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Vanuatu foreign minister denies China military base claim

10 April 2018

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.

Vanuatu, a former British-French colony previously known as the New Hebrides, housed a large US military base during World War Two aimed at helping stem the advance of the Japanese army through the Pacific towards Australia, 2,000 km (1,200 miles) to the west.

When asked at his daily press briefing, China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the reports were "fake news".

Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific islands expert with the Lowy Institute, said the Luganville wharf had "raised eyebrows in defence, intelligence and diplomatic circles" in Canberra because while its stated goal is to host cruise ships, it had the potential to service naval vessels as well.

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.

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

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

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

If the reports were correct, New Zealand had a number of ways it could raise its concerns, including in bilateral discussions, she said.

Vanuatu's foreign minister has denied a media report that China wanted to establish a permanent military presence on the Pacific island nation, easing fears about Beijing's rising assertiveness.

"If it turns out there are one or more Chinese bases. what it has the ability to do is challenge, and make much more challenging, American access into the region", said Charles Edel, a former adviser to former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry.

"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 told reporters in Brisbane.

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"Our economy is stagnant, we're just blindly accepting the intervention of countries like China who come in with their generosity but we've got to know what's in store for them at the end of all of this", Mr Kalsakau told Pacific Beat.

Beijing has been providing funding for the nation of about 270,000 people for new civic buildings, a wharf and airport upgrades, it said.

Both Western and Asian military attaches say a broad network of bases and friendly ports will be vital if China is to meet its ambitions of becoming a blue water navy, mirroring the kind of established reach long enjoyed by the US and its allies.

The prime minister added that she could not comment on the validity of the report, and her remarks were in response to media reports.

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Vanuatu foreign minister denies China military base claim