Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau has narrowly survived a no-confidence motion with the opposition falling one vote short of the 27 needed to unseat him after criticising his government for signing a security pact with Australia.
Vanuatu, at the centre of a strategic rivalry between China and Western countries in the Pacific Islands, was plunged into political crisis after opposition leader Bob Loughman lodged the no-confidence petition, which also criticised the government for raising the minimum wage.
Wednesday's no-confidence motion won 26 votes, compared to 23 votes against, but failed to win the absolute majority of 27 needed to remove a prime minister in the 52-seat parliament.
One seat is vacant and one MP did not attend the session due to illness.
Loughman drew Vanuatu closer to China as the previous prime minister. His government lost a snap national election in 2022.
In addition to domestic issues, he has criticised the security pact with Australia, saying it compromises Vanuatu's "neutral" status and could risk development assistance from other partners.
In parliament on Wednesday, Kalsakau said the allegations against him were baseless, and more international leaders had visited in the past eight months than in two years of Loughman's government.
China has been a major infrastructure lender to Vanuatu, donating the parliament building, stadiums and the prime minister's office, as well as constructing roads and wharves.
The United States and its allies are seeking to deter Pacific Islands nations from establishing security ties with Beijing, after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.
Kalsakau reshuffled his cabinet in an effort to win support ahead of the vote, with the new deputy prime minister making a show of support for China.
At a ceremony to welcome the Chinese navy's medical ship Peace Ark last week, Deputy Prime Minister Matai Seremaiah said "health and security ties are an important part of our bilateral relations", according to a post on the prime minister's Facebook page.
Tourism and Trade Minister Samson Samsen resigned to join the opposition block on Monday.
Australian Associated Press