Solomons caper: Dexterous, Dopey or Deflection?
26 November 2021
NOOSA – As people in Honiara awake to a likely third day of riot, arson and looting , 43 Australian Defence Force personnel will join 23 Australian Federal Police in the Solomons’ capital “to provide security and stability” according to Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, .
Foreign minister Marise Payne says the deployment disagreed the intervention was an intervention and also said it was not to support Solomons’ prime minister Manasseh Sogavere’s faltering government.
In September 2019, Sogavere, who is blaming the riots on “foreign powers”, declared Taiwan “completely useless to us” and established diplomatic relations with China in a process marred by corruption allegations.
Daniel Suidani, the premier of Malaita, the Solomon’ largest province, has been a prominent opponent of the diplomatic switch decision and said the protests were the result of Sogavere ignoring people’s concerns about the China relationship and other issues including foreign control of resources and slow-moving infrastructure projects.
New Zealand journalist and Pacific specialist Michael Field provides an excellent backgrounder here.
Morrison’s decision to send in the troops was taken in a hurry and in the context of brawling in government ranks and his own plummeting approval in polling.
“Step up or misstep?” I tweeted early this morning.
“Morrison’s impetuous decision to send Australian military to Solomons (his own precarious political situation perhaps clouding his judgement) needs to be augmented by Papua New Guinean and Pacific personnel and with New Zealand involvement.”
The unilateral decision by Australia (apparently Payne spent last night ringing some Pacific islands’ leaders, she did not say which), has been viewed with concern by PNG Attitude readers in PNG and the Pacific.
Their views include “time is critical but so is not inflaming a situation”, “very risky” and “Morrison is playing a very dangerous game, but not for him”.
Another reader commented, “I’ve observed the AFP operating in PNG. They are totally risk adverse so I assume the ADF will be little more than force protection for AFP. They will bunker down at some hotel.
"In truth there is no legal framework for [the intervention] other than liaison with local law enforcement.”
In China the Communist Party's Global Times claimed the riots were “elaborately planned and implemented by some politicians in the province of Malaita [supported] from the island of Taiwan.”
“Solomon Islanders are largely bystanders while outsiders - mainly Malaysian, Filipino and Chinese loggers and mining companies - control resources and political processes,” said respected Solomons’ lawyer Dr Transform Aqorau, founding director of fisheries consultancy Pacific Catalyst and legal adviser to the Marshall Islands
“People might elect our members of parliament, but it is the logging companies, mining companies and other largely Asian-owned companies that underwrite the formation of government, influence the election of the prime minister, and keep ministers and government supporters under control.”
It’s looking very much like Scotty From Marketing could get himself into yet another tangle.
The Solomons’ breakdown should not be Australia’s problem alone, our track record has been lamentable in these situations.
And our stocks in the Pacific are anything other than buoyant, especially after the climate change conference.
Our last intervention in the Solomons ended in June 2017 after 13 years. We now see that the 'peace' and 'capability development' it left behind was anything other than transformative.
Morrison now needs to show wisdom and humility by inviting Melanesian and New Zealand leaders to urgent talks on the conflagration.
His government and his foreign affairs department simply lack the skills to guarantee a good result out of this rushed intervention.
Did the 'mobs' attack police or buildings at Honiara? Only at Honiara?
How many police were injured in riots at Honiara? Any elsewhere?
What protection was actually needed by police during riots at Honiara?
What is the meaning and extent of "under existing bilateral assistance"?
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 24 December 2021 at 08:49 PM
Interesting report from The New Daily today.
Shades of the US advisors who went into Vietnam in the early 1960s.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 24 December 2021 at 07:09 AM
Apart from the no doubt justified domestic grievances about how the economic pie is shared, the unrest in the Solomons has elements of a proxy war between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan.
And Taiwan could in turn be seen as a proxy for Western interests and, closer to Taiwan, Japan.
