Expanding influence: China approaches Vanuatu to create South Pacific military base
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Expanding influence: China approaches Vanuatu to create South Pacific military base

CHINA has approached small Pacific nation Vanuatu about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific, Australian media reports, raising new concerns about Beijing’s long-term strategic plans.

Fairfax Media reported Tuesday that preliminary talks have taken place between the two governments to discuss a military build-up on the island nation.

Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said she has been assured by Vanuatu officials that no formal proposal has been submitted by the Chinese but she stopped short of confirming or denying if talks had taken place.

SEE ALSO: China not happy with Australian foreign policy white paper

“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 Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

“I remain confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice,” she said.

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Construction of an airstrip is shown on Fiery Cross, in the Spratly Islands, the disputed South China Sea in this March 9, 2017 satellite image released by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to Reuters on March 27, 2017. Source: CSIS/AMTI DigitalGlobe/Handout via Reuters

According to the report, the prospect of China developing a military presence on Australia’s doorstep has been discussed at length in Canberra and Washington.

A base less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian coast threatens to upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region, placing China has a dominant force in the Pacific Ocean. This change in dynamic could potentially lead to conflict with the United States, according to Fairfax.

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Beijing has reportedly been handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in development money to the country of just 270,000 people and last week committed to building a new official residence for Prime Minister Charlot Salwai.

If an agreement was to be reached between China and the South Pacific Ocean nation, the base would be China’s second international military outpost; the first of which is in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

Such a plan would mark an expansion of China’s military aspirations beyond its controversial activities in Asia, particularly the South China Sea, where it has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and airstrips.

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