Senior levels of Australia’s defense force are said to believe China wants to increase its military presence in the South Pacific via Vanuatu.
China “has certainly expressed its interest” in upping its military presence in Vanuatu, a senior defense official told 9News. It’s unknown how far along those talks are or the extent of China’s presence.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier received an assurance from Vanuatu’s prime minister, Charlot Salwai, that he wouldn’t allow the wharf to become a military base.
“The most troubling implication for Australian interests is that a future naval or air base in Vanuatu would give China a foothold for operations to coerce Australia, outflank the US and its base on US territory at Guam, and collect intelligence in a regional security crisis,” Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, wrote in a Lowy Institute report.
“The maintenance of peace and stability in the Pacific is of utmost importance to us,” Turnbull reently said. “We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbors of ours.”
But ties between China and Australia remain strained.
Last year, Turnbull proposed legislation to target and broaden the definition of foreign interference, after a wave of claims regarding China’s influence in political campaigns in Australia. The laws have been derided in China, and since then the two countries have been sparring over strained diplomatic relations.