There has been much Pacific hand-wringing over suggestions China has been positioning to establish a military presence in Vanuatu.
Before anyone rushes off to finish the bunker hastily commenced when it seemed unpredictable Korean dictator Kim Jong-un might lob a nuclear missile in our general direction, a large dose of reality is needed.
There is no doubt China is set on increasing its military presence throughout the Western Pacific.
Certainly, by constructing artificial islands in disputed waters it has signalled its intention to position military assets beyond the Chinese mainland.
The Chinese PLA navy has also sought to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean and throughout Asia, the subcontinent and the Horn of Africa where its vessels have engaged in anti-piracy operations.
Most of the expansion, however, has occurred in its immediate waters where there have long between tensions between China, the US and Japan.
Observers have also reported on evidence of new Chinese military technologies to project its influence into the region.
However, why establish a military presence in Vanuatu, a proposition both China and Vanuatu have dismissed as “fake news”?
China has long pursued diplomatic and aid initiatives in the southwest Pacific, including East Timor, PNG and also Vanuatu among others.
They have constructed bureaucratic and sporting infrastructure as well as massive road building projects.
This may be positioning China to establish a greater presence in the region, but to what end?
It is hard not to argue Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping is determined to stamp his authority at home, in the Pacific, as well as the wider world.
Some argue he already has the power to do that economically but is it in China’s interests to expand its influence through military power and adventurism?
Vanuatu is 2178 kilometres from Townsville, slightly closer to Brisbane and 2976 kilometres from Wellington, New Zealand.
That should be of some concern to the Kiwis whose Pacific pacifism has always led them to punch below their weight in regional defence matters.
We should all be encouraged New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to oppose any military escalation in the region.
Vanuatu is just 630 kilometres from New Caledonia, still a proud French territory despite proposals to devolve more political control locally.
New Caledonia also allows metropolitan France to maintain a significant military presence in the Pacific.
There is no indication it intends to resile from that role.
However, Vanuatu is more than 7000 kilometres from the major PLA resources, which would be expected to provide the bulk of any logistic support.
All Chinese movement across that air-sea gap would be closely monitored by the extensive multinational resources which already routinely patrol it.
While some politicians have expressed concerns any move by China to increase its military influence here mirror Japan’s intentions in World War II to use Pacific territories as stepping stones to dominate the region, others are more pragmatic.
Liberal Senator, former major general Jim Molan has cautioned Australia against doing anything immediately dramatic in response.
The unfinished bunker really can wait.
This piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin, to which Ross Eastgate contributes a weekly defence column. He blogs at Targets Down.
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