Vanuatu's Foreign Minister has denied the country is in talks with China about a possible military base in Vanuatu and said its Government was not interested in any militarisation of the country.
Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu told ABC's Pacific Beat a report of preliminary discussions between the two countries in the Sydney Morning Herald was incorrect.
"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."
The Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning that China had approached Vanuatu about a permanent military base in the country, about 3000km from New Zealand.
It reported that while no formal proposal had been made, sources told it of preliminary discussions which had sparked concerns in Australia and the United States.
New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he would want to know what was happening before responding to China's reported attempts to create a military base in the Pacific.
But he has echoed his Prime Minister's statement that New Zealand would be "seriously concerned" about any militarisation of the South Pacific by a superpower.
Peters said there was little tangible evidence to back up the report, and he noted that Vanuatu officials had denied any knowledge of the potential deal in Australian news reports.
He could be in China in May, but said he wanted firmer information before deciding about any formal response.
"We'd like to know what we're dealing with before we start hypothesising about how we're going to react."
Asked what the difference between a Chinese and US military base in the Pacific was, he said: "The difference would be China's original stated purpose, which was for trade – that was what they wanted [the Belt and Road] for.
"It wasn't for military things that they expressed and it's not come out in any of the public statements in the past."
Earlier today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the reports had not yet been confirmed, and she could not discuss the details of any official briefings.
"That will be between those two sovereign nations and I can't comment on the validity of that.
"But we of course keep a watching eye on activity within the Pacific and New Zealand is opposed to the militarisation of the Pacific generally.
"Ultimately these are discussions between two sovereign nations, but I'm very openly expressing now, and will do so to others privately and publicly, that we take a strong position in the Pacific against militarisation."
Such concerns could be raised in bilateral meetings or in other ways, she said.
Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges said the reports of a base still appeared to be "speculative".
He said foreign investment by other countries in the Pacific was "not necessarily a wrong".
But he added that it could raise sovereignty issues in Vanuatu and the local population would "need to think through" any proposal for a military base and "work out what they get out of it".
"In terms of military [activity] and these sort of things you'd want to think it through pretty carefully." Peters spoke in March about how the Pacific had become an "increasingly contested strategic space" and this was causing "a degree of strategic anxiety".
He said New Zealand needed to work with Australia, the EU, and the US to combine their resources "to maintain our relative influence".
In 2016, Russia was seen to be looking for a foothold in the Pacific when it gave $19m in weaponry to Fiji.
Former Prime Minister John Key said at the time that he was not bothered by the arms deal as long as it was lawful.