wnol.info July 19 2018

Vanuatu says no to China military base

July 19 2018, 05:09 | Irvin Gilbert

Vanuatu and China deny holding military base talks


"The government of Vanuatu has said there is no such [Chinese military] proposal".

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 USA and its allies.

New Zealand-based security scholar Marc Lanteigne said the Fairfax report, while unconfirmed, was "a wake up call" to Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

This arrangement could then be built on.

Beijing has been providing funding for the nation of about 270,000 people for new civic buildings, a wharf and airport upgrades, it said.

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

Fairfax reported there had been informal discussions between China and Vanuatu, but no formal offer, about a military buildup.

Ni, however, said he did not consider Vanuatu a natural choice for a military base given the great distance from China would make it hard to provide operational support in waters it did not control.

Vanuatu's high commissioner in Canberra, Kalfau Kaloris, was quoted as saying his country's foreign ministry was "not aware" of China's determination to build a permanent presence on the island. Bateman said reports of the military buildup could potentially be Chinese posturing ahead of that vote.

Such a plan would mark an expansion of China's military aspirations beyond its controversial activities in Asia, particularly the South China Sea, where it has been building artificial islands on reefs.

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Such a base would be China's first in the Pacific, and its second overseas base. Djibouti's position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worry in India that it would become another of China's "string of pearls" military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

The Djibouti base features a port, helicopter base, hangars and accommodation for up to 10,000 troops.

Chen Ke, a spokesman for the ambassador to Vanuatu, added: " That's impossible.

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

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

Vanuatu, around 2,000 km (1,200 miles) east of northern Australia, was home to a key U.S. Navy base during World War Two that helped beat back the Japanese army as it advanced through the Pacific towards Australia.

The Lowy Institute's Pacific islands expert, Jonathan Pryke, says the new Luganville wharf development had "raised eyebrows in defence, intelligence and diplomatic circles" in Australia.

"China has to right to seek bases as its expands its naval deployments, and it is has few options beyond smaller and poorer nations", he said. He said China's economic interest in the South Pacific was "really only fish".

China has set a pattern in the Indian Ocean whereby it builds infrastructure paid for by concessional Chinese loans which the local government can not repay.

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