No place for China base in Pacific: PM

The Australian national flag flies next to the Chinese national flag in front of the giant portrait of former Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing
China's plans for military base in Vanuatu opposed by NZ Govt
Author

10 April, 2018

However, Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu denied the reports this morning. "The government of Vanuatu has said there is no such [Chinese military] proposal".

Ms Bishop said while China was investing in infrastructure around the world, in had to date only established one military base - in Djibouti in northern Africa.

Both Western and Asian military attaches say a broad network of bases and friendly ports will be vital if China is to meet its ambitions of becoming a blue water navy, mirroring the kind of established reach long enjoyed by the US and its allies.

Fairfax reported that Chinese naval ships would dock to be serviced, refuelled and restocked at a Vanuatu port, with the agreement eventually leading to a full military base. Beijing describes it as a logistics facility.

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 New Zealand and USA officials, who are said to be monitoring the situation, Fairfax says.

A spokesman for Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment, telephone calls to the Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra were not answered, and the Chinese Embassy in Canberra did not comment.

This arrangement could then be built on.

The claim has grown in relation to a recent Chinese-funded expansion of the wharf facility on Vanuatu's biggest island of Espiritu Santo being seen as a potential base.

Vanuatu is one of few countries that has backed China's position on the disputed South China Sea.

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Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said if China was trying to establish a military presence on Vanuatu it could be a "game changer" for Australia. Bateman said reports of the military buildup could potentially be Chinese posturing ahead of that vote.

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.

China has diplomatic relationships with eight Pacific island nations - the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Its only current overseas base is in Djibouti.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop today said Vanuatu officials said there had been no formal offer from Beijing, but did not address whether there had been any unofficial talks.

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

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.

"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".

He said New Zealand needed to work with Australia, the European Union, and the U.S. to combine their resources "to maintain our relative influence".

Medcalf said China was increasingly seeking to exert influence in the South Pacific.


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