On a visit to Europe this month, the foreign Minister of Vanuatu has scheduled a meeting in Paris to discuss two remote, unpopulated islands claimed by both countries since 1980. More on Matthew and Hunter Islands from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
The two waterless volcanic islets have no intrinsic value except to seabirds. The argument stems from the potentially immense riches inside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the islands. Oil, gas and minerals maybe, fish for sure.
There’s also a cultural claim. In ni-Vanuatu tradition, Matthew Island is called the House of the Gods where the spirits of the dead go to rest. And there is a historic dispute, the Islands were annexed by France in 1929. But as part of the New Hebrides, which it then ruled jointly with Great Britain.
In 1976, as the New Hebrides prepared for independence as the new nation of Vanuatu, France switched ownership to New Caledonia. But Vanuatu claimed sovereignty anyway. And in 1983, sent an expedition to plant the flag, which was blocked by a French patrol boat. French ships patrol there from time to time and France maintains an unmanned weather station.
Then there’s geography. France has taken this dispute before UNCLOS, the UN Conference on the law of the Sea. And one final complication, Hunter Island is also claimed by a micro nation called The Republic of Lost Island, one of those quixotic efforts to establish a tax-free libertarian haven. A report on the latest effort along those lines in tomorrow’s Pacific News Minute