Australia patronizing, arrogant toward Pacific Island nations
Published: Apr 10, 2022 01:29 PM
Australia Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Australia Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Plans for a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands were leaked to the media in late March. The intention to sign an agreement has been initialed by the two countries. 

Anti-China rhetoric had already been running high over Ukraine with claims from conservatives in the US and Australia that the Russian invasion would encourage China to consider invading island of Taiwan. They were particularly upset by the refusal of China to publicly condemn Russia. So, when it was announced that China was entering a security arrangement with the Solomon Islands the level of hysteria rose accordingly.

Speculation ran rife. The security agreement quickly morphed into the construction of a naval facility and harbor. The Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Samuel J Paparo, said he was gravely concerned and Australian military and political leaders voiced the same concern. More sober analysts say the construction of a Chinese base is unlikely. Australia is already building a Patrol Boat base in Lofung in the Shortland Islands near Papua New Guinea and there are plans to build another in the eastern Solomon Islands.

Observers might be forgiven for linking the announcement of AUKUS to the establishment of the China-Solomon Islands security agreement - such is the build-up of suspicion between the AUKUS partners and China. Regional tension was furthered fueled by an announcement that AUKUS would build supersonic missiles. The announcement was petrol on the fire. The announcement was petrol on the fire.

The US is pushing hard against China, just as it did with NATO and the East European states against Russia. The US is obsessed with being in control which has led it, in the past, to over-reach. The fear is that the US wants to push China into acting precipitately so that from a "small" military confrontation it can assert and re-establish its former dominance. It needs to be called out.

At the moment there is too much posturing and not enough talking. If Australia and China had a better and more secure relationship, plans for the Pacific might be discussed between themselves, New Zealand and the major stake holders - the Pacific Island states.

Threatening talk and chest-thumping are not conducive to the resolution of tension, which if allowed to escalate, might well turn into conflict. In confronting the US, China needs to act with the maturity and confidence that America lacks. It needs to claim the diplomatic high ground with adroit statesmanship.

As a sovereign state, the Solomon Islands can make decisions and determinations about the security of the country and the well-being of its people.

Patronizing arrogance might best describe the attitude of the ruling LNP in Australia toward Pacific Island states and their people. It is insulting for Australia to use the term Pacific family when there is little respect or meaning behind it and when it is not reciprocated.

Australia has had a long association with the Solomon Islands including The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the deployment last year of more than 100 army and police personnel to restore order following riots. It has allocated millions to development projects, including a radio network, apparently to little effect. Underlying grievances, centered on bruised sensitivities, and insults, real or perceived, have apparently been fertile ground for the Solomon Islands to seek security arrangements with China.

Apparently, the agreement will allow China to deploy police to maintain law and order and protect "Chinese personnel and major projects."

Australia is very unsettled at the moment as it moves toward an election in about six weeks' time. There may well be a change of government offering an opportunity for Australia and China to sit down and discuss some of the outstanding issues affecting the relationship, including the South Pacific. 

At some point in the future, China and America may hold high-level talks on climate warming and the fragile state of international security. It would not hurt for China to take the initiative.

The author is a retired diplomat and political commentator based in Australia. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn