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Vanuatu's Foreign Minister says the country has no intention of making itself a target by allowing another country to build a military base in its territory.
Ralph Regenvanu's comment follows Australian media reports that China was looking to establish a military base in Vanuatu. The claim has grown in relation to a recent Chinese-funded expansion of the wharf facility on Vanuatu's biggest island of Espiritu Santo.
However, Regenvanu strongly denied that such a plan had been discussed between his government and Beijing. He questioned the timing of the Fairfax media report that sparked speculation on the matter this week, describing its intent as “seemingly malicious”.
According to the minister, Vanuatu had a long history of being opposed to militarisation and would not host a base and make itself a target for possible attack. He explained that with the pro-active role that the country's civil society plays in helping shape policy, a military base would not be tolerated by ni-Vanuatu.
“Any move towards trying to militarise Vanuatu would be very strongly opposed, and any government that tried to do it would probably be removed from office,” he said.
He said China was a valued partner whose friendship with Vanuatu was based on principles including respect of political independence and peaceful co-existence, and who had carved itself a niche as a partner that specifically provided infrastructure projects at no cost.
China was just the latest big external development partner in a region where many players have appeared over the years.
“I think this is a further chapter in the history of the Pacific. As Pacific islanders, we have seen these waves coming, and they keep coming. And in the future, maybe there'll be someone else. We just need to make sure that we in the Pacific can maintain our sovereignty and decide what we want for ourselves. That's really the point.”
In an interview with RNZ Pacific, Regenvanu said Vanuatu had learnt from the Australian media furore over China in the Pacific that it could be more proactive in getting its partners to talk to each other.
“We need to be more proactive in making sure that we get our partners to talk to each other, when in some instances they perhaps don't, which seems to be the case between Australia and China,” he explained.
“I know that Australia and New Zealand talk to each other a lot. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to extend to China. But I think it's our job as the Vanuatu government to make sure that we get all our partners talking together and co-operating together and making development in Vanuatu more effective as a result.”
The Foreign Minister reassured its development partners, of whom Australia remains the largest, that Vanuatu was satisfied with the current level of biletral relationships and didn't see it as being the country's interests to jeopardise these links.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media