Vanuatu signed a broad security agreement with Australia in December 2022 and said it hadn’t discussed a similar arrangement or any security issues with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The pact, signed in the Pacific Island Country’s (PIC) capital, Port Vila, covers an extensive range of areas for cooperation, from disaster relief to policing, defense and cybersecurity.
“As nations committed to democracy, accountability and transparency, the agreement will be publicly available,” the Australian government said in a statement.
The text of a PRC-Solomon Islands security pact, which alarmed Australia and the United States after it was signed in April 2022, has not been released by either government.
The PRC has been a significant infrastructure investor in Vanuatu, building roads, sports arenas and government buildings as part of its broader push for influence in the Pacific. Private Chinese investment in Vanuatu has also increased.
Analysts say Vanuatu is one of several PICs that Beijing might see as a candidate for allowing a Chinese military presence as the PRC seeks to counter the Australia-U.S. alliance in the region.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and other senior ministers visited the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Vanuatu in mid-December 2022.
Australia is the largest aid donor to Vanuatu.
At a joint news conference in Port Vila, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Jotham Napat said there had been no security talks with the PRC.
“We have not established any security agreement [with China]. We have not even discussed any matter in relation to security,” he said, according to a transcript released by the Australian government.
Other areas covered by the Australia-Vanuatu agreement include border, maritime, aviation and resource security. (Pictured: Australian Army and Vanuatu Mobile Force personnel plan a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activity during Exercise Vanuatu Alliance in Port Vila in November 2022.)
Chinese police have become a visible presence in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara since the security pact was signed, and the PRC has provided training and equipment such as water cannons and vehicles to the Pacific country’s police force.
Australian Soldiers and police also are stationed in Honiara at the request of the Solomon Islands government following anti-PRC and anti-government rioting in November 2021. Australia gifted high-powered rifles to the Solomon Islands police in November 2022, and Wong attended the handover in Vanuatu for a new police wharf and police boat, RVS Mataweli, also gifted by Australia.
She characterized the assistance as “part of Australia’s enduring cooperation on shared regional security interests.”
Napat said the visit took the bilateral relationship to “another level.”
He said the top security challenge for Vanuatu, which has a population of 300,000 spread across dozens of islands, is climate change and its consequences, such as rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones.
Napat also said Vanuatu hopes to tap into Australian infrastructure financing “in the not-too-distant future.” Benar News