Concerns as China in talks with Vanuatu about South Pacific military base

Luganville

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. That would build up to a permanent arrangement, the SMH reports.

China has already financed a new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, as well as an upgrade to the worldwide airport in the capital of Port Vila, fuelling speculation the superpower is laying the foundations for further influence in the region. 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 objective is to host cruise ships, it had the potential to service naval vessels as well.

Another factor in evaluating the relationship between Vanuatu and China is that Vanuatu is one of the very few countries to support China's aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"It would be very surprising if it were a dedicated military base [only], but it's certainly a signal of China's position, because Vanuatu is a very, very long way from anywhere, but also from China's areas of operations and influence". "The government of Vanuatu has said there is no such [Chinese military] proposal". A Chinese embassy spokesman even called the idea "ridiculous".

China has already projected its military strength into the sea by building military capacity on a number of reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea, prompting condemnation from the global community, including Australia. Its only current overseas base is in Djibouti.

This information was commented by the foreign Minister of Australia Julie Bishop.

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said Vanuatu would not be suitable for a military base, but China was planning to test more rockets - many of which come down in the sparsely populated South Pacific - and would need a monitoring and control station in the region.

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

Dr Edel, who is now at the US Studies Centre, said this would change Australia's external security environment in a way not seen "probably since the 1940s".

He insisted China has ships in the Pacific Islands for purely humanitarian reasons, pointing to upcoming disaster response drills with New Zealand and Vanuatu.

"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 told reporters in Brisbane.

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

"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".

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