The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Con­ta­gion - CLARE ARMSTRONG

AUS­TRALIA has sought as­sur­ances it will not be blocked from pro­vid­ing aid to cy­clone-rav­aged Van­u­atu again af­ter a Chi­nese plane de­layed a crit­i­cal de­liv­ery for more than a day.

A Royal Aus­tralian Air Force plane de­liv­er­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid af­ter Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Harold was un­able to land in Van­u­atu’s cap­i­tal Port Vila on April 12 be­cause a Chi­nese A-320 de­liv­er­ing COVID-19 med­i­cal sup­plies was al­ready on the tar­mac, which was too small to ac­com­mo­date both air­craft. The RAAF plane was forced to fly back to Bris­bane due to reaching its min­i­mum safe fuel sup­ply limit and ul­ti­mately de­liv­ered the cy­clone aid on April 13.

For­eign Min­is­ter Marise Payne said Aus­tralia had raised its “con­cerns” with of­fi­cials both in Van­u­atu and “in ap­pro­pri­ate places with the Chi­nese govern­ment”. Aus­tralian De­fence Force of­fi­cials ear­lier this week con­firmed the rea­sons be­hind the “re­gret­table in­ci­dent” were be­ing dis­cussed with “all par­ties” to en­sure it was not re­peated.

Ms Payne could not say if she be­lieved China had pre­vented Aus­tralia from de­liv­er­ing aid on pur­pose. “I don't know whether it was de­lib­er­ate or not,” she said.

“I wasn't there. But what is most im­por­tant is that coun­tries like Aus­tralia and New Zealand work­ing to­gether, and oth­ers in the re­gion, are able to sup­port our Pa­cific neigh­bours in the way that is so im­por­tant now.”

Ms Payne said the un­load­ing of do­nated med­i­cal sup­plies from the Chi­nese plane took a “long pe­riod of time” and the air­craft was “un­ex­pect­edly” still on the tar­mac when the RAAF plane ar­rived with its aid from Aus­tralia.

Work­ers in Van­u­atu help to un­load boxes of Aus­tralian med­i­cal sup­plies and other aid af­ter an RAAF plane was held up by a Chi­nese air­craft on the tar­mac.

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