April 19, 2018

Naval Bases in Indo-Pacific - Vanuatu, Kanaky, Melanesian Spearhead Group

In relation to headlines last week that Vanuatu has been discussing with China the issue of building (a, or some) Chinese bases on Vanuatu. Vanuatu and China on Tuesday 17 April 2018 denied the base intention rumours. On 19 April 2018 Vanuatu's Prime Minister assured Australia's Prime Minister that there were no basing intentions. The interesting map below has been made public.

See much larger image of map here. Map courtesy Australian Department of Defence and International Maritime Bureau a specialised division of the International Chamber Of Commerce.

The above map's key, on upper right corner, indicates:
Blue dots are US overseas bases (some US facilities in Singapore). These established, very large
    bases, underline how powerful the US presence has been since the 1940s.
-  Magenta dots are Chinese bases in China
-  Purple dots are Australian bases in Australia
-  Also note Magenta Circles are Chinese influenced dual-use ports (bases to be?) in Indian Ocean
   =  Gwadar (Pakistan)
   =  Hambantota (Sri Lanka)
   =  Chittagong (Bangladesh), and
   =  Sittwe (Myanmar)
   =  No mention of Maldives.
   =  there's a missing deep water port that China is building in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
   =  China will probably be building a future strategically important Kra (or Thai) Canal to bypass
        the already congested and Western dominated Straits of Malacca.

There is a missing deep water port that China is building in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Putting this in perspective, China will be building the Kra canal at some point in time to bypass the Straits of Malacca.

India's main bases (on Western Naval Command, Mumbai and Eastern Naval Command,  Visakhapatnam) are not identified.


Question - Might tiny Vanuatu ($114 million Chinese loan money wharf) and (for that matter East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji) be added not as a bases, but as further Magenta Circled Chinese influenced dual-use ports in years to come?

An interesting response to such a question comes from

On April 14, 2018 an Anonymous provided some interesting insights:

[Re Pete saying] "'Such pressure may fall on East Timor'

[Anonymous says] 
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 [1]. West Papua and Kanaky [2] 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." 

[1] The Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG) is an intergovernmental organization composed of four Melanesian states FijiPapua New Guinea (PNG)Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front of New Caledonia.

[2] "Kanaky" meaning a future independent Kanak nation replacing the French territory of New CaledoniaAn independence referendum will be held in New Caledonia on
 4 November 2018 at which voters will be given the choice of remaining joined to France or becoming an independent country. Do most oppose independent Kanaky?

And finally Chinese aid to Pacific islands and to East Timor above (cumulative figures 2006-2016). Australia is the largest donor to the region including Vanuatu, but China is rising as the "loaner" and donor that doesn't instruct how money should be used. (Map courtesy Lowy Institute via DEVPOLICYBLOG, April 11, 2018)

Pete Comment - There are so many issues with China's rise in the broader region that it is easy to forget the concerns of Pacific islands. 



Anonymous said...

There is a missing deep water port that China is building in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Putting this in perspective, China will be building the Kra canal at some point in time to bypass the Straits of Malacca.

Peter Coates said...

Thanks KQN

I'll add your comments to the "Naval Bases..." article text.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Chinese Navy challenged Australian warships in the South China Sea [1]. Though Abe administration is destabilizing due to consecutive political scandals, Japan will fully support Australia.

“Australian warships 'challenged' by Chinese navy in South China Sea”


Anonymous said...

Winds of change are coming to NE Asia it appear.

I may be wrong but there is a very good chance the Abe administration may not survive 2018, even summer 2018. That probably means modifying the Constitution will be history? If there is a new government, how will Japan's geo position evolve?

The situation on the Korean peninsula is also evolve. Unification may still be in a distant future but there could be a NK/ROK that are better aligned on many fronts? Folks from the North tend to be much more "independence" minded if history is any proof. How will Japan see that?

And then, if a peace accord is signed on the Korea peninsula, which is a good thing for all, how do you justify to younger South Koreans continuing US troops on a foreign sovereign soil? ROK, that is the only US footprint on the Asian continent proper.

China likely will sense an opening, and so does Russia in my view. I am not sure on how the US sees it and plan to manage these changes, besides chaos inside the betlway. History marches on and rarely waits for men.

Lee McCurtayne said...

Our position in the Pacific is tenuous and becoming more so with the reduction of aid to the region.
Every act of regional help has a price to all involved, to the point where ,just maybe we need to look at least 2 bases in the mid Pacific.
With the introduction of long range "Short Fins", it is inevitable we embrace pacific nations for trade and security.
Years ago I personally saw how island locals were treated by the influx of a particular Asian nation and it became very ugly. This scenario will be on the cards again if we don't demonstrate genuine health, education and micro economic loans to all in our backyard.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Lee

Re: "we need to look at least 2 bases in the mid Pacific."

It would likely take large naval bases, eg. of Guam scale https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Base_Guam to host Australian Shortfin submarines along with a submarine tender.

The scale France's bases at New Caledonia and Tahiti would be too small for longish term basing.

I think it more reasonable Australia continues to rely on (if it is) refills of diesel fuel, food and some crew changeover at US mid ocean bases (ie. Guam, Pearl Harbour, and likely Diego Garcia). The US has its own national interests to keep those US bases running - even Trump can't withdraw them.



Anonymous said...

We don't need to build our own new bases other than perhaps upgrade one in PNG. You forgot the existing US base in Eastern Samoa & of course existing NZ bases. While the 2 French bases are small, they do at least exist & France are still one of the 'great' powers (not to be taken lightly).