Australian media report China proposes military base in South Pacific

The Australian national flag flies next to the Chinese national flag in front of the giant portrait of former Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing

Chen Ke, a spokesman for the ambassador to Vanuatu, also explained that China's presence in the Pacific was purely for humanitarian purposes and also spoke about a planned disaster response exercise between New Zealand, Vanuatu and China.

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.

One of the most substantial projects funded by Chinese money is a major new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo.

"No one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort", Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said to ABC.

"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 militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country", Regenvanu told the ABC broadcaster.

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

Australia will give Vanuatu A$69.8 million ($54 million) in aid in 2017-18, and provides the nation "with the majority of its tourists, foreign direct investment and aid", according to the Australian government.

Peters said there was little tangible evidence to back up the report, and he noted that Vanuatu officials had denied any knowledge of the potential deal in Australian news reports.

Australia's Lowy Institute estimates China provided US$1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations between 2006-16.

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Located off the coast of Australia, Vanuatu is strategically placed for a possible military base especially for China as it flanks Japan and the USA, however, the Foreign Minister of Vanuatu emphasised that it is not interested in any sort of military base.

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

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said if China was trying to establish a military presence on Vanuatu it could be a "game changer" for Australia.

While, New Zealand's PM Jacinda Ardern said: "New Zealand is opposed to the militarisation of the Pacific".

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop today said Vanuatu officials said there had been no formal offer from Beijing, but did not address whether there had been any unofficial talks.

But he said it was important the Pacific be maintained as a peaceful region.

Comparisons have been made in Canberra and Washington to methods China has used in the Indian Ocean, where it has recently established its first military base in the African nation of Djibouti and is reportedly considering military facilities in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Bateman said Chinese involvement in the South Pacific could upend the status quo, where Australia and New Zealand take a lead role in the Pacific Islands Forum.

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