Australia has committed to making a security deal with Vanuatu public, in direct contrast to the contentious arrangement forged between China and the Solomon Islands earlier this year.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong made the promise in Port Vila on Tuesday, after signing a deal with Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau that secures Australia as the island nation’s principal security partner of choice.
In a clear reference to China, whose security deal with the Solomon Islands was never released publicly, Senator Wong said the agreement would be available for all because the two countries were “committed to democracy, accountability and transparency”.
China signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands before the May election, prompting Anthony Albanese to accuse former prime minister Scott Morrison of allowing a “Pacific stuff-up” under his watch.
Senator Wong said the Vanuatu agreement was not just about military security, but “picked up” on the broader definition that originated in the Boe Declaration.
“That recognises that security is multidimensional. It includes climate, it includes development assistance, it includes economic issues, as well as a more narrow definition of military security and obviously also cybersecurity and maritime security,” she told ABC’s 7.30 on Tuesday night.
“We think it’s a really important step forward.”
Senator Wong, who is leading a bipartisan delegation to the Pacific this week, has also left the door open to pursuing other deals in the region, amid growing competition with Beijing.
Senator Wong said Australia agreed with Pacific leaders that security, in the broadest sense, was the responsibility of the whole “Pacific family”.
“We want a region that’s peaceful, prosperous and stable, in which sovereignty is respected. And that’s the approach we want to take to the Pacific and the Indo-Pacific more broadly,” she said.
Earlier, the opposition’s spokesman for foreign affairs, Simon Birmingham, who is accompanying Senator Wong on the delegation, said he welcomed the signed security arrangement.
“In a challenging and contested world, Australia and Vanuatu are at our strongest when we stand together and when we work together,” he said.
Senator Wong and Senator Birmingham, as well as Pat Conroy and Michael McCormack, will travel to the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau later this week.