Prime Minister Charlot Salwai

Prime Minister Charlot Salwai was in New Zealand Wednesday. Photo: Fairfax Media

At a press conference in Wellington, New Zealand on Wednesday, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai said that he expected to conclude an Air Service Agreement with China during next week’s visit.

On Wednesday the Daily Post reported that Mr Salwai was invited by Premier Li Keqiang.

This will be the first official visit to China by Prime Minister Salwai since he took office.

During the visit, President Xi Jinping will meet with him and Premier Li will hold talks with him.

The leaders of the two countries will exchange views on China-Vanuatu relations and important issues of mutual interest. Besides Beijing, Prime Minister Salwai will also visit Hainan and transit in Hong Kong.

An air transport agreement, also known as an air services agreement, is a necessary first step before commercial air service can be conducted between two countries. The China ASA has been long anticipated.

“It has been on the agenda for a while—many years—but we have been discussing it, and finally we have come to an agreement to sign the agreement.”

Both the Vanuatu Tourism Office and Air Vanuatu have indicated that a graduated approach is the most likely way service to and from China will be initiated.

In a recent interview with the Vanuatu Business Review, Air Vanuatu CEO downplayed the likelihood of a long-haul plane in Air Vanuatu livery in the mid-term. ““The long-haul market out of Vanuatu—we have to be very careful. We can’t use the Fiji Airways approach and bring in a 300-seat airliner and start flying everywhere. We have to be far more scalpel-like than that.”

VTO anticipates a bump in its marketing activities in 2024, as Asian markets receive more energy and attention. Overall marketing expenditures are expected to jump by nearly VT 220 million—from VT757 million to VT 971 million—between 2023 and 2024.

The Prime Minister highlighted two other priorities for the upcoming visit. Visa waivers for officials and diplomats was one item, and facilitating more development assistance, especially leveraging Vanuatu’s membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

“When I say infrastructure, it’s not only roads; it’s not only wharves. It’s telecommunications infrastructure, utility infrastructure is also very important, as well as health and education.”

He refused to be drawn into speculation that he was pursuing China for special favours. “It’s almost the same thing we’re discussing with our other development partners.”

Asked if new loans were being sought, he said, “It can be. If not grants, then we have no choice. We need to build our economy; we need to build new infrastructure. We are an independent country, and we cannot sit and wait for grants to come.”

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