Monday, 18 February, 2019

China plans to build a military base in Vanuatu

T013235Z_912181023_RC1DCBC2C2A0_RTRMADP_3_SOUTHCHINASEA-CHINA-SPRATLYS China's plans for military base in Vanuatu opposed by NZ Govt
Deanna Wagner | 11 April, 2018, 04:50

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said if China was trying to establish a military presence on Vanuatu it could be a "game changer" for Australia. That would build up to a permanent arrangement, the SMH reports.

The claim has grown in relation to a recent Chinese-funded expansion of the wharf facility on Vanuatu's biggest island of Espiritu Santo being seen as a potential base. 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 goal is to host cruise ships, it had the potential to service naval vessels as well.

China has diplomatic relationships with eight Pacific island nations - the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

The ABC contacted the Chinese embassy in Vanuatu but it refused to comment on the military base reports.

A space tracking or satellite telemetry station would not exclude the possibility of building other facilities there although the project would require Vanuatu's agreement, Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said. US overreacting to what other States are building military bases on the territory of other States. Even 15 years ago who would have thought that China would have a Pearl Harbour-sized military operation in a place like the South China Sea?

China opened its first overseas military base in August 2017 in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

"If ever there was a conflict in the area, I would certainly not want to be living on a Chinese base in Vanuatu."

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The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is denying reports that it's talking with Beijing about building a Chinese military base on its territory.

"Chinese presence in Vanuatu, while today about fishing access and commercial trade, tomorrow could represent a threat to Australia's northern approaches", he added.

The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington, Fairfax said.

The denials won't quell concerns over the communist nation's efforts to grow its influence in the South Pacific.

"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".

While there is still much conjecture about China's exact thinking behind a military presence there, the choice of such a small, far-flung Pacific island makes it look decidedly "suspicious", according to the Lowy Institute's director of global security Euan Graham.

"I think it is important that Australia appreciate that China is far away but Chinese activity is definitely affecting Australia in a much more proximate way".