Australia and New Zealand warn China against Vanuatu base

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia and New Zealand warned China on Tuesday against building any military base in the South Pacific, following media reports that the Chinese have proposed a permanent stronghold in Vanuatu.

Fairfax Media reported that China had approached the former French colony about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific.

China and Vanuatu denied the reports. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Vanuatu also assured his government that "no such request has been made" by China.

"We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbors of ours," Turnbull told reporters.

New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said her country takes "a strong position in the Pacific against militarization."

Vanuatu government spokesman Hilaire Bule said there were no plans to host a Chinese base in his nation of 280,000 people, which has received large sums of infrastructure finance from China in recent years.

"There are no such discussions regarding a military base in Vanuatu," Bule said.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman dismissed the report as "fake news" and referred reporters to Vanuatu's denial.

China is Australia's biggest trading partner, while the United States is Australia's most important defense ally.

Australia has a growing U.S. Marine Corps presence in the northern city of Darwin as part of the U.S. military pivot toward Asia. Darwin is not defined as a U.S. military base because the troops are not permanently stationed there and leave during the southern summer months.

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Associated Press writer Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, and researcher Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.

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