Australia must step up if China starts military build up in Vanuatu

Australia must step up if China starts military build up in Vanuatu

A base less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian coast and 3000km from New Zealand would allow China to project military power into the Pacific Ocean and upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region. Australia must keep a close eye on what is developed in Vanuatu and consider if current military structures are suited to responding to the challenge, Dr Davis said. The report was later denied by Vanuatu's foreign minister, while China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang described it as "fake news".

The Herald, citing multiple sources, said Beijing's military ambition in Vanuatu would likely be realised incrementally, possibly beginning with an access agreement allowing Chinese naval ships to dock routinely for refuelling.

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

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was also unaware of any Chinese military plans in Vanuatu.

Bishop told the ABC she remained "confident that Australia is Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice".

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.

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

While China is already said to be in talks with Pakistan to acquire the latter's military base near the Chabahar port in Iran, it looks like Beijing also wants to spread its wings in the Pacific island nation of 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 said.

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The head of the national security college at the Australian National University, Prof Rory Medcalf, said any foreign power establishing a foothold in the South Pacific would represent "a long-term failure of Australian policy".

"What those countries are looking to us and other nations for is investment in economic infrastructure and social infrastructure".

Is Australia set to join Asean as China's assertiveness grows?

Chinese money has already helped finance a new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, alongside an upgrade to the worldwide airport.

"The more you invest in the Belt and Road initiative, the more the Chinese are in a position to force your country to align politically in terms of policy", Davis told CNN past year, referring to China's ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) global development strategy.

"If you put it on a scale of who's respected the most, we'd be right up there, we've gotta do more to maintain that respect, and build even greater respect in the Pacific".

Ms Bishop said while China was investing in infrastructure around the world, in had to date only established one military base - in Djibouti in northern Africa.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the reports had not yet been confirmed, and she could not discuss the details of any official briefings.

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