Making its own way: Vanuatu in the world [book review]

Pacific Ways

Vanuatu last week signalled its support for China’s position on the South China Sea territorial dispute, a move described in overseas media as “predictable” and a “classic Vanuatu” diplomatic move. Likewise, PM Salwai’s recent calls for procedural integrity in the selection of a new Director-General for the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat and Vanuatu’s long-standing defiance of Indonesia over West Papua together portray a distinctive approach to political affairs. Vanuatu’s political style is one of many documented by Victoria University Press’s new edition of Pacific Ways: Government and Politics in the Pacific Islands. Read the rest of this entry »

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Vanuatu Government “completely unstable and corrupt”, according to leaked US diplomatic cable

This particular Wikileaks Cablegate cable is of interest mostly for its humour value—”Volcanoes regularly go off and shark attacks are common”, it says about Vanuatu; one really has to wonder about quality control at the US State Department if this is the sort of stuff they are collecting as ‘intelligence’.

It’s an example of the sort of information-gathering from public sources that foreign diplomatic posts undertake routinely. In this case, this unclassified 2006 cable out of the US Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, collates descriptions of Pacific Island countries, leaders and the political and economic climate as reported in New Zealand newspapers. The section about Vanuatu is extracted below; for the full descriptions of other Pacific island nations, visit this link at Wikileaks.

Key quote from the cable:

A bewildering array of political wannabes—the deeply suspicious Barak Sope, francophone Se[r]ge Vohor and Maxime Carlot Korm[a]n—swap among themselves as president and prime minister. With high unemployment, a growing squatter population around Port Vila is seen as a long-term security threat. Occasional riots and disturbances break out in Vila. GOVERNMENT: Completely unstable and corrupt.

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Cablegate Vanuatu | UNESCO: Countering the Cultural Diversity Convention

For a country like Vanuatu that prides itself on its policy of supporting our numerous cultures, languages and traditions, this 2005 cable is significant because it shows the USA attempting to use its political and diplomatic might to quash support from small nations, including Vanuatu, for an international convention established specifically to protect this cultural diversity.

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was conceived to protect national cultural policy from free trade agreements like the WTO/GATS or bilateral trade negotiations, and the US opposed it because they believed that it would hinder free trade (in other words, serve as a hindrance to US economic interests in cultural industries such as motion pictures and music).

Fortunately, US opposition to the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions did not prevent it from being adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in Paris in October 2005.

To date, 117 member states have ratified the Convention; however Vanuatu has signed but not yet ratified the Convention.

Key quote from this cable:

If we are to slow down the convention it will take pressure at the highest levels in Washington and around the world to convince governments that they are supporting a non-democratic piece of international law that has been cloaked in the language of culture.

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