Australia and New Zealand warn China against Vanuatu base

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China formally established its first worldwide military base in Djibouti in July previous year, in the strategically important Horn of Africa, this was followed several months later by the country's controversial acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.

President Xi Jinping is reportedly eyeing a base in the Pacific nation where Chinese naval ships would dock to be serviced, refuelled and restocked at a Vanuatu port, with the agreement eventually leading to a full military base. Chen Ke, a spokesman for the ambassador to Vanuatu, also explained that China's presence in the Pacific was purely for humanitarian purposes and also spoke about a planned disaster response exercise between New Zealand, Vanuatu and China.

During the speech to the Lowry Institute, Peters said New Zealand was undergoing a Pacific "reset" and asked Australia work alongside it in the region.

A Chinese embassy spokesman said the idea was "ridiculous".

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges said the reports of a base still appeared to be "speculative".

But today Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu rejected the report.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Vanuatu with Prince Charles on Saturday in a diplomatic tour that Fairfax Media has been told was aimed at demonstrating the merits of the Commonwealth's commitment to a free and open system of worldwide rules.

"We have very good relationships with Vanuatu and I remain confident Australia is Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice".

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.

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He also took aim at his hardline opponents on the domestic front, who have criticised his efforts to reach out to the West.

"I believe that this is why we have to step up as a country, and do a whole lot more in the Pacific, we should've been doing it for a long time.

We're not in a war situation or anything near it and yet we have a new aggressive hegemonic power in the region that wants to muscle in and we are in a hard situation because that would normally call on us having a much closer relationship with the United States but that's a nation that now going through the trauma of an erratic and risky president so we have to try and see beyond that and re-establish our links with democratic nations", Professor Hamilton said. "We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country", Regenvanu told the ABC broadcaster.

While China is already said to be in talks with Pakistan to acquire the latter's military base near the Chabahar port in Iran, it looks like Beijing also wants to spread its wings in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

"The maintenance of peace and stability in the Pacific is of utmost importance to us", he told reporters.

"What those countries are looking to us and other nations for is investment in economic infrastructure and social infrastructure".

Beijing has been providing funding for the nation of about 270,000 people for new civic buildings, a wharf and airport upgrades, it said.

China opened its first overseas military base in August 2017 in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

Vanuatu, about 2,000km (1,200 miles) northeast of Australia, was home to a US Navy base during the second world war that helped beat back the Japanese army as it advanced through the Pacific.