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.