Why Australia's National Rugby League could help curb China's Pacific influence

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Australia's National Rugby League could help stop China from gaining more influence in the South Pacific.

  • Australia's government has reportedly offered up to $25 million a year to set up a franchise in Papua New Guinea.

  • Joe Biden "was all ears" when told about the proposal, the NRL's commissioner said.

The US appears to be courting an unlikely ally to help stop China from building its political and economic influence in the Pacific: Australia's National Rugby League.

Administrators of the competition, made up of 17 teams mainly based in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, have repeatedly signaled a plan to expand into Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Financial Review reported that the White House will support those plans, which policymakers believe could help counter China's efforts to assert itself in the South Pacific.

"The United States and Australia share a unique bond of friendship, this includes our shared passion for sports," an unnamed senior Biden administration official told the newspaper.

"We both understand the important ways that sports can bring people of different cultures together and deepen trust between nations."

NRL commissioner Peter V'landys met Biden in Washington, DC, in October and said Biden "was all ears" when told about the league's plan to set up a new franchise in Papua New Guinea by 2027.

Australia's government has offered to spend up to $25 million a year to bring a team to its neighbor in a bid to curb China's geopolitical influence, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Papua New Guinea won independence from Australia in 1975.

The South Pacific has emerged as a key battleground between Beijing and Washington in recent years.

In 2022, China inked a security pact with the Solomon Islands, sparking fears that it could start building a military base in the region, while US Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Fiji and pledged to build new embassies in Tonga and Kiribati.

Rugby league is one of the sport's two main codes. It's popular in Australia, New Zealand, northern England, France, and across the Pacific Islands and has slightly different rules to rugby union.

The AFR's report comes the weekend that the NRL kicked off its 2024 season with a double-header at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

The Sydney Roosters beat the Brisbane Broncos 20-10 in one of the curtain-raisers, but the match was marred by allegations that Roosters forward Spencer Leniu had used a racial slur against Broncos star Ezra Mam.

Read the original article on Business Insider