In the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s Fairfax Media reports that China and Vanuatu are in preliminary discussions on a Chinese military base in the South Pacific. Like several other island nations, Vanuatu receives millions in loans from China and Beijing may now want a payback. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
On the north coast of the island of Espiritu Santo, a new wharf extends almost 400 yards. Built by a Chinese company. Paid for by a 54 million dollar Chinese loan. The ostensible purpose is to attract cruise ships, but Jonathan Pryke of Australia’s Lowy Institute said its size raised eyebrows from the outset.
“From the security side of things,” he told RNZ Pacific, “you look at it as being a potential military asset.”
China is also building a new official residence for Vanuatu’s president, a new finance ministry building, an extension on the Foreign ministry, a convention center, a sports stadium and a school.
In return, some experts say, China’s primary interest, is fish. But China often uses its fishing fleets as an extension of its military and Fairfax Media cites multiple sources saying that Beijing’s military ambitions would ramp up incrementally. Fairfax also reports that the prospect of a Chinese base in Vanuatu has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.
Espiritu Santo lies about 1,200 miles north east of Australia.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, says she is unaware of any formal offer, and Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister, says no such proposal exists. Last weekend, Foreign Minister Bishop visited Vanuatu alongside Prince Charles, a trip designed in part to reinforce Australia’s role as Vanuatu’s largest donor and long-time strategic partner.