China, Vanuatu vow to strengthen BRI cooperation

At the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu, Charlot Salwai, is visiting China from May 26 to 31. This is Salwai's first official visit to China as the prime minister of the Pacific island nation.

China and Vanuatu aim to strengthen their comprehensive strategic partnership in multiple fields. The Belt and Road cooperation is on top of the agenda for Salwai's visit.  

Li welcomed Salwai with a red carpet ceremony in Beijing on Monday morning. 

During their talks, Li said that China is willing to enhance political mutual trust, deepen exchanges and cooperation in varies fields and push forward the China-Vanuatu relations to a new stage.

Li also vowed to enhance coordination on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and development strategies of Vanuatu, adding that China will encourage more Chinese enterprises to invest in Vanuatu.

Li highlighted Vanuatu's role in the South Pacific region, stressing that China will continue to strengthen communication and coordination with Vanuatu in regional and international affairs.

For his part, Salwai appreciated China's help and support to the island nation and hoped to enhance exchanges between the governments and the two peoples.

Both leaders witnessed the signing of five documents including economic and technical collaboration agreements as well as inter-governmental plans regarding the BRI.

Zhong Feiteng, a scholar with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said this is mutually beneficial as the oceanic country plays a key role along China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

"So China wants to build a deeper relationship with South Pacific countries including Vanuatu, to help them understand why a rising China is a good thing and a rising China can contribute to regional peace and common development," said Zhong.

It's been 37 years since the two countries established diplomatic ties and they have forged closer high-level contacts in recent years. Last November, Chinese President Xi Jinping sat down with Salwai in Papua New Guinea during the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, opening a new chapter for the bilateral relationship.

Looking ahead, experts believe that the bilateral cooperation in the tourism industry has huge potential, which is a pillar industry in Vanuatu, accounting for approximately 40 percent of the country's economic growth.

"China is the world's biggest market in outbound tourism. It's very important for Vanuatu to attract Chinese tourists. Maybe we could consider set up a direct airline between China and Vanuatu," Zhong added.

Salwai is expected to visit south China's Hainan Province, seeking more relevant cooperation. He will also visit a newly-established pilot Free Trade Zone.

Zhong views the trip as a good opportunity for Chinese leaders to send a message to Vanuatu that China is willing to build a community with a shared future equally with all countries, no matter big or small.