April 10, 2018

China's alleged (Late Coloniser) basing intentions in Vanuatu

Map courtesy Sydney Morning Herald
Latest News: Australia's DEFENCE CONNECT, April 11, 2018 reports in part: "Reports of China’s plans to establish a military base in Vanuatu have been met with stern criticism from Australia politicians, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelling it a "great concern”... Malcolm Turnbull issued a warning to China not to establish a military base in Vanuatu this week, arguing it would disrupt the "peace and stability" of the region..."


There appears to be an emerging pattern of Chinese loans to small island nations - loans too large for those nations to repay. Instead to money some nations might quietly cede port territory to Chinese companies. 

The light was shone on the Maldives in February 2018 and now Vanuatu. Fears that China will build military bases in island countries and larger countries (Pakistan and Myanmar) appear exaggerated - for now. 

Instead China assists with dual-use civilian-military port facities, large enough for a small Chinese flotilla (say two frigates and a supply ship) to visit, but no permanent basing - yet. Hence headlines or scares run ahead of reality.

China is prepared to wait, in a non-confrontational way, until its economic power can be focussed sufficiently on Vanuatu, to steadily build dual-use facilities can support extended visits. Other vulnerable island nations include East Timor, Solomon Islands and Fiji.


In the last 24 hours reports (see below) have been published about Vanuatu being in (not completely verified preliminary) talks with its main creditor, China, on possible future Chinese bases on Vanuatu. At worst, the positioning of a Chinese naval base in Vanuatu could isolate/blockade Australian east coast, New Zealand and France's New Caledonian shipping. An airport conversion that could support long range Chinese military aircraft might also be a worry.

Vanuatu (also see CIA Factbook entry) is a tiny South Pacific nation of islands, with just over 270,000 people. Formerly called the New Hebrides, Vanuatu gained independence from Britain and France in 1980. Vanuatu is a poor country, reliant on aid and loans (including from China). Vanuatu's main industries are low levels of agriculture, tourism, offshore financial services, and raising cattle.


Western governments are opposing alleged Chinese basing intentions with the argument "China is Militarising the Pacific"

This forgets the US's massive Pacific naval and air bases at Guam (Mariana Islands), Pearl Harbour (Hawaii) as well as bases at Japan / Okinawa and in South Korea. 

There are major Australian Pacific naval bases "Fleet Base East" Sydney Harbour and major New Zealand base at Devonport / Auckland.

On a more minor scale is France's stationing of two French Floreal class frigates in the South Pacific with one the Vendémiare at Noumea, New Caledonia (which is very near to Vanuatu), and the frigate Prairial based at Papeete, Tahiti.

China (only a possible coloniser since 1949 after occupation and civil war) is late to Pacific island base colonising. Other powers (eg. US and France) have secured Pacific island bases, originally by force, for over a century. China's lateness does not make its right/claims illegitimate.

It is difficult to determine what is true or false about China-Vanuatuan bilateral relations: Vanuatu's “Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said reports in Fairfax Media that the two countries were in preliminary discussions were false [BUT] Vanuatu is one of few countries that has backed China's position on the disputed South China Sea."

The fiendish thing is that China generally wins power and influence over island nations by legitimate means. Vanuatu probably won't become a Chinese base for some time. A growing (dual-use) Chinese commercial presence, increased Chinese flotilla visits, increased Chinese emigration and increased Chinese tourism may be precursors. There is little evidence that China uses the force used by previous colonial powers in New Hebrides days.


Main article by Fairfax news (Sydney Morning Herald) most cited: 

Background article by Fairfax news (Sydney Morning Herald)

Two shorter articles by Australia's government owned ABC News:



Anonymous said...

Oh, oh...

Another paradise falling to geopolitics. Prospects of turquoise water turning black.


Anonymous said...


The general method of China using loans and debt as a way to achieve colonization is new, but it doesn't seem especially morally superior to the previous methods: Colombo was given enough money that it couldn't pay such it had to provide a port; China loaned enough money to build an 'airport' there that has practically no use that will ultimately become an air base. The CPEC is more of the same with 99 year leases to the PRC. Now there is a fair comparison to CPEC and the Panama Canal,and at least CPEC is voluntary as far as the military government of Pakistan is concerned. I would argue the difference is that generally such practices are considered 19th century now adays, but perhaps that's being idealistic or re-writing history. But at the end of the day China is playing catch up in colonization, no doubt. It would be naive to depict it as anything less than a new form of economic colonization, much in the same way US post war entrance into many countries was technically not a political colonization but amounted to very much the same thing. I would argue in the US case, at least they ensured global freedom of navigation as part of their no-colonalism. But the question isn't one of guilt, the question is what serves one's strategic interests the most at the end of the day. One could argue the US was more aggressive, and one could argue that the Chinese government is far less accountable than any Western government. It remains to be seen which way the Pacific rim will jump: ironically, the Vietnamese, a country that the US dropped more high explosives on than Germany, is probably one of the most surest allies along with Japan. Both of them have a what is honestly a racial hatred of the Chinese and can be counted on to fight them regardless of economics if it came down to sovereignty.


Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN and Josh

Yes there seems to be a pattern of China extending loans too large for island countries to repay. Then the issue of the islands ceding ports and territory to China comes up.

As well as Sri Lanka take the Maldives, also in the Indian Ocean, for example. See Submarine Matters' February 23. 2018 article http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2018/02/chinese-navy-innocent-of-maldives.html .

Such pressure may fall on East Timor and Fiji next.



Anonymous said...

Sri Lanka is already expanding the port of Columbo so it is down right illogical to take billions dollars loans to build another megaport next to it. But then infrastructure projects and corruption (take 10% or 20%) always go hand in hand.

Anonymous said...

If a rich man borrows some money to a poor bankrupting man and requests his daughter or wife at the debt returning, it is slavery.

The foreign aid by China to poor counties is the same as above. China bollows a lot of money to the poor countries and requests expensive price at the debt returning.Good example is Venezuela. Venezuela must return the debt to China in oil and experiances terrible economic pain. International society should discourage China from such behabior and China should exempt the debt.

Anonymous said...

'Such pressure may fall on East Timor'

No. The new Timor Sea treaty binds Dili to Australia and virtually ensures ET will become a military ally and protectorate. The concessions given would've been nonsensical otherwise.

re Vanuatu. China got a foothold in Vila by funding the Melanesian Spearhead. West Papua and Kanaky are aspiring nations. This gives China enormous potential leverage. An independent Kanaky or West Papua would need to repay China for support during the struggle. Neither Indonesia nor Australia would tolerate a Chinese base in E.Timor, nor Chinese interference in West Papua via Vanuatu. The interests of Canberra and Jakarta may be converging in a manner that may yet see Jakarta's long standing neutrality up for review. The trend will be strengthened if Trump indeed proves serious about a second iteration of the TPP.