This quote is from an article about the Japan-Taiwan entente:
"Indeed, the pro-Taiwan shift is not only evident in the government halls of Tokyo, but among the Japanese people.
"Polling suggests that support for Taiwan is even popular amongst the still pacifist-leaning Japanese population, with 74% of respondents in an April 2021 poll by Nikkei and TV Tokyo supporting active Japanese engagement toward 'stability in the Taiwan Strait'.
"An earlier poll in January 2021 found 67% of Japanese respondents describing Taiwan as a 'trustworthy ally' in global affairs.
"It is worth noting that the feeling is mutual in Taiwan, where 58% of respondents in a November 2021 poll agreed that Japan would send troops for Taiwan’s defence against a Chinese invasion.
"This matches a more extensive history of relative 'Japanophilia' in Taiwanese politics, making the state a notable outlier in a region deeply immersed in anti-Japanese views.
"Far from the 'Japan-bashing' frequently practiced in Korea and China, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen is known for occasionally tweeting to her 1.7 million followers in Japanese, something nearly unthinkable in any other former colony of the Japanese Empire.
"Several Japanese and Taiwanese commentaries on Tsai’s unlikely re-election victory in 2020 even mentioned her courting of Taiwan’s 'pro-Japan young people' as part of her political appeal.
"Japanese politicians often return the favor, with tweets celebrating Taiwan’s national day and of Japanese politicians eating Chinese-boycotted Taiwanese pineapples garnering widespread attention.
"These warm and longstanding cultural and political ties only smooth the path toward closer defense relations."
Posted by: Michael Lorenz | 27 November 2021 at 07:04 PM
Against the background of Australia's rush to help a neighbour it is showing scant regard to other countries which have historic ties to the Solomon Islands - namely Britain and New Zealand.
Perhaps these observations might be relevant.
I do not want to be accused of being anti-Chinese, however this whole scenario reeks of people power with sections of the Solomons' population rebelling against their corrupt government which on the surface appears to have sold out the country's resources for a few pieces of silver thrown at them by the Chinese government.
This situation is the same as that which occurred previously when the citizens rioted and RAMSI was put into place resulting in the Chinese government having to send charter planes to evacuate its citizens stranded in Honiara.
So around we go again. The Chinese have obviously returned to stake their claim on exploiting the country's resources with scant recompense to the local population
From what I have read this current revolt occurred when the national government tried to oust the premier of Malaita Province who would not roll over in allowing the Chinese to set up businesses in his province.
However the move failed when citizens revolted after the national government tried to move as vote of no confidence in the premier
In 1970 I travelled through the Solomons on my way back to PNG.
Honiara back then was just a small town about the size of Rabaul and when I ventured along the coastal roads leading in and out of town, the whole coastal strip consisted of coconut plantations owned by Lever Brothers.
Overpopulation, laziness and greed followed independence in July 1978.
When will the Solomons' people realise that the Chinese do not like sharing and business deals will always be weighted in their own favour.
This doesn't augur well for Bougainville's move to self-determination and possible independence.
Posted by: Harry Topham | 27 November 2021 at 12:24 PM
Some usual China bashing around but beware of the 'mote in your own eyes'.
If you have a few hours to spare have a read about the mine at the centre of the latest China-phobia and some of the characters involved in raping the minerals and trees of that impoverished people.
Reads a bit like the wild west as the carpetbaggers circle the resources up for grabs and all before China came on the scene.
No wonder some of the illiterates of Lavongai told the mining warden in 2008 “MIPELA NO LAIKIM MINING!”
That was only one of several such meetings over nearly 40 years that tested the resolve and patience of the wardens trying to get an agreement for the latest of the explorers.
Now long dead President of TIA and of Lavongai Local Govt. Council once said he thought the name of the island should be changed to ''Ailan lukluk!'
