The Pacific island nation Vanuatu, which finds itself at the center of a strategic rivalry between China and Western countries, is in the middle of a political crisis. The opposition parties in the country have moved a no-confidence motion against Ishmael Kalsakau over what it terms as “foreign engagement” and the signing of a bilateral security agreement with Australia.
Opposition leader Bob Loughman, who is a former prime minister himself, has urged for the election of a new prime minister. During his time in the office, Vanuatu drew closer to China. Loughman lodged a notice of a no-confidence vote with the parliament last week. The notice had the signatures of 29 lawmakers, enough to win a vote.
At the time, PM Kalsakau had expressed confidence that his coalition government will survive.
In the no-confidence motion, Loughman said that “independence and impartiality” of Vanuatu was being “compromised”. He blamed this on the prime minister’s “foreign engagement” by which he pointed at a security deal he signed with Australia last December.
“The Hon Prime Minister and his Government must conduct its relations impartially and not allow our independent and sovereign nation to be sucked into a game it does not want and to be used inappropriately by competing nations to exert dominance in our region,” the motion said, as reported by The Guardian. The news outlet further said that Loughman declined to comment on the ongoing political drama.
The political tussle in the Pacific island nation has come amid a larger struggle between US and China. US allies like France, which has had a historical and colonial presence in the region, are vying for political influence.
Along with foreign policy concerns, Loughman’s no-confidence motion also lists a number of domestic issues, like a recent increase in Vanuatu’s minimum wage and a “labor and skill drain” caused by overseas worker programmes. The no-confidence motion also claims that Kalsakau’s policies were “undermining public sector growth”. It alleges that the government had failed to deliver on its promises.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently visited Vanuatu. This was the first visit to Vanuatu by a French leader since Charles de Gaulle. During his Vanuatu visit, Macron gave a speech in which he warned about a “new imperialism” in the Pacific region. This was taken to be a dig directed at Chinese attempts to gain influence among Pacific island nations.
China has lent huge funds for the development of infrastructure in Vanuatu. It donated the parliament building, stadiums and prime minister’s office. China’s EXIM bank is Vanuatu’s largest creditor.