Can Vanuatu’s new foreign policy change the pacific game?

Can this new strategy, as experts weigh in on its ramifications, reshape Vanuatu's global role?

Vanuatu Foreign policy red
According to the policy, Vanuatu is "unwillingly" thrown into the Pacific's power struggle and faces significant challenges to its diplomacy as a result. Photo Credit: Facebook / Ministry of the Prime Minister - Vanuatu

The recent release of Vanuatu’s inaugural foreign policy document has attracted much interest and debate. Premier Charlot Salwai issued this historic 52-page declaration on July 3rd, detailing Vanuatu’s non-aligned stance and commitment to sovereignty and regional stability.

This strategy views Vanuatu as a potential game changer in the Pacific’s geopolitical environment, with important objectives such as protecting national sovereignty, boosting citizen welfare, and tackling global concerns through international cooperation.

The arguments

Vanuatu has taken a risk by introducing its first foreign policy document, indicating that it wants to take a more proactive and forceful part in international affairs. As the geopolitical rivalry between major countries like the United States and China intensifies, Vanuatu strategically positions itself by declaring its non-aligned posture.

By doing this, Vanuatu may be able to more successfully promote its interests in regional and international debates by increasing its legitimacy and influence.

Furthermore, other Pacific countries may find the policy’s emphasis on sovereignty and regional stability to be particularly appealing, which would promote a sense of unity and collective security. An example of a comprehensive approach to foreign policy, Vanuatu integrates domestic welfare with international participation through its focus on enhancing the well-being of its population both at home and abroad.

However, the document’s non-binding nature raises concerns regarding its practical implications. While it serves as a thorough guideline, the absence of legal duties may limit its enforceability and ability to motivate specific actions. Furthermore, the success of this policy will be heavily dependent on Vanuatu’s ability to navigate the complex geopolitical terrain and effectively use its non-aligned status to its advantage.

The facts

According to RNZ, experts who have studied the paper for ten years, including Tess Newton Cain, an adjunct professor at Griffith University, have complimented it. Despite more pressing home issues, she underlined the significance of foreign policy and its contribution to improving Vanuatu’s standing internationally.

Although the strategy isn’t “radical,” Newton Cain said that it does effectively convey Vanuatu’s values, interests, and long-term objectives. Rather than placing legal requirements on government departments or agencies, the document is intended to be a “living document,” subject to periodic review and revision. It serves as a guide for Vanuatu’s diplomatic interactions.

The document also underscores Vanuatu’s unique identity and stance in the international arena, emphasizing non-alignment, the ongoing border dispute with France over the Matthew and Hunter Islands, and “kava diplomacy,” a nod to a traditional cultural practice.

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