Vanuatu denies Chinese approach to set up military base

Marsha Scott
April 10, 2018

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said if the report was correct the base would be a "potential game changer for the region and for Australia", with security and economic implications.

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

The statement came after a report suggested that Beijing was pushing the proposal, sparking concern in Australia and New Zealand. That would build up to a permanent arrangement, the SMH reports.

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

The wharf is close to an worldwide airport that China is helping Vanuatu upgrade.

Mr Turnbull said he had been advised there had been no request from China for Vanuatu to host a base.

Vanuatu's high commissioner in Canberra, Kalfau Kaloris, said his country's Foreign Ministry was "not aware of any such proposal".

A Chinese embassy spokesman said the idea was "ridiculous".

China has already projected its military strength into the sea by building military capacity on a number of reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea, prompting condemnation from the global community, including Australia.

Meanwhile, China too had denied the reports and said it was "impossible" to build a base in Vanuatu.

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The Djibouti base features a port, helicopter base, hangars and accommodation for up to 10,000 troops.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was also unaware of any Chinese military plans in Vanuatu.

"Ultimately these are discussions between two sovereign nations, but I'm very openly expressing now, and will do so to others privately and publicly, that we take a strong position in the Pacific against militarisation".

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said while China had a thirst for long-term bases and reliable ports, the Indian Ocean was a greater priority.

"Chinese presence in Vanuatu, while today about fishing access and commercial trade, tomorrow could represent a threat to Australia's northern approaches".

During the spat, Australia's International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the Pacific was "full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains".

China is known to be seeking closer ties with Pacific island nations through development loans and infrastructure funds.

"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.

Dr Zack Cooper, a former White House and Pentagon official now at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said he had expected China to establish bases in the Pacific and predicted more to follow.

The ability for China to dock warships and refuel on what would be their first Pacific base has rung alarm bells among Australian security chiefs, as well as USA officials, who are said to be monitoring the situation, Fairfax reports.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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