Vanuatu and China deny holding military base talks

Vanuatu and China deny holding military base talks

Vanuatu and China deny holding military base talks

The islands of Vanuatu may appear as relative specks in the South Pacific Ocean, but for China's military strategists, they could provide a significant boost in Beijing's ability to project naval power.

Beijing last week announced it would pay for and build a new official house for the Vanuatu president, a new Finance Ministry building and an extension on the Foreign Ministry building at a reported total cost of about AUD$36 million (US$27 million).

Bateman said Chinese involvement in the South Pacific could upend the status quo, where Australia and New Zealand take a lead role in the Pacific Islands Forum.

"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.

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

"No one in the Vanuatu government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort", he told ABC radio.

If the reports were correct, New Zealand had a number of ways it could raise its concerns, including in bilateral discussions, she said.

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

McClay said the USA 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.

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While they help project power and influence during peace time, such facilities could also be vital in a conflict, they say.

Defence experts said a military base on Vanuatu, which would likely be followed by bases elsewhere, would allow the Chinese People's Liberation Army to challenge the US' post-war dominance of the Pacific, which is strongly supported by Australia and New Zealand.

"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.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who travelled to Vanuatu last weekend with Britain's Prince Charles, earlier said she was confident of Canberra's strong relationship with Port Vila.

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".

"It would allow them to have some forces positioned behind the United States base in Guam and would allow China to monitor and patrol the South Pacific Ocean".

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.

Chinese money has already helped finance a new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, alongside an upgrade to the global airport, it was reported.

"I think this is much more about China's long-term ambitions than some sort of short-term reaction to anything the USA has done", he said.

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