Port Vila, Vanuatu
|A Chinese Naval Base in the South China Sea. Image courtesy of Youtube.com|
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that:
"Fairfax Media can reveal there have been preliminary discussions between the Chinese and Vanuatu governments about a military build-up in the island nation."
Ralph Regenvanu, the foreign minister of Vanuatu was caught off-guard when its secret government talk was leaked by the Australian media.
Regenvanu reacted by blaming the Australian media:
"I'm not very happy about the standard of reporting in the Australia media."
The Guardian reported that:
"What was true in the 1940s remains true today: whoever controls Vanuatu controls air and sea traffic between the US and Australia. Right now, that's the government of Vanuatu."
It is that prime geographical position of Vanuatu that PM Charlot Salwai is planning to monetize for his personal gain.
|PM Charlot Salwai meeting Foreign Minister of China Zheng Zeguang in Guandong, China, 17 January 2018. Image courtesy of www.fmprc.gov.cn|
Regenvanu may not have been aware of talks conducted by PM Salwai himself with the Chinese government.
China is already Vanuatu's largest source of debt. The Vanuatu 2018 Budget Papers put the figure of Vanuatu's debt to China at $220 million, or about half of Vanuatu's entire budget.
|Vanuatu's Debt. Image courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald|
According to the SMH:
"Beijing last week announced it would pay for and build a new official house for the Vanuatu president, a new Finance Ministry building and an extension on the Foreign Ministry building at a reported total cost of about $36 million."
Charlot Salwai has millions of dollars to benefit personally if he can keep his deal with China a secret. Even from his own foreign minister.
This latest revelation coming out from the office of the prime minister himself, comes at a time when PM Salwai is facing corruption accusations, defections and low popularity.
Meanwhile, domestically an MP has accused Mr Salwai of misappropriating close to two million dollar of aid money.
On 15 November 2017 Jay Ngwele of Ambae province and Vanuatu's Special Envoy on Climate Change quit in protest of blatant misuse of US$1.85 million of aid money for the residents of Ambae affected by the volcano.
Radio New Zealand reported that:
"Mr Ngwele said of the $US1.85 million dollars approved by the Council of Ministers to help the Ambae people, about half went on travel costs, accommodation and allowances for politicians, including the prime minister, and government officials.."
Mr Ngwele characterised PM Salwai as “both insulting and childish”.
PM Salwai has faced corruption scandals, defections, mutiny, serious health-scare and votes of no confidence.
|PM Charlot Salwai (left) in happier times with Manasseh Sogavare, former PM of Solomon Islands who was fired for corruption|
A regional analyst from a South Pacific University observed that:
"The problems facing PM Salwai government is real. The criticism laid on him has its merit, such as the corruption scandal involving aid money for the people of Ambae.
Unfortunately, rather that tackle the heart of the problems at home, PM Salwai has been doing the opposite. He is instead avoiding the problem and deflecting attention to international issues, such as West Papua.
PM Salwai's uses international platform like in the MSG, PIF and recently a meeting with the Pope in Vatican to "advocate" on West Papua.
But the truth of the matter is, PM Salwai is only advocating for his own political survival. He knows that his days are numbered. He knows that his unlawful activities will soon catch up on him. Like a cornered rat, he will bite anyone, even his fellow MP like Mr Ngwele."
West Papua and Papua are two provinces of Indonesia that historically has been administered by the Majapahit Kingdom in the 13th century that ruled most of what is now Indonesia. In 1969, the United Nations reaffirmed West Papua as part of Indonesia.
A political analyst observed that:
"The Vanuatu PM failed to mention that West Papua exercises free, fair and open democracy recognized by the international community of nations. About 2.7 million voters routinely elect MPs and governments."
The Vanuatu PM, who has faced numerous votes of no confidence since taking office in February 2016, has often spoken about the concept of "Melanesian brotherhood" and his dream of uniting all Melanesian countries into one nation. Countries that has significant Melanesian population includes Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, New Caledonia, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
South Pacific political analysts view the PM's words in the UN chamber are dangerous to the stability of the region. Joanne Wallis, an Australian analyst, has spoken of the "arc of instability" of the South Pacific.
Applying the same logic that the Vanuatu PM uses, along the lines of race (Melanesia) and human rights, other countries in the region are also threatened.
That twisted logic dictates that the Aboriginal people of Australia should be an independent nation. Bounganville in PNG and Kanak of New Caledonia should be independent. The thinking encourages for the merging of all Melanesian-populated countries into one nation by hook or by crook.
"When Vanuatu speaks about re-drawing legitimate international borders like in the case of West Papua, all it does is stokes dangerous tensions and insecurity in the region." concluded the analyst.
|Armed group part of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP)|