December 14, 2022
SINGAPORE – Australia has signed a security pact with the neighbouring island nation of Vanuatu, its second defence agreement in the region in two months and a boost in Canberra’s rivalry with China for influence in the region.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced the signing during a visit to Vanuatu on Tuesday, saying it was proof Australia remained the “security partner of choice” for the Pacific country.
Ms Wong said in a statement the agreement would help the two countries cooperate across a wide range of areas, including disaster relief, law enforcement and defence.
Australia signed a defence agreement with Fiji in October to allow for greater mobility of military personnel and is in negotiation for a similar pact with Papua New Guinea.
Australia and the United States have been rushing to solidify their diplomatic ties in the Pacific after the Chinese government announced in April it had signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, a diplomatic first for Beijing in the region.
While no details of the Solomons agreement have been released officially, a draft leaked in March would have allowed for Chinese naval vessels to be harboured just 2,000km from Australia’s coastline.
There have previously been concerns in the Australian government that Vanuatu could also be moving closer to Beijing. In 2018, there were reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian media that the Chinese government was courting Vanuatu with the goal of establishing a military base in the country.
In a jab at the Chinese government’s pact with the Solomon Islands in April, Ms Wong said Australia’s agreement with Vanuatu would be released in full “as nations committed to democracy, accountability and transparency.” BLOOMBERG