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China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications

Xi Jinping

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he would want to know what was happening before responding to China's reported attempts to create a military base in the Pacific.

The plan has also caught Australia's eye as a military base in Vanuatu would mean Chinese army deployed less than 2,000 kilometers away from the Australian coast.

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

Currently, China has only one military base in a foreign country, located in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, but has been increasing its presence in the Pacific, especially in the South China Sea.

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

"We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbors of ours", Turnbull told reporters. "We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country", he said.

The Sydney Morning Herald said China had approached the Pacific nation about the possibility.

Such a base would be China's first in the Pacific, and its second overseas base.

According to the Fairfax report, initial talks have already begun with Vanuatu, which could result in China establishing a major military presence and upsetting the delicate strategic balance in the region.

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

However, a senior official of the Vanuatu government said that such discussions have never taken place and China isn't planning to build a military base in the island nation.

Chinese activities in the Pacific have been increasingly viewed through a military lens since the United States "pivot" to the region in 2009.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Vanuatu with Prince Charles on Saturday in a diplomatic tour that it's understood was aimed at demonstrating the merits of the Commonwealth's commitment to a free and open system of worldwide rules. 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.

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges said the reports of a base still appeared to be "speculative".

Australia needed to work more closely with its Pacific neighbours and stop cutting the aid budget, she said.

Cooper said with the USA focused on north Asia, Washington would expect Australia to stop the South Pacific from sliding too deeply into Beijing's hands.

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".

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