The peasants were onto something when they felt that these 'exploring spivs came; saw, took samples away to Australia with no compensation and then hoped a bigger spiv company would buy them out putting money in the accounts of the little company and not a penny for the local landowners. So it went on and on. The Solomon Islands look like they have known the same pattern too. Here is the Gold Ridge timetable as far as I could produce it.
1939 Balasuna Syndicate
The syndicate subsequently started hydraulic mining in the area during 1939, until their island saw the invasion of first the Japs then the Yanks especially at 'The Canal' as the latter called Guadalcanal causing all work to cease during 1942.
1950 the Solomon Islands Geological Survey was established, which led to the start of systematic surveys in the area.
These surveys continued over the next 30 years, before modern exploration of the area subsequently started
1983, after Amoco had successfully tendered for the rights to mine it.
1985 Cyprus Minerals brought the project and farmed part of it in as a joint venture with Arimco Mining of Philippines which eventually became Climax Arimco
1994, Saracen Minerals of West Australia won when Solomon Islands Government put the project out to tender again.
1995 Ross Mining of Queensland bought from Saracen; supported by a major shareholding from Australia's National Australia Bank
1998 Open pit mining commenced.
2000 Delta Gold of West Australia acquired it but abandoned Gold Ridge a month later because of civil unrest on Guadalcanal.
2000 As result of the abandonment a political risk insurer subsequently paid Delta Gold and took ownership of the project.
2004 September the insurance company put the project out to tender with the support of the Solomon Islands Government and Gold Ridge Community.
2005 Australian Solomons Gold acquired the project,
2009 Allied Gold an Australian took over & subsequently announced a A$150 million refurbishment and redevelopment plan
2012 September Australian St Barbara subsequently acquired Allied Gold.
2019 Sept. 12 the mine signed a deal with China Railway Group Limited
Mateys! Oz has had a fair crack at exploiting Gold Ridge.
Taiwan is part of the equation and gathers support from occidentals in a few places. A few interesting details though:
2020 Taiwan banks sent US$453 billion to China. Opposite way was US$338 billion
1991-2020 Investment by Taiwan in China was US$188 billion.
2019 2.68 million China tourists visited Taiwan.
2010-2020 USA sold US$31 billion arms to Taiwan.
Couldn't find definitive figure for how many Taiwanese visited their ancestral homes on mainland during this years Chunyun or Chinese New year aka 'Spring Holiday' the biggest annual migration worldwide.
Seems Chinese folk are doing what they always have done and that is be Chinese wherever they lay their heads to rest. It seems the barbarians want to spoil their party.
(Statistics from www.statista.com)
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 27 November 2021 at 07:11 AM
There is one effective strategy and that is to get rid of corruption and restore human dignity.
The Malaitans are probably reacting to a corrupt leader.
Australia is stepping in. Crew members of Chinese fishing trawlers were also ordered in to protect Chinese interests.
There is always regrowth after the burning.
Posted by: Kindin Ongugo | 27 November 2021 at 01:52 AM
My brother Graham, who did bush survey work in villages throughout the Solomons in the early 1970's, has suggested that the current disturbances principally reflect embedded ethnic aggravation and the government's new position on the Peoples Republic of China may only be an additional irritation.
His summary is outlined here:
"The core problem is the great tension between the people of Malaita and all the other islands, particularly Guadalcanal, which is where the capital, Honiara, is located.
"It can be dressed up any way you like but the ethnic tension between these two peoples goes back thousands of years. The people of Malaita are certainly the most dominant in the islands and in the distant past used the relatively subservient people Guadalcanal (but no-one from other islands) as slaves - so not much love lost between these two peoples then.
"Interestingly the Prime Minister is not from Malaita or Guadalcanal, he is from Choiseul which is a relatively sparsely populated island in the north-west of the chain.
"My guess is that what has happened is that his poor governance has allowed tensions to rise and the people of Malaita who are also unhappy about the overtures to the Chinese have decided to make their multi-faceted dissatisfaction obvious.
"There were clear displays of traditional tension in the early 2000’s and I suspect that over recent years they have just bubbled under the surface and never went away."
Posted by: Robert Forster | 27 November 2021 at 01:42 AM
"We read of attempted 'political deal' on the basis of giving or withholding assistance on physical health of a leader. Thus 'financial assistance ... support for Suidani would be conditional to a public handshake between Suidani and Sogavare'."
And this from a source close to the action:
Sogavare has picked on the wrong leader to bully and humiliate. Members of his government are today tendering their resignations.
That ridiculous idea of a public handshake in exchange of paying for his medicals in Brisbane.
In September, Sogavare and the Chinese Communist Party tried to sabotage Premier Suidani's MARA (Malaita Alliance for Rural Advancement) government while Suidani was undergoing surgery in Taiwan.
Money was thrown around to get local members to dump Suidani but it backfired spectacularly. It was a farce.
It elevated Suidani as a national hero and Sogavare as a desperate man.
Legal arguments were put forward by PM Sogavare's supporters including the Attorney-General who alleged Suidani was unfit for office etc. The Attorney-General was a business partner of Sogavare and hand-picked for the political role.
His arguments were torn to shreds embarrassing the PM. Suidani was given a hero's welcome when he returned from Taiwan. Yet Sogavare still tried to intimidate him.
It finally boiled over this week.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 26 November 2021 at 02:05 PM
We read of attempted 'political deal' on the basis of giving or withholding assistance on physical health of a leader. Thus "financial assistance ... support for Suidani would be conditional to a public handshake between Suidani and Sogavare".
Brings to mind the word 'blackmail' (which had deep history in Scotland) invoking grounds for menace.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 26 November 2021 at 12:59 PM
Whilst some people are questioning the purpose of the intervention (to support Sogavare maintain power, or to support the RSIPF restore law and order in Honiara), the Australian help is well received in SI.
They don't want PNG and Fiji to send in their troops.
The Malaitan rioters have stopped (for now) in light of the AFP being on the ground but will be back again one way or another so long as Sogavare remains the leader of the government.
Once Sogavare is sacked and the CCP told to pack up and go, the Malaitans will be fine. Most provinces in SI are quietly supporting the Malaitan cause, not the violence and looting bit but the idea that Sogavare and his self serving bunch of merry men must go.
Other island leaders (named) have called on their representatives to server ties with Sogavare and call for a motion of no confidence on his leadership.
At the time of writing the PM's house has been set on fire.
From anonymous source close to the action.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 26 November 2021 at 12:32 PM
The cynic in me says that Morrison has simply grasped the situation in the Solomons as a desperate bid to divert attention from his own domestic political woes.
It would, therefore, be in his interest to inflame the situation as much as possible.
That aside, I love the fact that he is rushing in to help a pro-Chinese government.
Peter Dutton must be loving this stuff. The Guardian is reporting that he has actually been seen smiling.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 26 November 2021 at 09:32 AM
The following is an extract from an ABC News article entitled 'Chinese redevelopment of Solomon Islands Gold Ridge mine dubbed 'way over the top', which was published in October 2019:
"Chinese companies will build and control power and port facilities, roads, rail and bridges on an island within the Solomon Islands, as part of an $825 million deal to revive an abandoned gold mine, according to new contract details.
The gold project agreement, described by Chinese ambassador Xue Bing as an "early harvest" of the new diplomatic tie-up between Beijing and Honiara, gives Chinese interests an increased foothold in the Pacific, long under the influence of the United States and its allies."
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 26 November 2021 at 08:52 AM
Gotta note ABC reporters, some that mouthed the word 'intervention'.
Expression of opinion at roads and lanes need not entail looting that follows hard upon public disturbance, the crass opportunism being other than of the matter heading as political pressure.
Creation and distribution of wealth and opportunity to share in that, is a conversation that may long stay.
So now, which buildings were torched and why, would make for more informative reporting.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 26 November 2021 at 08:41 AM