Australia and New Zealand warn China against Vanuatu base

China and Vanuatu military base

China is reported to be engaging in discussions with Vanuatu about constructing a military base on the island nation, a move that has triggered concern of growing Chinese presence in the South Pacific region.

"No one in the Vanuatu government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort", Regenvanu told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

In Beijing, China's defense ministry said the claim "completely did not accord with the facts", while a foreign ministry spokesman described it as "fake news".

Currently, China has only one military base in a foreign country, located in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, but has been increasing its presence in the Pacific, especially in the South China Sea.

He said foreign investment by other countries in the Pacific was "not necessarily a wrong".

Australia's Lowy Institute estimates China provided US$1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations between 2006-16.

China has also faced criticism over its activities in the disputed South China Sea, where it has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and airstrips.

"The maintenance of peace and stability in the Pacific is of utmost importance to us", Mr Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.

It would be the first overseas base China has established in the Pacific, and only its second in the world.

China and Vanuatu military base
China may be seeking a base to train the armies of Pacific nations

Chinese money has already helped finance a new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, alongside an upgrade to the global airport.

It's understood there are senior figures within China's People's Liberation Army who would like to move quickly to establish a proper base on Vanuatu.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday said she had been assured by Vanuatu officials that there was no formal proposal from Beijing, but she stopped short of addressing whether there had been any unofficial talks.

Vanuatu's high commissioner in Canberra, Kalfau Kaloris, was quoted as saying his country's foreign ministry was "not aware" of China's determination to build a permanent presence on the island. Djibouti's position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worry in India that it would become another of China's "string of pearls" military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

She didn't have more say, as she had only seen media reports, she said.

"I think there's no question that Australia needs to redouble its efforts to persuade Vanuatu and other Pacific island nations that Australia is and should remain their preferred security partner and development partner".

Such a Chinese presence would make the seas "more crowded" for the Royal Australian Navy, though professional forces could manage this safely and it would not stop Australian or United States forces operating where they needed to, he said.

"China has to right to seek bases as its expands its naval deployments, and it is has few options beyond smaller and poorer nations", he said.




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