No plans for Chinese military base, says Vanuatu

No plans for Chinese military base, says Vanuatu

No plans for Chinese military base, says Vanuatu

China formally established its first worldwide military base in Djibouti in July past year, in the strategically important Horn of Africa, this was followed several months later by the country's controversial acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. The report was later denied by Vanuatu's foreign minister, while China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang described it as "fake news".

Australia has always been watching with caution as China deepens its influence on the Pacific Island, undertaking several infrastructure projects and providing aid and financing to small, developing island nations in the region.

The Fairfax Media report said the preliminary discussions involved an initial access agreement, under which Chinese naval ships would dock to be serviced, refuelled and restocked, and that would eventually lead to a full military base.

If China were to build a base in the South Pacific, it would be only the second after the recent establishment of a logistics facility in the global Indian Ocean port of Djibouti.

But today Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu rejected the report.

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.

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

If the plan materializes, it will also be a threat to the U.S. as it would shake-up the country's dominance in the Pacific.

New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said her country takes "a strong position in the Pacific against militarization". "We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country".

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He said foreign investment by other countries in the Pacific was "not necessarily a wrong".

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

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.

Smith noted that Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai had visited China twice since being elected in 2016 but had yet to visit Australia, "partly because of him not being given priority on the Australian side".

China opened its first overseas military base in August in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

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

Dr Cooper said with the United States focused on north Asia, Washington would expect Australia to stop the South Pacific from sliding too deeply into Beijing's hands.

Zack Cooper, a former White House and Pentagon official now at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said he had expected China to establish bases in the Pacific and predicted more to follow.

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