Pacific News Minute: France, Vanuatu to Hold Further Discussions on Matthew & Hunter Island Dispute

Sep 19, 2017

Matthew Island
Credit Wikimedia Commons

As you’ve heard on NPR News, President Trump addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations today. The annual gathering of world leaders provides an important opportunity for diplomacy, especially for poorer nations who don’t maintain embassies around the world. In today’s Pacific News Minute, Neal Conan has a case in point.

Vanuatu has been trying to come to a resolution on its borders ever since it emerged as an independent state in 1980. The biggest outstanding issue, is ownership of two unpopulated volcanic specks that lie about 190 miles from both Vanuatu and the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. Matthew and Hunter Islands are claimed by both.

The Foreign Minister of Vanuatu raised the dispute on a visit to Europe in January, but, of course, there were elections in France last spring and it took the new government some time to get up to speed on issue. Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai took the opportunity of the Pacific Island Forum Summit in Samoa to meet Annick Girardin, the French Minister of Overseas Territories.

Another opportunity arises at the UN General assembly this week, and reports from Vanuatu say the two sides plan to hold border talks in October at the Forum Fisheries Agency in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. That might seem an unusual venue, but fish are the one natural resource known to be at stake. There may be oil, gas and minerals under the seabed too.

Vanuatu has traditional and cultural claims as well, and geography may be a factor. The islands lie near the boundary of two tectonic plates. That’s why there’s so much volcanic activity in the area. New Caledonia sits at the Eastern edge of the Australian Plate, while Matthew and Hunter share the Western edge of the New Hebrides plate with Vanuatu.