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Vanuatu denies reports of China's proposal of permanent military base

Australia's Fairfax Media, citing unnamed sources, earlier on Tuesday reported that preliminary discussions to locate a full military base on Vanuatu had been held.


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  • China has also become increasingly active in the South Pacific, undertaking several infrastructure projects. (Image Credit: Wikimedia)

Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu on Tuesday denied a media report that China wanted to establish a permanent military presence on the Pacific island nation, easing fears of several regional countries concerned about Beijing's rising assertiveness.

Australia's Fairfax Media, citing unnamed sources, earlier on Tuesday reported that preliminary discussions to locate a full military base on Vanuatu had been held.

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

Regenvanu, however, rejected the report.

"No one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort," Regenvanu told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country." Fairfax reported that Chinese naval ships would dock to be serviced, refuelled and restocked at a Vanuatu port, with the agreement eventually leading to a full military base.

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.

Any future naval or air base in Vanuatu would "give China a foothold for operations to coerce Australia, outflank the U.S. and its base on U.S. territory at Guam, and collect intelligence in a regional security crisis," Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said in a report for the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney.

China opened its first overseas military base in August 2017 in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Beijing describes it as a logistics facility.

Djibouti's position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fuelled 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.

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 has stoked fears that Australia's long-time influence in the region is being eroded.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had earlier acknowledged heightened Chinese interest in the Pacific.

"It is a fact that China is engaging in infrastructure investment activities around the world," Bishop told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice," she said.

China has also faced criticisms over its activities in the disputed South China Sea, where it has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and airstrips.

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