21:09 GMT16 May 2021
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    The governments of China and Vanuatu have rejected as “fake news” an anonymously sourced Australian news report suggesting that the People’s Liberation Army was in talks with the tiny island nation to construct a military base.

    The foreign minister of Vanuatu, a South Pacific Ocean country comprising 80 islands west of Fiji and north of New Caledonia, denied the reports, saying "we are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarization; we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country."

    For its part, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said the report about discussing a new base in Vanuatu "completely did not align with the facts," while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman dismissed the report as "fake news."

    Canberra would show "great concern" about any military facility going up so close to its borders, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Tuesday. (Though occupying the same enormous neighborhood, the shores of Vanuatu and Australia are still roughly 1,000 miles away from each other even at their closest points.)

    The High Commissioner of Vanuatu informed Turnbull that Beijing had not made any requests to put a base in the country, CNN reported.

    Beijing contributed $243 million in aid to Vanuatu between 2006 and 2016, according to the Lowy Institute for International Policy, second only to Australia, which committed $400 million over the same period.

    "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 wrote on Tuesday. Metcalf is the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University.

    Speaking to Australian media, Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop said "it is a fact that China is engaging in infrastructure investment activities around the world" but that he remains "confident" that Canberra will continue to be "Vanuatu's strategic partner of choice."


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