The New Zealand Herald

Vanuatu denies talk of Chinese military base

Report published in Australia causes flurry but Pacific nation says it was incorrect

- Isaac Davisonpol­itics

Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister has denied it is in talks with China about a possible military base in the Pacific nation and said its Government is not interested in any militarisa­tion there.

Ralph Regenvanu told ABC’s Pacific Beat a Sydney Morning Herald report of preliminar­y discussion­s between the two nations was wrong.

“We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisa­tion, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country.”

The Sydney paper reported yesterday that China had approached Vanuatu about a permanent military base in the country, which is about 3000km from New Zealand.

It reported that while no formal proposal had been made, sources told it of preliminar­y discussion­s which had sparked concerns in Australia and the United States.

New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, said he would want to know what was happening before responding to the report.

But he has echoed his Prime Minister’s statement that New Zealand would be “seriously concerned” about any militarisa­tion of the South Pacific by a superpower.

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.

He may be in China next month, but said he wanted firmer informatio­n before deciding about any formal response. “We’d like to know what we’re dealing with before we start hypothesis­ing about how we’re going to react.”

Asked what the difference between a Chinese and US military base in the Pacific was, he said: “The difference would be China’s original stated purpose, which was for trade — that was what they wanted [the Belt and Road] for. It wasn’t for military things that they expressed and it’s not come out in any of the public statements in the past.”

Earlier yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the reports had not yet been confirmed, and she could not discuss the details of any official briefings.

“That will be between those two sovereign nations and I can’t comment on the validity of that.

“But we of course keep a watching eye on activity within the Pacific and New Zealand is opposed to the militarisa­tion of the Pacific generally.

“I’m very openly expressing now, and will do so to others privately and publicly, that we take a strong position in the Pacific against militarisa­tion,” she said.

Such concerns could be raised in bilateral meetings or in other ways.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges said the reports of a base still appeared to be “speculativ­e”.

He said foreign investment by

We are not interested in militarisa­tion [or] any sort of military base in our country. Ralph Regenvanu Vanuatu Foreign Minister

other countries in the Pacific was “not necessaril­y a wrong”.

But he added that it could raise sovereignt­y issues in Vanuatu and the local population would “need to think through” any proposal for a military base and “work out what they get out of it”.

“In terms of military [activity] and these sort of things you’d want to think it through pretty carefully.”

Peters spoke last month of how the Pacific had become an “increasing­ly contested strategic space”, causing “a degree of strategic anxiety”.

He said NZ needed to work with Australia, the European Union and the US to combine their resources “to maintain our relative influence”.

In 2016, when Russia was seen to be looking for a foothold in the Pacific in giving $19 million in weaponry to Fiji, then Prime Minister John Key said he was not bothered by the arms deal as long as it was lawful.

 ?? Picture / Dean Purcell ?? Taxi driver Baljeet Singh is facing a charge of sexually assaulting radio DJ Jay-Jay Feeney.
Picture / Dean Purcell Taxi driver Baljeet Singh is facing a charge of sexually assaulting radio DJ Jay-Jay Feeney.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand