TUMBY BAY – The discussion about the future of Bougainville seems to be coalescing around its economic viability, which seems to be the lever that will be used by Papua New Guinea in its attempt to retain the province as part of the nation.
What seems to be missing from the debate so far is the issue of identity.
Bougainvilleans have always seen themselves as different from Papua New Guineans and I suspect that was what drove the high vote for independence.
Granting Bougainville economic independence but keeping it as part of PNG, as James Marape suggests, will not address the identity issue.
In terms of being a small Pacific Island nation, economic viability is not something that will come easily, even if the Panguna mine is re-opened.
Most of the smaller Pacific Island nations - like Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and there are many others - are not economically viable as independent states and rely substantially on overseas aid.
So too does Timor Leste, which launched into independence in a much worse condition than Bougainville.
It also achieved independence very rapidly once the long drawn out opposition by Indonesia came to its bloody end.
I think what those arguing for the need for economic independence fail to recognise is the geo-political strategic value of many of the small Pacific island nations.
This is a less tangible but valuable commodity of much interest to the super and middle powers of the world.
That the United States, China and Australia, among others, are prepared to supply aid in pursuit of favour with those nations is a transactional strength for the small island states.
These nations can trade their strategic significance for financial gain in the form of aid.
Aid for influence is a legitimate deal.
There's no reason why Bougainville can't join those other small nations. It is strategically located, especially from Australia's point of view, and that locational advantage can be traded for aid.
In the heightened geo-political situation caused by China's rise, such strategic advantage is a valuable commodity.
Add some agricultural and mining revenue and Bougainville can have a sustainable economic future.
Regarding foreign aid as a legitimate source of revenue rather than as simple charity shifts the economic independence argument to a much more realistic platform.