Australian media report China proposes military base in South Pacific

Australia has underlined its close ties with Vanuatu after a media report said Tuesday that the South Pacific island nation has been approached by China to host a military base.

Bishop said Australian engagement with South Pacific nations was "one of our highest foreign policy priorities" and that Australia had partnered with China on development projects in the region, for example an anti-malaria project in Papua New Guinea.

The ability for China to dock warships and refuel on what would be their first Pacific base has rung alarm bells among Australian security chiefs, as well as New Zealand and U.S. officials, who are said to be monitoring the situation, Fairfax says.

"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".

In Beijing, China's defense ministry said the claim "completely did not accord with the facts", while a foreign ministry spokesman described it as "fake news".

The report has also been refuted by Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, who said that the nation doesn't want the Pacific to see any kind of militarization.

"That will be between those two sovereign nations and I can't comment on the validity of that", she said.

While China has been investing in infrastructure around the world, to date it has only established one military base - in Djibouti in northern Africa.

Although the Prime Minister hasn't been formally briefed on the matter, on Tuesday morning she was quick to condemn a military presence 3000km from New Zealand.

"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 militarisation of the Pacific generally".

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

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

Vanuatu is located about 1,200 miles from Australia.

Such a Chinese presence would make the seas "more crowded" for the Royal Australian Navy, though professional forces could manage this safely and it would not stop Australian or USA forces operating where they needed to, he said.

Vanuatu has angrily denied it is in talks with Beijing about a Chinese military base being built in the Pacific country.

He said foreign investment by other countries in the Pacific was "not necessarily a wrong".

Medcalf said a Chinese military base on Vanuatu would pose significant problems for Australian interests.

Djibouti's position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fuelled concerns in India that it will become another of China's "string of pearls" military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.


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