| Academia Nomad
PORT MORESBY - Despite visits past and planned to Honiara by Australian ministers and United States officials, Solomon Islands went ahead to sign a security deal with China.
Details remain sketchy, but a leaked draft says it will allow Chinese security forces to assist Solomons security forces when needed, including protecting Chinese businesses.
Australia had sought the Papua New Guinea and Fiji governments’ assistance to prevent the deal, but it appears both Pacific Island countries didn’t offer much help.
To understand the Australian failure to persuade Solomon Island to abandon the deal, one must take a broader view of Australia’s engagement in the Pacific and, in the Pacific, specifically the Melanesian region.
The China-Solomons deal is a culmination of Australia’s policy failures in the region in general.
It’s not an isolated incident and, unless Australian changes its approach, it is bound to face similar challenges in future.
First, no Pacific Island country will condemn another for a deal with China.
This is because most, if not all, of these countries have some form of arrangement with China, which has been offering loans to Pacific Island countries for years now.
In the Solomon Islands’ case, there has been direct funding to constituency funds.
Australia didn’t get much of a response from PNG because PNG has China-funded projects underway.
Fiji knows precisely how Australia uses Pacific Islands countries against another Pacific Islands country, after being kicked out of the Pacific Islands Forum following the last coup.
Furthermore, there is not much people to people connected between Australia and the Melanesian countries.
Compared to Polynesians in Australia, the Melanesians community in Australia is very small.
Melanesian countries have the largest populations, land mass and economies in the Pacific Islands, but are the most excluded from Australia.
It is very difficult for Melanesians to get a visa to travel to Australia, and it is near impossible for them to get citizenship.
The last really close connection Australia had with Melanesian countries was with the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who assisted Australia’s war against the Japanese, and with those natives who fought against the Japanese alongside Australians.
I had grandfathers who spoke highly of Australian soldiers.
I don’t hear anything like this these days from their grandchildren.
Almost all the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels have passed on.
Australia is asking for help from countries that have no sympathy for Australia.
It won’t happen.
The irony of Australia’s decision to purchase nuclear powered submarines from the US is not lost on Pacific Islands’ peoples.
If that decision can be defended by Australia as a sovereign country conducting its foreign affairs, why shouldn’t the Solomon Islands defend its decision for a security pact with China as a sovereign country engaging in a deal with another country?
This is another reason why neither PNG nor Fiji would support Australia.
If PNG and Fiji help stop the Solomon Islands deal, what happens in the future when both of them engage in a deal Australia does not approve of?
The Australian submarines deal was important for the Pacific because the region has maintained a non-nuclear policy since the Cold War days.
Australia is buy nuclear powered submarines, not a nuclear armed submarines.
But the decision comes with risks nevertheless. Greens leader Adam Bandt referred to the boats as “floating Chernobyls.”
Finally, when was the last time Australia sought Pacific Islands opinions about its deals?
AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) and QUAD (Australia, India, Japan, US) surround the Pacific but the Pacific Islands have no part in these the deals, and neither were they consulted.
AUKUS and QUAD are deals Australia entered into as a sovereign country. It did not have to consult with the Pacific.
Ta-daaaa. Why cannot Solomon Islands do the same?
Australia’s assumption that the Pacific is its ‘backwater’, ‘backyard’ or ‘family’ is a very patronising view.
It’s unsustainable, and needs a change.