Vanuatu security pact with Australia is ‘non-exclusive’
12:00AM FEBRUARY 18, 20193 COMMENTS
Australia will sign a new security pact with Vanuatu but has been unable to secure an exclusive agreement with the influential Pacific nation, which says it won’t jeopardise its relationships with other nations, including France and China.
Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu discussed the agreement with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, in Canberra last week, saying his nation was keen to pursue the deal, which was “developing fast”.
However, Mr Regenvanu said Vanuatu valued its independence and its relationships with other partners, including China and France, so would not allow the deal to be exclusive.
“We are happy to enter into a security agreement with Australia,” he told The Australian. “We made it clear it won’t be an exclusive agreement, and we can enter into similar security agreements with other partners as we choose.”
He said Vanuatu had a longstanding security partnership with France, its former colonial power, while China had been a significant supplier of equipment and uniforms for Vanuatu’s police mobile force.
“We have these existing relationships and we would not want to cut them off by having to just rely on Australia. We would like all our partners to contribute in some way to our needs in this area.”
Last week’s talks follow a recent trip to Vanuatu by Scott Morrison as part of Australia’s Pacific “step-up”, which aims to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
The “umbrella” deal would cover current security co-operation — including police training, fisheries surveillance and the provision of a new Guardian-class patrol boat — as well as formalising arrangements for future co-operation.
Senator Payne said Australia was advancing a bilateral security arrangement with Vanuatu “to deepen our security relationship … We are in early discussions on this arrangement and will continue to work in partnership with Vanuatu on its development.”
She said Australia had non-exclusive bilateral security agreements with other nations.
Vanuatu’s strategic significance came under the spotlight last year amid reports — denied by the island nation — China was seeking to establish a defence presence there.
Mr Regenvanu said the security pact with Australia would be signed after Vanuatu finalised a new national security strategy under the nation’s soon-to-be appointed national security council.
Australia signed a Pacific-wide security agreement, known as the Boe Declaration, at last year’s Pacific Island Forum, which identified climate change as the region’s biggest security challenge.