Vanuatu’s prime minister said on Wednesday that a security pact signed with Australia last year had not been ratified by parliament due to concerns that it did not reflect the sovereignty of the Pacific nation.
Speaking to reporters in Port Vila, Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said the pact “does not compel Vanuatu to anything” and urged his government to work toward getting it ratified by parliament.
“We must remove the stigma that the agreement is one-sided and does not reflect Vanuatu’s sovereignty,” Kalsakau was quoted as saying by Vanuatu Daily Post.
“Thinking that some troops from Australia will enter the country without visas and access our sovereign data will not happen unless we agree and give our informed consent,” he added.
Kalsakau said the text of the agreement specifies that any activity can only occur with the consent of both countries and that either side has the right to withdraw at any time.
He affirmed that the government would approach the agreement in a transparent manner and emphasized the need for Vanuatu to collaborate with partners globally to safeguard against any threats.
“This applies to other countries that want a security arrangement with Vanuatu which [sic] that suits the interest of Vanuatu’s sovereignty,” Kalsakau stated.
“As we live in a globalized world where geopolitics has become more intense, Vanuatu can no longer be on the sideline, particularly with the issue of climate change,” he added.
Kalsakau said the security deal will be presented in parliament by the end of the year.
The security deal, signed in December 2022, facilitates cooperation between the two nations in various areas, including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, policing, defense, environment and resource security, and cyber security.
Australia has already been providing such assistance to Vanuatu. Foreign Minister Penny Wong previously said that it is up to Vanuatu to determine its level of cooperation with Australia and its priorities.
Kalsakau’s remarks came after Papua New Guinea (PNG) decided to delay signing a proposed security treaty with Australia.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape said that “certain wordings and provisions” in the agreement require consultation with domestic processes.
However, Marape affirmed that his nation “in no way would compromise its excellent existing bilateral relations with Australia” and that PNG was capable of managing its sovereign affairs.
Australia and the United States have ramped up diplomatic efforts with Pacific countries after a controversial military agreement signed between China and the Solomon Islands last year.
PNG signed a defense cooperation agreement with the United States last week to solidify their bilateral ties, enabling Washington to support PNG in building its defense capacity and tackling illegal fishing.
Marape said that some details of an operational agreement still need to be made, “such as how the defense force will operate, what they will do, and so forth.” He said the accord will be tabled in parliament for decision-making.
The United States also signed agreements with Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia and expects to conclude negotiations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands soon.