Australia and Vanuatu sign defense and cybersecurity pact
Australia signed a bilateral security agreement with Vanuatu on Tuesday which will include cooperation over cybersecurity matters, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) announced.
The agreement was signed as Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited the island nation in the wake of a severe ransomware attack in November. The attack left the Pacific island’s government in disarray; internal systems were completely unavailable impacting a host of emergency services, alongside schools and hospitals.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that officials from the Australian Cybersecurity Centre assisted Vanuatu’s government in rebuilding the systems following the attack. The two countries have historically had strong diplomatic ties.
The pact involves cooperation in a range of areas, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well environmental and resource security, maritime and aviation safety and security, as well as defense and policing, according to DFAT.
It “reflects Australia and Vanuatu’s ongoing commitment to working together as members of the Pacific family to address shared security challenges,” said Australia’s deputy prime minister Richard Marles.
Australia, which is rewriting its own national security strategy following the ransomware attack on health insurance business Medibank, has ramped up its diplomatic work in the region as it competes with China.
Beijing attempted — although ultimately failed in May — to sign regional trade and security agreements with the 10 Pacific Island states it has diplomatic relations with.
An unexpected security deal between China and the Solomon Islands in April provoked enormous concern — particularly plans that would permit China to create a military base just 2,000 km from Australia itself.
Following the announcement of the agreement, the Solomon Islands’ prime minister Manasseh Sogavare stressed that he would not allow a Chinese military base in the country. He said the agreement covered the contingency of “a gap” in the kinds of security that Australia can provide: “When it comes to security issues in the region, we will call on them [the Australians] first.”
The details of China’s agreement with the Solomon Islands have not been published, although a leaked draft was posted online revealing broad access to the Solomon Islands was being offered to China’s military and police.
Australia’s agreement with Vanuatu “will be publicly available,” said Wong on Tuesday, because both nations are “committed to democracy, accountability and transparency.”