australian military assets at risk in a situation that would favor Indonesia."

Dr Desmond Ball, a senior research fellow with the strategic and defence studies center at the Australian National University in Canberra said in his book 'A Suitable Piece of Real Estate' that the Australian Government operated a sophisticated submarine monitoring system from Christmas Island. The Defence Department has denied this, but Dr Ball said the sonar system could detect Soviet and other potentially hostile submarines going to and from the Indian Ocean via Indonesia's Deepwater Straits and might be linked to the communications station on Australia's North-West Cape that was used to keep in touch with US submarines.



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