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Canberra wrings hands as Honiara goes pinkish

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Solomons prime minister Manasseh Sogavare and China's premier Li Keqiang in the Great Hall of the People, 9 October 2019 (Thomas Peter, Reuters)


NOOSA - The Australian government and its tame media are displaying shock and indignation this morning as details come to light about Solomon Islands agreeing to cooperate with China in policing and security, roles historically performed by Australia.

In early February, PNG Attitude reported on extensive negotiations between the two countries that covered a long shopping list including almost every sector and industry in the Solomons.

John Fugui, who last year was installed as the Solomons’ first ambassador to China, revealed that both countries pledged to implement the agreement.

“We want to improve our economy, but education and training are foundational,” Fugui said, adding that he also wanted to increase research exchanges.

Now the Reuters news agency reveals the Solomons has signed a policing deal with Beijing and China is preparing for a broader security agreement covering the military.

Earlier this year the US government had expressed concern that China wanted to create military relationships in the Pacific Islands.

The security agreement “would cover Chinese police, armed police and the military”, Reuters reported, and offer assistance to the Solomons Islands on matters relating to social order, disaster response and protecting the safety of Chinese personnel on major projects in the country.

It also will enable Chinese naval ships to carry replenish in the Solomons.

This has caused great anxiety in Canberra and much mention of “our Pacific family” and intimation of what a disaster this is.

But Australians already know from their own experience that Morrison talks a good book but has consistently failed to deliver effective or timely policy in critical matters, including Covid, natural disasters, climate change, misappropriation of public funds and economic policies that increasingly marginalise the worst off socio-economic groups.

The Pacific Islands nations have become more observable in taking stands that Australia disapproves, especially in relation to China.

Meanwhile, a 10-person emergency medical team has arrived in the Solomons (not Australia) Islands to assist health authorities at the provincial level deal with an ongoing major covid outbreak.

“People are dying on the floor, the hospital is overcrowded. Sick people and dead bodies are all over. The morgue is full,” a Honiara doctor said.

The UK team includes critical care doctors and nurses, epidemiologists and risk communication experts, and it took just two weeks for the UK health authorities to deploy it.

It is not known whether Australia was requested to assist or whether Australian police sent to the Solomons following an unsuccessful coup last November brought the disease into the country.

The Solomons were covid-free through 2020 and 2021 but since mid-January it has registered more than 10,000 cases and 128 deaths, although health minister Dr Culwick Togamana says that cases are likely to be higher because many people choose not to be tested.

This serious covid outbreak occurs against a background of inadequate government services and tensions that remain high following the disastrous riots of November-December.

Australia is also facing a third Covid wave for which it is ill prepared.

"Time to up the ante," says Professor Brendan Crabb, CEO of Melbourne's Burnet Institute, "let not this be like BA1 with its health and  shadow lockdown impacts. 

"The earlier and more we act to reduce transmission, the better health and functioning of our country. 

"The BA1 wave had a huge impact, including by far the biggest death toll of the pandemic and major disruptions to health services,

"The Long Covid impact is unknown but very worrying given the millions of cases.

"It's in our hands to reduce the impact of BA2."




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Stephen Charteris

It is my personal observation following 35 years in Melanesia that Australia has hopelessly missed the mark when it comes to development assistance, and it continues to do so.

The total fixation on capacity building central and sub national agencies to the exclusion of an equal focus on communities has sunk almost every initiative you can name.

The heart and soul of every place in Melanesia is the community and its land - not a government agency or a politician.

By ignoring this we have cultivated a complete facade of a system that has failed to connect with communities at any level despite protestations to the contrary.

By attempting to make a public service in our own image we have simply demonstrated beyond all doubt that we do not understand Melanesia.

The Solomons has turned away from its traditional partner because we do not understand how to include the most important social grouping, the key decision makers in anything we have done.

And accordingly we are unable to facilitate meaningful results at the community level were it matters most.

I could produce mountains of pictures of failed infrastructure projects, health posts, school buildings police bases, water supply systems, the list is endless.

Failed because we insist on supporting governments and a public service mechanism that cannot staff these facilities and is not representative of communities or their wishes in the first place.

But you cannot tell Canberra anything. They are not known for their humility. It is closed shop without ears to listen or eyes to see. They know it all.

Well they will need to go back to the drawing board, start listening, observing and learning dam fast if they wish to turn this around.

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