South Pacific Nation Vanuatu Rejects Reports Of Hosting Chinese Military Base

Central Port Vila Vanuatu

China's reported choice of Vanuatu to establish a military base is so odd, it alone should spark concern in Australia, an worldwide security expert says. The Sydney Morning Herald said China had approached the Pacific nation about the possibility.

China may be seeking a base to train the armies of Pacific nations. 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.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Vanuatu with Prince Charles on Saturday in a diplomatic tour that Fairfax Media has been told was aimed at demonstrating the merits of the Commonwealth's commitment to a free and open system of worldwide rules.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that she was also unaware of Chinese military plans on Vanuatu, which is just over 1,000 miles east of Australia.

Officials from Vanuatu disputed the claim, insisting their country will remain non-aligned. "That's impossible", said Chen Ke, a spokesman for the ambassador to Vanuatu.

"We have very good relations with Vanuatu and I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice", she said.

Vanuatu has angrily denied it is in talks with Beijing about a Chinese military base being built in the Pacific country.

Chinese forces in the South Pacific could monitor US missile tests and Australian radars and gain diplomatic influence at the United Nations, he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that was crucial for maintaining peace in the region.

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That has stoked fears that Australia's long-time influence in the region is being eroded.

Ms Bishop said more infrastructure spending was needed in the Pacific but the key question was how it was invested and the terms of that investment.

She also warned that unlike loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Chinese financing had less than favourable terms.

"We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbors of ours".

"It would not be odd, therefore, to see such a station in Vanuatu, or other neighbouring South Pacific island states for that matter, operating in conjunction with the research and space tracking ships that frequent the region", he said.

As the reports of a possible Chinese military base in Vanuatu spread in worldwide media, experts also weighed in on the impact of such a base.

Six other Pacific countries recognise self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.

"A base less than 2000 kilometers from the Australian coast would allow China to project military power into the Pacific Ocean and upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region, potentially increasing the risk of confrontation between China and the United States".

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