In the late 1980’s, Vanuatu was cozying up to the Russians. Now it’s the Chinese. They like anyone who brings money.
Fine Print: I received a medal/gong for actions taken to thwart the Russians in Vanuatu in 1988. It wasn’t a significant medal, but added to the fruit salad.
Last November President Xi Jinping held a successful meeting with Prime Minister Salwai. They unanimously agreed to upgrade the two countries’ relationship to that of comprehensive strategic partnership marked by mutual respect and common development. That means that the Chinese are buying.
Fine Print: The Chinese don’t respect anything that they don’t own…including former Vice President Joe Biden, who is apparently staying bought. It may prove somewhat of an embarrassment as the presidential 2020 campaign rolls forward…but I don’t think that there’s much that embarrasses Slow Joe.
“This opened a new chapter in China-Vanuatu relations. The Chinese side stands ready to work with Vanuatu to increase political mutual trust with Prime Minister Salwai’s official visit to China as an opportunity, expand practical cooperation, and promote greater development of comprehensive partnership between China and Vanuatu and deliver more benefits to the two peoples.
Vanuatu’s entire population of 276,000 people could fit into a suburb of Shanghai. Nevertheless, China has established a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with the island Republic.
China has become one of Vanuatu’s most important development partners. It is helping build a modern port on one of the 80 islands in the Republic. It also is the largest holder of Vanuatu’s debt and a major source of imports.
Western media have reported that China is building or intends to build a naval base in Vanuatu. Periodic Chinese navy ship visits to the islands reinforced the speculation, but Vanuatu and China deny the reports. A variation on the rumor is that China is building a space tracking facility.
In Oceania, the People’s Republic of China has had success in its diplomatic competition against the Republic of China. Eight of the 14 states have diplomatic relations with the Beijing government. It has cultivated relations so that Chinese navy ships are welcome in Oceania.
The treatment that Chinese leaders extend to Vanuatu is the best measure of the strategic importance of Vanuatu in China’s plans to dominate the western Pacific Ocean. The Chinese relationship poaches on Australian and French interests because Vanuatu was once a British-French condominium. Its closest neighbor is the French territory of New Caledonia.
The guided missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG-46) conducted a freedom of navigation operation near Scarborough Shoal. A US Seventh Fleet spokesman said, “USS Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Reef (Shoal) in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”
This was the second freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea this month. On 6 May, the USS Preble and the guided missile destroyer Chung Hoon (DDG-93) operated near Chinese-occupied islands in the Spratly Islands. The most recent US ship visit near the Shoal was by the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) during Exercise Balikatan with the Philippines.
The People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and the Republic of China claim the shoal. Its largest feature above water is South Rock, (literally, a rock) whose highest point is just 5 feet 11 inches above sea level at high tide. It is unoccupied and unimproved.
This is the shoal about which the Philippines took its ownership claim to the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2013. In July 2016, the arbiters found in favor of the Philippine claim and found no legal basis for China to claim historic rights.
China rejected the findings but has taken no action to improve and occupy the shoal as it has done to the seven islets it occupies in the Spratly Islands.
China’s reaction. At the 20 May press session, Lu Kang accepted a question about the USS Preble’s operations.
A reporter asked, “According to US side’s information, a US warship operated near Huangyan Island. Did the Chinese side dispatch warships to identify and chase away the US ship?”
“In disregard of regional countries ‘shared aspiration for peace and stability in the South China Sea, the US side has been disrupting regional peace and stability time and again under the pretext of freedom of navigation and over-flight. These practices are unpopular.”