Did Zed go to Honiara to learn or to tell?
13 April 2022
NOOSA – Australia’s international development minister Zed Seselja flew to Honiara today to reiterate his government’s previously expressed ‘growing concerns’ about the Solomons’ warming ties with China and a mysterious naval facility the Solomons knows nothing about.
It's highly unusual for a minister to travel overseas during the caretaker period of a national election, so reasons portentous looked at hand.
But now Zed's back to Aus, the trip appears more as a bit of campaign fluff to try to show Morrison et Fils are on the ball when it comes to pushing back against China.
This all arose because last month a document was ‘leaked’ to social media divulging details of a supposed draft security treaty between the Solomons and China.
This, it was claimed would permit China to base navy ships and defence personnel in Solomons to ‘protect Chinese investment in the country’.
Solomons prime minister Manasseh Sogavare had said nearly a fortnight ago that a treaty was being finalised but said there was “no intention whatsoever to ask China to build a military base.
“Where does that nonsense come from?” he asked, saying comments from politician and media in Australia were “insulting”.
He said a deal was “ready to be signed” and insisted that present security arrangements with Australia would be maintained and there were no plans to allow a Chinese base.
At the time as now I thought that was a crystal clear and unambiguous corrective.
But probably not for the US and Australia who may have decided the affront needed much more verbal persuasion in the hope the Chinese would be sent packing.
Last week, US Admiral Samuel Paparo commented from Washington DC that the treaty was “a concern for all of our partners throughout the western Pacific, and notably Australia and New Zealand.
“Anytime a secret security arrangement makes its way into the light of day, it is a concern," he told the ABC.
Describing the leaked document as a "secret" arrangement, Paparo also warned of growing potential for conflict in the Indo-Pacific.
Also last week, two Australian intelligence chiefs travelled to the Solomons to raise the government's “deep concerns” with Sogavare.
This followed today by Seselja’s flying visit.
And later this month, US national security coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, Kurt Campbell, is expected in Honiara to further relay concerns to Sogavare.
It’s the heavy performing you do on the jetty when you’ve missed the boat.
Before boarding the RAAF VIP jet to Honiara, Seselja had said, “We look forward to ongoing engagement with Solomon Islands, and with our Pacific family members, on these very important issues.
"Our view remains that the Pacific family will continue to meet the security needs of our region."
The “our Pacific family” meme flourishes still in Canberra even though it is beginning to irritate Pacific Islands people enormously.
Perhaps Sogavare will pass on this intelligence to the international development minister and Australia will stop patronising the Pacific.
Meanwhile, Scott Morrison has been lobbying Island leaders to get them to talk Sogavare out of the treaty – but so far it seems without luck.
Fiji's prime minister Frank Bainimarama has been silent on the matter and PNG’s James Marape has said only that PNG and other Pacific states are “conscious of what's taking place” and have had “conversations” Sogavare.
Marape said Sogavare assured him there were no plans for China to establish a military base in the country, and that the agreement was focused on offering police support.
Marape said PNG and other Pacific countries “stand ready to work side by side in upskilling and training police [and] having more police engagements into Solomon Islands if they require help”.
According to the ABC, “over recent weeks, numerous figures have publicly and privately warned of the strategic dangers posed to Australia and its allies if China is able to establish a naval presence so close to the Queensland coast.”
But Admiral Paparo is not going to be caught with his cocked hat falling over his eyes: “I always operate under the notion that there's the potential of conflict within our region within a couple of years because of the incredible unpredictability of events," he told the ABC.
Australia’s shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, who may be in the real job a few weeks from now, accused the government of fumbling a key security concern.
“This is happening on Mr Morrison's watch,” she said. “The warnings have been there for months, but he has failed to front up and explain how Australia is responding.
“We need to work with the Pacific family and allies to build a region where sovereignty is respected — and where Australia is the partner of choice.”
Well, I suppose that will be up to those sovereign states with ideas and policies of their own.
It’s a that “family” only in the sense that Australia thinks calling it that signifies a closeness that has never existed and certainly doesn’t now.
I wonder if Zed asked Mr Sogavare why? Probably not. After all, he was there to tell not to learn.
PNG and the Pacific Islands know all about that.
Given all the sensitivities that have arisen in previous years and resulted in riots and insurrections, it seems strange the prime minister of the Solomons would press ahead with the pact.
Especially given that a large proportion of Solomon islanders, in particular people in the Malaita group, appear to oppose any relationship with the Communist Chinese government.
Maybe Transparency International should do some research to see if they can unearth any 'dodgy' side deals involving all the rulers playing out this game of brinkmanship.
Just a thought from the sidelines.
A thought, Harry, that if implemented would lead to more of that riot and insurrection, but only after TI or any companion activist had been sent packing from the country - KJ
Posted by: Harry Topham | 14 April 2022 at 09:39 AM
You know, Keith, I like your "et Fils" partly from lurv of latin and partly as it gives grater scope for that's more on than Morrison.
What this present election campaigning in Australia has yet to tackle let alone ruck or maul, is the less than inspiring run by portfolio leaders.
Hey, all yous, its a team at teething then teeming than teetering. so lets look at the knocks in the twist.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 13 April 2022 at 08:34 PM