By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said his government “must remove the stigma” from a security agreement with Australia and work toward having it ratified by parliament, local media reported on Wednesday.
The Pacific Islands nation signed a security treaty covering disaster relief, defence, policing and cyber security with Australia in December, but during a visit by Australia Defence Minister Richard Marles on Tuesday, Vuanatu officials said the document was still being examined.
Some Vanuatu politicians who favour ties with China, a major infrastructure lender, have expressed concern over the deal.
“We must remove the stigma that the agreement is one-sided and does not reflect Vanuatu’s sovereignty,” Kalsakau said in a speech, the Vanuatu Daily Post reported on Wednesday.
“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 said, referring to misinformation on social media.
Australia is already providing assistance in many security areas, including helping Vanuatu recover from a cyber attack that crippled communications in November, and cyclone recovery in March, he said, according to a government statement.
China’s navy sent a ship with humanitarian supplies to Vanuatu in April after two cyclones hit in March. The vessel arrived a week after 600 Australian Defence Force personnel and the HMAS Canberra helicopter carrier had departed after a seven-week humanitarian mission.
Washington and its allies are concerned about Beijing’s naval ambitions in a region occupying vital sea lanes.
Concern at becoming embroiled in strategic competition between the United States and China has prompted some domestic political backlash in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, which signed a defence agreement with the United States in May, and where a security treaty with Australia is also being delayed.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editng by Gerry Doyle)
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