Vanuatu’s ‘trustworthy friend’
Richard Butler | RNZ | Jun 13th, 2019

Not long ago, Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai paid his first official visit to China.

During the visit, Prime Minister Salwai met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and held talks with Premier Li Keqiang.

The two sides had in-depth discussions on bilateral relations and other issues of shared interest, and reached important consensus on further strengthening exchanges and cooperation in various areas, pointing the way for future development of China-Vanuatu relations.

The two sides signed documents in the fields of economic and technical cooperation, consular services and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A joint press communique was released. The visit was successful and productive. The two sides vowed to work together to promote the China-Vanuatu comprehensive strategic partnership to a higher level, bringing greater benefits to both countries and both peoples.

The China-Vanuatu relationship is at its best in history and has been a model for relations between China and Pacific island countries. Mutual political trust is increasingly deepening and exchanges and cooperation in various fields expanding.

To sum up the valuable experience from the past 37 years since the establishment of China-Vanuatu diplomatic ties: First, we should remain committed to respect, equality and mutual trust.

Second, we should remain committed to promoting win-win economic cooperation and common development.

Third, we should remain committed to mutually enriching cultural exchanges and embracing inclusiveness and openness.

China will be Vanuatu’s trustworthy friend and sincere partner forever. China will share weal and woe with Vanuatu, and come to each other’s aid in time of difficulty. This is not an expediency or diplomatic rhetoric but a long-term policy and a solemn commitment that could stand the test of practice.

The joint pursuit of the BRI aims to enhance connectivity and practical cooperation.

It is about jointly meeting challenges and risks confronting mankind and delivering win-win outcomes and common development. As a Chinese saying goes, “Peaches and plums do not talk, yet a path is born beneath them.”

Since the BRI was put forward nearly six years ago, over 150 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China.

Total trade between China and other Belt and Road countries has exceeded US$6 trillion, and China’s investment in these countries has surpassed US$80 billion, generating 300,000 jobs for locals.

From Eurasian continent to Africa, the Americas and Oceania, Belt and Road cooperation has opened up new pace for global economic growth and helped improve people’s lives in countries involved.

The BRI is already proving its value to Vanuatu. Chinese and Ni-Van workers toiled day and night to complete the National Sports Complex in the Korman Area and contributed to the successful 2017 Pacific Mini Games, which left a legacy of “can-do” attitude in Vanuatu.

The roads in Tanna and Malekula built by China have become roads to home and wealth for the local people.

Hundreds of water tanks donated by China have relieved a number of Ni-Vans across Vanuatu from drinking water problems and helped promote livelihood and economic growth.

The project of Malapoa College extension constructed with Chinese aid greatly improved the working and studying conditions of the faculty and students, which is adorably called “a lighthouse of hope”.

Ni-Van students graduated from China and a number of experts and technicians trained by China are becoming pillars for Vanuatu’s development. There are many more stories like these.

During Prime Minister Salwai’s visit to China, the two countries signed a cooperation plan to jointly promote the BRI.

Both sides decided to, on the bases of the MOU on cooperation within the BRI framework signed in 2018, strengthen pragmatic cooperation in the fields of policy synergy, infrastructure development, unimpeded trade, financial cooperation and people-to-people bond. China is ready to strengthen alignment of the BRI and Vanuatu’s development strategy.

Upholding the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the two countries will deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in infrastructure building, economic relations and trade, investment, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, finance, culture, education, health, etc., to usher in an even better future for the China-Vanuatu relationship.

If the BRI “must” have an underlying strategic aim, then it is to build a community with a shared future for mankind. The BRI is open, inclusive and transparent.

It is not a geopolitical tool, nor is it designed to form an exclusive clique or impose any terms on others.

It is absolutely not a contemporary “Marshall Plan”. All parties are equal participants, contributors and beneficiaries, and fully tap into their strengths by engaging in bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation.

If the BRI “must” be related to some kind of “trap”, then it is helping many countries emerge from the trap of underdevelopment or no development.

Decisions made through the BRI framework, from projects selection to investment and financing cooperation, are all based on full consultation between all parties involved, and backed by arduous risk assessment and investment feasibility studies.

No country has become trapped in a debt crisis since its participation in the BRI. Quite the contrary, it is through participating in BRI cooperation that many countries have embarked on a road to development.

The Vanuatu government and people are the best qualified to speak on this matter.

Prime Minister Salwai and other Vanuatu leaders hold the view that the BRI matches the practical needs of developing countries and provides important opportunities for the development of Vanuatu and other Pacific island countries.

Vanuatu’s engagement with China on infrastructure projects has contributed to updating and enforcing Vanuatu’s laws and building its own oversight capacities.

China will continuously support Vanuatu government’s effort to enhance project management, improve communication, coordination and collaboration during the entire process, and upgrade the quality and effectiveness of cooperation.

China-Vanuatu relationship is a miniature of the relations between China and Pacific island countries.

China maintains the approach of upholding justice and pursuing shared interests and the principles of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith to strengthen solidarity and cooperation with Pacific island countries.

We stress the importance of sincerity.

China insists on equality among all countries, irrespective of their size, strength and wealth.

China pursues no private interest or so-called “sphere of influence” in Pacific island countries, and will continue supporting their efforts to find a development path suited to their respective national conditions.

China sincerely hopes to see faster growth in Pacific island countries and a better life for Pacific islanders.

We stress the importance of real results. China is committed to connecting its development with that of Pacific island countries and wishes to help facilitate their development with its own.

We will always provide Pacific island countries with support and help within our capacity in order to achieve win-win outcomes and common development.

China is willing to join efforts with Pacific island countries to safeguard a multilateral and free trading system, strengthen communication and coordination on international affairs, promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and support Pacific island countries to raise “the voice of Pacific”,advance the “Blue Pacific” initiative and combat climate change.

We stress the importance of affinity. China is ready to enhance friendship with the people of Pacific island countries through in-depth dialogue and substantive actions, support training and capacity building efforts, and strengthen people-to-people exchanges and cooperation between localities so as to strike a chord in our hearts.

We stress the importance of good faith.

No matter what level of development it reaches, China will always stand with Pacific island countries and other developing countries, committed to strengthening friendship in good faith and promoting cooperation.

China will never subscribe to the zero-sum approach. When it comes to specific projects, China will give more consideration to the interests of cooperation partners.

Chinese people attach great importance to keeping promises. We will do whatever it takes to honor our commitment.

China’s development will not be possible without international peace and stability.

A growing China should contribute more to mankind. China made the solemn declaration to the world long ago that it is committed to pursuing peaceful development.

This is China’s response to international concern about the direction of China’s development.

Moreover, it demonstrates the Chinese people’s confidence and commitment to achieve its development goals.

China opposes “great power chauvinism” and will never seek hegemony. Our position is clear, over-board and consistent.

We look forward to working with Vanuatu and the rest of the world to adhere to peaceful development and promote a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, with a view to building a better global village, which is our shared home.