Should Australia be concerned about a rumoured Chinese military expansion in the Pacific? Or is it yet another distraction from the Government’s domestic problems? Political editor Dr Martin Hirst investigates.
First published on Independent Australia Wednesday 11 April
ON MONDAY this week. the Fairfax papers and websites ran an “exclusive” story with the alarming headline ‘China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications‘ — but is the story accurate? The lead par was an insistent and alarming allegation that China was planning a naval base in Vanuatu,
‘… that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep.’
However, in typical fashion – that we’ve come to expect from mainstream journalists covering the “security” round – the next two pars walked back the suggestion and sourced it to “senior security officials” in Canberra. In other words, the reporter, David Wroe, had been given a “drop” a background briefing by an Australian spook, because the Government wanted to float the idea and get a reaction.
‘While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu’s government, senior security officials believe Beijing’s plans could culminate in a full military base.’
The tell that this was a planted story is in the lack of detail and the vague sourcing:
‘The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.’
The Vanuatu Government was quick to issue denials and even labelled the Fairfax reports as “fake news”.
Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said rumours of discussions with China over a military base were false.
“We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” Mr Regenvanu told the ABC.
However, David Wroe’s story still had the effect desired by the Australian “security officials” who briefed him. Within hours, PM Turnbull was able to front the media to express Australia’s concern at the – still unproven – rumours.
“We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours,” Turnbull bloviated.
This is an interesting position and an even more puzzling definition of “foreign”. The United States operates more than 20 military bases across the Pacific – from Hawaii to Japan and many ports in between – so why isn’t this alarming to our Prime Minister?
And this is what is really ironic and cynical about Turnbull’s concern: there is – as yet – no Chinese military base in Vanuatu, yet the United States operates permanent military bases throughout the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan (21 bases), Guam and South Korea. Read the rest of this entry »