Australia, Vanuatu strike security pact covering policing, defence, cyber

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia signed a security deal on Tuesday with the Pacific islands nation of Vanuatu, it said in a statement, amid concern over China's military ambitions for the strategically important region.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong is visiting Vanuatu with a bipartisan delegation, as Australia steps up its diplomacy throughout the Pacific islands after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with Beijing in April.

In May, China sought but failed to reach a wider security and trade pact with 10 out of 18 Pacific island nations.

Australia and New Zealand have argued security and policing needs should be met within the region.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said in the statement on Tuesday the bilateral security agreement with Vanuatu "is a practical expression of the family first approach to peace and security in our region".

"It reflects Australia and Vanuatu's ongoing commitment to working together as members of the Pacific family to address shared security challenges," he said.

The security deal covers cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, policing, defence, border security, environment and resource security, cyber security and maritime and aviation safety and security, the statement said.

Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Jotham Napat told reporters on Monday the Pacific island's new government, elected last month, has not held security discussions with China.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)