CANBERRA - Australian soldiers could soon begin regular military rotations to Papua New Guinea as anxiety over China's growing influence in the Pacific region continues to rise.
The ABC has learned planning for short-term troop deployments to the former Australian territory is well advanced, similar to the current army training rotations at Malaysia's Butterworth Air Force base.
About 30 Australian army officers are already embedded with the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), but that number is down significantly on past decades.
A senior Defence department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Australia had "taken its eye off" PNG during the long Afghanistan war but was now "refocusing on its close neighbour".
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has stopped short of confirming troop rotations are imminent but has flagged a greater Australian military presence in PNG.
"The Australian Government is in frequent contact with the PNG Government regarding their development priorities," Mr Pyne said in a statement.
"Australia looks forward to continuing to work with the PNG Government on its ambitions as part of our ongoing commitment to security and stability in the Pacific," he said.
Last week the ABC revealed Australian Special Forces soldiers had been deployed to PNG to help secure the capital Port Moresby ahead of November's meeting of APEC world leaders.
On Thursday Prime Minister Scott Morrison also refused to deny a report in The Australian newspaper that his government was planning to help build a new joint naval base at PNG's Manus Island.