Australia and New Zealand warn China against Vanuatu base

Australia and New Zealand warn China against Vanuatu base

Australia and New Zealand warn China against Vanuatu base

China's defence ministry said the Fairfax report "completely did not accord with the facts" while a foreign ministry spokesman said the report was "fake news".

The minister also expressed disappointment over the media coverage standards in Australia.

"I would hope the upsurge in the paranoia about China in Australia is not used to destroy or denigrate the good relationship Vanuatu has with Australia".

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

Vanuatu's foreign minister denied there had been any such discussion of a Chinese military base in the country.

"We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country", he said.

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.

Australia will give Vanuatu A$69.8 million ($54 million) in aid in 2017-18, and provides the nation "with the majority of its tourists, foreign direct investment and aid", according to the Australian government.

"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.

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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 will be between those two sovereign nations and I can't comment on the validity of that".

"We don't know what the consequences are when (Pacific nations) have to pay back some of these Chinese loans", she said.

"But what I can say is that we of course keep a watching eye on activity within the Pacific and that New Zealand is opposed to the militarisation of the Pacific generally", she said.

A military base in Vanuatu 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, some with ports and airstrips.

Such a Chinese presence would make the seas "more crowded" for the Royal Australian Navy, though professional forces could manage this safely and it would not stop Australian or United States forces operating where they needed to, he said.

China has also become increasingly active in the South Pacific, undertaking several infrastructure projects and providing aid and financing to small, developing island nations in the region.

"I'm aware that China is more engaged in the Pacific, Chinese vessels visited Vanuatu a year ago as part of a broader visit to the region, but these sorts of visits are normal for many neighbours around the world", Ms Bishop told RN Breakfast.

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said while China had a thirst for long-term bases and reliable ports, the Indian Ocean was a greater priority.

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