China plans to build military base in Vanuatu

Posted April 10, 2018

Australia has warned Vanuatu against any moves to allow a greater Chinese military presence in the Pacific nation. China's defence ministry said the Fairfax report "completely did not accord with the facts" while a foreign ministry spokesman said the report was "fake news".

"I'm not very happy about the standard of reporting in the Australia media", Regenvanu added.

Asked what the difference between a Chinese and United States military base in the Pacific was, he said: "The difference would be China's original stated objective, which was for trade - that was what they wanted [the Belt and Road] for".

Beijing has been providing funding for the nation of about 270,000 people for new civic buildings, a wharf and airport upgrades, it said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Djibouti's President Ismail Omar struck a deal to establish China's first overseas naval base in Africa.

"No-one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort", he told the ABC's Pacific Beat program.

According to him, Vanuatu is a non-aligned country and is not interested in militarisation or hosting any sort of military base. "We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country".

"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 said.

Such a plan would mark an expansion of China's military aspirations beyond its controversial activities in Asia, particularly the South China Sea, where it has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and airstrips.

"I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice".

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

The facility, which would be China's second overseas base, would not only signal a new stage in Beijing's growing military ambition, but also alter the delicate balance of power in the South Pacific.

China has also become increasingly active in the South Pacific, undertaking infrastructure projects and providing aid and funding to small, developing island nations.

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

"But what I can say is that we of course keep a watching eye on activity within the Pacific and that New Zealand is opposed to the militarisation of the Pacific generally".

Fairfax, citing unnamed sources, said no formal proposal had yet been made but the prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia had been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.

"If it turns out there are one or more Chinese bases. what it has the ability to do is challenge, and make much more challenging, American access into the region", said Dr Charles Edel, a former adviser to former USA secretary of state John Kerry.