Published: Tue, April 10, 2018
World Media | By Shelia Harmon

Vanuatu rejects China military base report

Vanuatu rejects China military base report

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

This arrangement could then be built on, it added, with intelligence and security figures in Australia, New Zealand and the United States becoming increasingly anxious about China's growing influence.

"We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours", Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane. The report, citing unnamed sources, said no formal proposal had yet been made, but preliminary talks have been held about locating a full military base on Vanuatu.

China established its first overseas base outside the South China Sea last August in Africa's Djibouti.

"But we of course keep a watching eye on activity within the Pacific and New Zealand is opposed to the militarisation of the Pacific generally. We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country", Regenvanu told the ABC broadcaster.

Bishop said Australian engagement with South Pacific nations was "one of our highest foreign policy priorities" and that Australia had partnered with China on development projects in the region, for example an anti-malaria project in Papua New Guinea.

China's lack of bases was exposed in 2014 when China's navy stretched its supply lines and logistics to deploy 18 ships to search for a missing Malaysian airliner across the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

The head of the national security college at the Australian National University, Prof Rory Medcalf, said any foreign power establishing a foothold in the South Pacific would represent "a long-term failure of Australian policy".

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

Peters said there was little tangible evidence to back up the report, and he noted that Vanuatu officials had denied any knowledge of the potential deal in Australian news reports.

"We'd like to know what we're dealing with before we start hypothesising about how we're going to react". A Chinese embassy spokesman even called the idea "ridiculous".

Tonga has also been mentioned in government circles as a possible site for a Chinese base, though recent discussion has centred around the intense efforts China has been putting into Vanuatu.

Defence experts said a military base on Vanuatu, which would likely be followed by bases elsewhere, would allow the PLA to challenge the US' post-war dominance of the Pacific, which is strongly supported by Australia and has been seen as a cornerstone of Australia's security.

"I would hope the upsurge in the paranoia about China in Australia is not used to destroy or denigrate the good relationship Vanuatu has with Australia".

Bateman said Chinese involvement in the South Pacific could upend the status quo, where Australia and New Zealand take a lead role in the Pacific Islands Forum.

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