TESS NEWTON CAIN |
‘Out of season’ cyclone drenches Vanuatu
Cyclone season officially ended on April 30th. However, that did not stop Tropical Cyclone Gina in its tracks as it headed for Vanuatu. The system did not get to more than Category 1, with winds at the centre reaching 75 km/hour. However, the amount of rain that it dropped was enough to cause significant flooding in Port Vila.
Air Vanuatu had to cancel both domestic and international flights after Bauerfield airport was flooded. A number of people had to leave their homes temporarily, in the particularly vulnerable peri-urban areas of Prima and Teouma Bridge. Authorities in Port Vila and the surrounding SHEFA Province opened a small number of evacuation centres.
Several images of inundated streets were posted on social media with messages highlighting the impacts of climate change in Vanuatu, and elsewhere in the Pacific islands region.
Pacific reacts to change of government in Australia
Even as the make-up of the next Australian parliament continues to emerge, messages of congratulations for Anthony Albanese have been received from the region.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama tweeted his congratulations and invited Mr Albanese to visit Fiji. He also commented approvingly on the Labor’s position with regard to climate change. The former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, was a little more guarded noting that Labor had not placed a moratorium on new coal projects.
Prime Minister James Marape, who is visiting Australia this week, also congratulated PM Albanese and thanked the outgoing Prime Minister, Scott Morrison for his support of Papua New Guinea.
Congratulations were also forthcoming from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare who referred to Australia as the number one ‘development partner’ for Solomon Islands although he also noted that there was more to do when it comes to the countries’ relationship.
Chinese Foreign Minister to visit the region
Prime Minister Sogavare has confirmed that the Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, will visit Solomon Islands this week. Minister Wang will travel with a large delegation and a number of bilateral agreements will be signed during his visit.
The visit to Honiara is part of a multi-country tour by the Chinese Foreign Minister. Minister Wang will also visit Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji. It is not clear whether any other countries are on the itinerary.
Ahead of this visit, the Government of Vanuatu has announced that it has negotiated with the Chinese EXIM Bank to finance a redevelopment of Pekoa airport on the island of Santo. The upgrade is part of a national strategy to upgrade a number of airports. The Loughman government has said that the upgrades at Pekoa will allow for arrivals of wide-body aircraft. This is expected to be beneficial for both tourism and disaster response.
Pacific focus for Quad leaders
The second meeting of Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the USA) leaders takes place this week in Tokyo.
The role of China in the Pacific islands region will be one focus for this meeting. Of particular concern is the recently announced security agreement between Solomon Islands and China.
Another initiative that will come from this meeting is a joint surveillance network to monitor illegal fishing in the Pacific islands region. It is intended to work by using satellite technology to connect tracking centres in Singapore and India. The Australian-funded Pacific Fusion Centre in Vanuatu may also form part of an enhanced surveillance and information-sharing network.
Whilst increased and enhanced surveillance will likely be welcomed, it does not address gaps in enforcement capacity which is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to conserving the fisheries and safeguarding valuable revenues.