Beijing could be planning to set up a space tracking station in Vanuatu, Chinese military experts said on Tuesday.
China’s mystery ‘military base’ in Vanuatu may actually be a space center
This comes amid denials from both sides that a permanent military base in the South Pacific island state is in the offing.
A report by Sydney-based Fairfax Media had cited an unnamed source as saying that preliminary discussions had been held about building a military base in the island nation.
The reports were quickly denied by Beijing and Vanuatu, but analysts said it was possible that China was building a facility to track spacecraft, adding that the facility had the potential to be used for intelligence gathering and other military purposes.
Vanuatu is an island nation in the South Pacific, located less than 1,240 miles from the east coast of Australia.
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said Vanuatu would not be suitable for a military base, but China was planning to test more rockets – many of which come down in the sparsely populated South Pacific – and would need a monitoring and control station in the region.
“The speculation is understandable because whatever projects China sets up overseas now, people will imagine it is going to be a military base, especially since space projects are carried out by the Chinese military,” Zhou said.
Beijing is working on a new generation of rockets designed to take its astronauts to the moon and beyond.
The country’s Long March 9 rockets are expected to start testing in the next decade in preparation for a possible lunar mission in the 2030s.
On Tuesday the Chinese foreign ministry insisted that the report by Fairfax Media was “completely out of line with the facts.”
Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu also insisted that no one in the country “has ever talked about a Chinese military base.”
“We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarization, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” he said.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said that a space tracking center facility in Vanuatu would have the potential to be turned into a military “intelligence platform,” especially due to its vicinity to Australia and New Zealand – both close allies of the United States.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop Australia said on Tuesday she remained “confident that Australia is Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice.”
But China has been providing funding for the nation of 270,000 people to build new civic buildings, a wharf and airport upgrades.
Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said that any future naval or airbase in Vanuatu would “give China a foothold for operations to coerce Australia, outflank the US and its base on US territory at Guam, and collect intelligence in a regional security crisis”.
Highlighting Beijing’s long-term maritime ambitions in the Asia-Pacific, a Beijing-based military expert, who requested anonymity, said the establishment of a dual-use station in Vanuatu would help China to counter the quadrilateral alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India.
Additional reporting by Reuters