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Australia Affirms Vanuatu Ties Amid Report of Chinese Base

Australia Affirms Vanuatu Ties Amid Report of Chinese BaseAustralia Affirms Vanuatu Ties Amid Report of Chinese Base

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.

While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu about China building its first base in the Pacific there, the nations have held preliminary talks about the scenario, Australia’s Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday, citing senior military officials it did not identify. The report was later denied by Vanuatu’s foreign minister.

“We have very good relations with Vanuatu and I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice,” Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a radio interview Tuesday after being asked about the report, Bloomberg reported.

The prospect of a Chinese military outpost about 2,000 kilometers off Australia’s coast had been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington, Fairfax said. Beijing has been providing funding for the nation of about 270,000 people for new civic buildings, a wharf and airport upgrades, it said.

 Not Interested

China established its first overseas base outside the South China Sea last August in Africa’s Djibouti. Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said the report that his nation was in talks to create a Pacific facility was false.

“We are a non-aligned country,” Regenvanu said in a radio interview Tuesday. “We are not interested in militarization; we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country.”

A permanent Chinese military base in the Pacific could worsen Australia’s already strained relationship with its biggest trading partner, as well as angering major ally the US. China is at odds with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after he cited media reports of Beijing’s meddling in domestic political affairs as a catalyst for his anti-foreign interference laws, introduced in parliament last December.

Australia will give Vanuatu $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.

“We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries,” Turnbull told reporters on Tuesday.

 

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