Hundreds Of Millions In Debt, This Nation May Now Have To Grant China A Military Base

Hundreds Of Millions In Debt, This Nation May Now Have To Grant China A Military Base

NEW DELHI:  First a massive loan, then a debt that cannot be repaid, and finally a military base after taking over land, buildings and ports. China's notorious method of expansion is a well-known fact, and yet nation after nation line up to take massive Chinese loans in hope of a fast economic rise. The latest nation to experience this is Vanuatu. With hundreds of millions of dollars in loan money given to the island nation, China is moving fast to acquire a military base in return in the South Pacific.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, China is working swiftly to set up a permanent military base in the South Pacific, a move that experts say will have major and long term ramifications.

A report published by Fairfax Media states that the governments of China and Vanuatu have already had preliminary discussions on this issue, though a formal proposal is yet to be made. Security officials say these initial discussions could eventually lead to China setting up a massive military base in Vanuatu.

Just yesterday Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking at the Boao Forum for Asia, said in his speech that "China has no geopolitical calculations" while funding infrastructure projects across the world, but China's actions on the ground show otherwise and suggest doublespeak.

"China has no geopolitical calculations, seeks no exclusionary blocs and imposes no business deals on others," he said in an apparent reference to apprehensions that China is investing billions of dollars in port, road and rail connectivity projects across Asia, Africa and Europe aimed at furthering Beijing's influence.

According to news agency ANI, China eyeing Vanuatu as a possible location for a military base is being discussed and assessed by the concerned governments of Australia, the United States and New Zealand - all of whom are wary of China's intentions in the South Pacific.

The Sydney Morning Herald report states, "A base less than 2,000 kilometres from the Australian coast would allow China to project military power into the Pacific Ocean and upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region, potentially increasing the risk of confrontation between China and the United States."

A major military base in Vanuatu, which would likely be followed by bases elsewhere in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, would allow China's People's Liberation Army to challenge America's dominance of the Pacific while attempting to curb India in the Indian Ocean.

Australia has been a major US ally and the its support to the US Navy in the South Pacific has been seen as a cornerstone of Australia's security.

While China is already setting up multiple military bases in the Indian Ocean, the Sydney Morning Herald said the military base in Vanuatu "would be the first overseas base China has established in the Pacific Ocean."

Beijing has been deepening its influence with Pacific island governments by giving massive loans for building infrastructure in the island nations. Vanuatu, in particular, has reportedly been given hundreds of millions of dollars in development money. China reportedly accounts for nearly half of its $440 million foreign debt. In fact, just last week, Beijing committed to building a new official residence for Prime Minister Charlot Salwai as well as other government buildings.

According to news agency ANI, multiple sources have been quoted as saying that "China's military ambition in Vanuatu will likely be realized incrementally, possibly beginning with an access agreement that would allow Chinese naval ships to dock routinely and be serviced, refueled and restocked. This arrangement could then be built on."

One of the most substantial projects funded by Chinese money is a major new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo. The wharf is close to an international airport that China is helping Vanuatu upgrade.

A Fairfax Media report states that China's People's Liberation Army would like to move quickly to establish a major base on Vanuatu.

China has already projected its military strength into the sea by building military capacity on a number of reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea, prompting condemnation from the international community, including Australia. China has even lost the court battle in the UN Court or International Court of Justice, but refuses to adhere to its ruling, instead issues repeated threats to neighbouring countries.

Vanuatu is one of the few countries that has steadfastly supported Beijing's controversial island-building program.

Charles Edel, a former adviser to former US Secretary of State John Kerry, was quoted, as saying, "If it turns out there are one or more Chinese bases...what it has the ability to do is challenge, and make much more challenging, American access into the region."

Mr Edel believes that Beijing's growing presence in the South Pacific will change Australia's external security environment in a way not seen "probably since the 1940s".

Zack Cooper, a former White House and Pentagon official now at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said he had expected China to establish military bases in the Pacific and predicted more to follow.

Mr Cooper said with the US focused on central Asia, Washington would expect Australia to stop the South Pacific from sliding too deeply into Beijing's hands. Cautioning Australia against China's motives, Mr Cooper had said, "I think it is important that Australia appreciate that China is far away but Chinese activity is definitely affecting Australia in a much more proximate way."

According to the report, Vanuatu's High Commissioner to Australia, Kalfau Kaloris said he was "not aware of any such proposal".

A Chinese embassy spokeswoman in Canberra refused to comment on the issue.

In the Indian Ocean region, China is attempting to circle India by getting access to ports in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan, in addition to bases off the African coast.