Is China eyeing a permanent military base in Vanuatu?

Dozens of children were killed in the chemical attack on the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta

A base less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian coast and 3000km from New Zealand would allow China to project military power into the Pacific Ocean and upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region.

"I would hope the upsurge in the paranoia about China in Australia is not used to destroy or denigrate the good relationship Vanuatu has with Australia", he said.

He said New Zealand needed to work with Australia, the European Union, and the U.S. to combine their resources "to maintain our relative influence".

"And also, frankly speaking, the sovereignty issues of having a foreign country, on their soil, doing that sort of thing", Bridges said.

National foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay said Vanuatu would have to consider any impact a Chinese military base could have on its sovereignty.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday said Vanuatu officials said there had been no formal offer from Beijing, but did not address whether there had been any unofficial talks.

"So I think that it really is of strategic importance for Australia to make it clear to the Pacific island nations that you remain in our backyard and we are committed to looking after your interests", he said.

If the reports were correct, New Zealand had a number of ways it could raise its concerns, including in bilateral discussions, she said. "We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country".

"We're not in a war situation or anything near it and yet we have a new aggressive hegemonic power in the region that wants to muscle in and we are in a hard situation because that would normally call on us having a much closer relationship with the United States but that's a nation that now going through the trauma of an erratic and risky president so we have to try and see beyond that and re-establish our links with democratic nations", Professor Hamilton said.

More news: Rift among Syria's Islam Army rebels delays evacuation from Damascus' Douma district

Defence experts said a military base on Vanuatu, which would likely be followed by bases elsewhere, would allow the Chinese People's Liberation Army to challenge the US' post-war dominance of the Pacific, which is strongly supported by Australia and New Zealand.

"The maintenance of peace and stability in the Pacific is of utmost importance to us", Mr Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.

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

In Vanuatu specifically, China has provided $243 million dollars in loans and grants from 2006 to June 2016, according to figures from Sydney's Lowy Institute, a figure that while large, lags behind Australia which provided $400 million during the same ten year period.

China opened its first overseas military base in August 2017 in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

Chinese money has already helped finance a new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, alongside an upgrade to the worldwide airport, it was reported.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the reports had not yet been confirmed, and she could not discuss the details of any official briefings.

"We'd like to know what we're dealing with before we start hypothesising about how we're going to react".

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