Local media this week reported the country’s prime minister saying there isn’t enough money to maintain a huge convention centre in Port Vila, built by China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ralph Regenvanu, who has been in Australia for key meetings, says important lessons have been learned from the project.
“Yes, there is a risk that it could be a white elephant. This was a project that wasn’t well planned, we’ve learned a lot from that a project that happened 10 years ago,” he told the ABC.
“We’ve learned that we need to be more careful in what we agree to and what ask for. And we need to be better able to monitor and enforce our own laws when it comes to any projects, from any donors.”
The Foreign Minister has been sceptical about the bilateral security treaty being pushed by Australia, but he now seems more open to it, telling the ABC: “we need to enter into a treaty with Australia that assists us in areas identified by us”.
But he stressed that the agreement can’t be “exclusive”, saying “we need to be conscious that we should not tie ourselves to one particular partner. We have a long-standing policy of being non-aligned”.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Regenvanu also made it clear that Vanuatu will continue to put pressure on Indonesia over alleged human rights abuses in the West Papua region.
He wants Australia to take a stronger line on the issue, saying “this is your nearest neighbour and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner isn’t being allowed to enter the territory, right next door”.
The Indonesian Government has extended an invitation to the UN to visit, and negotiations are continuing.