Australia’s conservative prime minister took the uncharacteristic step of advocating looser drug laws on Wednesday, backing greater imports of narcotic kava root in a symbolic gesture to court Pacific Island neighbours.
On a visit to Vanuatu Scott Morrison said he will allow imports of the intoxicating drink kava, popular with locals, as it seeks to forge closer ties with its Pacific neighbours amid growing Chinese interest in the region.
Australia and China have been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.
Vanuatu last year signed up to China’s Belt and Road initiative, just a few months after Australia promised to bolster its cyber-security capability.
To improve cultural ties, Morrison told reporters in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila that Australia would remove restrictions on kava, a mildly intoxicating brew that is deeply embedded in the social fabric of Pacific islanders.
“I know it has been an issue for some time, we have agreed that we would be working to … ease some of the limitations on importation of kava into Australia,” Morrison said.