Wed, Apr 11, 2018 - Page 1 News List

China, Vanuatu deny reports of a military base plan

FAKE NEWS?Vanuatu’s foreign minister denied the news, saying that as a non-aligned nation, it is not interested in hosting any sort of military base

AFP, BEIJING

Vanuatu and China yesterday said there were no plans for Beijing to open a military base in the Pacific nation after a report suggesting the Asian giant was pushing the proposal sparked concern in Australia and New Zealand.

The Sydney Morning Herald said that China had approached Vanuatu about the possibility, potentially upsetting the delicate strategic balance in the region.

China has been aggressively growing its military and expanding its footprint deeper into the Pacific, forging closer links by showering nations with development money.

Citing multiple sources, the Herald said that Beijing’s military ambition in Vanuatu would likely be realized incrementally, possibly beginning with an access agreement allowing Chinese naval ships to dock routinely for refueling.

This arrangement could then be built on, it added, with intelligence and security figures in Australia, New Zealand and the US becoming increasingly worried about China’s growing influence.

However, Vanuatuan Minister of Foreign Affairs Ralph Regenvanu angrily rebuffed the claim.

“No one in the Vanuatu government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

“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,” he said.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) also shot down the speculation at a regular press briefing in Beijing, calling it “fake news.”

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, who traveled to Vanuatu last weekend with Britain’s Prince Charles, earlier said she was confident of Canberra’s strong relationship with Port Vila.

“We have very good relations with Vanuatu and I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice,” she said.

While China has been investing in infrastructure around the world, to date it has only established one overseas military base — in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she could not comment on the validity of the Herald report.

“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 militarization of the Pacific generally,” she said.

Australia’s Lowy Institute estimates China provided US$1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations from 2006 to 2016.

Earlier this year, China lodged a formal diplomatic protest after a senior Australian minister called Chinese infrastructure projects in the region “white elephants.”

During the spat, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the Pacific was “full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains.”

Beijing responded that it “fully respects the will of the Pacific islands’ governments and their people” and that development aid “has brought real benefits to local people.”

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.

Six other Pacific nations recognize Taiwan.

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