China, Vanuatu reject Australian report on ‘military base’

A Vanuatu Mobile Force honor guard stands in front of a People’s Liberation Army of China navy frigate on a four-day friendly visit to Vanuatu. (File photo)
Officials in China and the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu have denied Australian media reports that Beijing has approached the island country with an idea to establish a permanent military base there.
Australia’s Fairfax Media had cited unnamed sources on Tuesday that preliminary talks had been held on a site for a full military base on Vanuatu but no formal proposal had yet been submitted for the alleged deal.
The media outlet claimed that the prospect of a Chinese military installation so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington, adding that the move would likely fuel regional tensions.
Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu, however, rejected the report later on Tuesday, saying, “No one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort.”
“We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” he further told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
A Chinese Embassy spokesman in Vanuatu also rejected the Australian news report, describing the allegation as “ridiculous.”
“That’s impossible,” said Chen Ke, a spokesman for the Chinese ambassador to Vanuatu, as quoted in a report by UK-based daily The Guardian.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, however, did not totally reject the report, only stating on Tuesday that she had been assured by Vanuatu officials that there was no formal proposal for the military base from Beijing.
“The government of Vanuatu has said there is no such proposal, but it is a fact that China is engaging in infrastructure investment activities around the world,” Bishop told ABC radio. “I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also expressed concerns about the report despite its denial by China and Vanuatu, saying, “We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbors of ours.”
Vanuatu — nearly 2,000 kilometers east of northern Australia — was home to a key US Navy base during World War II, helping the American troops beat back the Japanese army as it advanced through the Pacific toward Australia.