China’s Got Them Rattled

First came the odd story of how Chinese diplomats refuse to leave a property in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. Now this week comes a report that “‘preliminary discussions’ were held between the Chinese and Vanuatu governments about the establishment of a naval base at a Beijing-funded wharf in Luganville,” and how that is “causing quite a stir in Australia.” The author of this particular report, a Kiwi academic, is skeptical, but it looks like the state of China/Australia relations is topic number one in the region these days, with stories just this month like Big chill between China and Australia and China challenged Australian warships in South China Sea, reports say. China has the southern Pacific rattled.

More photos: China, Australia, Vanuatu

Vignette: The Cyclone Cometh

Vanuatu

Suppose you want the ferry to Erakor Island, Vanuatu? You just kilem gong.

The first we heard of the cyclone was Monday afternoon in Vila. That’s Port Vila, main town of Efate Island, and the capital of Vanuatu, an archipelago east of the Solomon Islands, which in turn are east of Papua New Guines in the South Pacific Ocean. We sat pouring sweat at a terrace café on the only proper street in town. 

Burgers and beer were on the menu. The beers were cold and the burgers were more like carnivals on a bun, including the kitchen sink and beets, onions, carrots, eggs, bacon, cucumber, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, salt, pepper, chilies, ketchup – and maybe a little tiny speck of free-range, insecticide-free Vanuatu beef.

A corpulent pinkish fellow at the next table was going on to his friend: "Bluh bluh rain bluh bla cyclone bluh Fiji." I leaned out from behind my mound of putative hamburger parts and inquired.

“Cyclone?”

"Yeah," he said, "Its southeast of here, toward Fiji. We just had a look at it on the Internet. A big, mean thing. It's what's been causing all the rain."

This was notable since we were bound for Fiji in 18 hours, although just then it was sunny, hot and about 600% humid in Vila, and we were just in from the nearby island of Espiritu Santo, where we'd passed sunny days blistering in relentless sun.

Yet sure enough, in the taxi home we heard the cyclone warnings in three languages on Vanuatu's only AM radio station, with a particular warning for the southeast island group centered around the cult-and-volcano Island of Tanna. By now, the cyclone had a name. May I introduce you to Jo.

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