Saturday, 21 July, 2018

Is China eyeing a permanent military base in Vanuatu?

Jacinda Ardern says she can't comment on the validity of the reports of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu but New Is China eyeing a permanent military base in Vanuatu?
Andrew Cummings | 10 April, 2018, 19:57

It would have significant implications for Australia's defence capabilities and strategy if a military base were to be built, experts say, although they say the plans are likely to be incremental.

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.

Australia and the US have been closely watching China's moves and have conducted high-level talks over the possibility of a Chinese military outpost in such close proximity to Australia, the report said.

Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific islands expert with the Lowy Institute, said the Luganville wharf had "raised eyebrows in defence, intelligence and diplomatic circles" in Canberra because while its stated objective is to host cruise ships, it had the potential to service naval vessels as well.

"But it does point to the fact that the Chinese are keen to engage in that sort of maritime domain in what America regards as its own backyard", Dr Sussex said.

There are other signs, the report pointed out, that can be interpreted as China gaining prominence in the South Pacific, such as "Taiwanese trade offices closing in the region".

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

Bishop told the ABC she remained "confident that Australia is Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice".

McClay said the U.S. had military research bases in the Pacific, which had been there since World War II, but no-one would want to see more countries moving military bases, or weapons, into the Pacific.

A base less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian coast and 3000km from New Zealand would allow China to project

"There were a number of players doing certain things in the Pacific that are not good for the peace and security, long-term, of the Pacific, or for the growth of democracy itself", Peters said.

While China is already said to be in talks with Pakistan to acquire the latter's military base near the Chabahar port in Iran, it looks like Beijing also wants to spread its wings in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

"We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours", Mr Turnbull said.

"But I'm very openly expressing now, and would do either privately or publicly, that we take a strong position in the Pacific against militarization", she said.

National leader Simon Bridges said Vanuatu had to think through any proposals, and work out what they got out of it, before making a decision.

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.

Academic director at Australian National University's National Security College Matthew Sussex said that while it wasn't surprising that China would have an interest in Vanuatu, the threat shouldn't be overstated.

One of the most substantial projects funded by Chinese money is a major new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo.

The Lowy Institute said China had contributed more than $2.3 billion in aid to the Pacific since 2006.

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