The Chinese have signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands. According to the MSM, and depending on your political persuasion, the signing of this pact is either the “worst Australian foreign policy blunder since WWII” (said Penny Wong) or “the judgement was made not to engage at a foreign-minister level to ensure that Australia’s views were communicated very clearly and very respectfully. This was the right, calibrated way to address this issue with their Prime Minister” (said Scott Morrison).
Do Morrison’s comments mean that our Foreign Minister Marise Payne could not communicate clearly and respectfully? In any event, the Solomons have done the deal with the Chinese.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted unnamed ‘security experts’ as saying the Chinese government would act swiftly to implement the deal by sending military forces to the Solomons during the election campaign in order to capitalise on the caretaker period in Australian politics and match the rapid development of bases in the South China Sea.
Even the New York Times expressed alarm in an analysis article saying “China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and his army now have a foothold in an island chain that played a decisive role in World War II and could be used to block vital shipping lanes”. They had their own expert in Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand who offered an insightful analysis with “It’s a game changer.”
Suddenly, everybody seems concerned that China could/might/will use the pact to establish a permanent military presence in the Solomons. The government of the Solomon Islands says they won’t allow this to happen – but nobody believes them.
Danny Philip, the former Solomon Islands prime minister and confidante of current leader Manasseh Sogavare, came out defending the yet-to-be-published agreement with Beijing. When asked whether the agreement was chiefly to protect Chinese investments in the country more than protecting Solomon Islands citizens, Mr Philip said it was for “both”.
“It is both for our own security as a country internally but also for the interests of Chinese investments and infrastructure.”
And just to kick some sand in our face, Danny compared the arrangement to the American facility at Pine Gap saying “People in Australia know very little about Pine Gap in the middle of the desert, the military base of the United States”. So there.
Of course, it must be said that until a few days ago, most Australians couldn’t find the Solomon Islands on a map using a torch and magnifying glass. Fortunately, for those who are geographically challenged, the MSM helpfully published assorted maps showing the location of the Solomons and the distance to Australia (about 1,800km direct to Townsville).
If nothing else however, it points to our traditional cack-handling and seeming indifference to our near neighbours in the pacific. Several reports suggest that Australia had intelligence of the proposed deal back in August 2021 and I would have imagined that the prospect of China setting up shop nearby would prompt a flurry of diplomatic efforts requiring visits by our most senior ministers.
But no, I would be wrong. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne was “too busy” with visits to Greece, Belgium, Austria, international Covid vaccination questions, the developing Russia/Ukraine issue (15,000 kms away) requiring her to fly back and forth for meetings with NATO and the UN Security Council (neither of which we are a member) and of course, with the forthcoming election.
We did send Pacific Minister Zed Seselja (who?) to Honiara at the eleventh hour in a last-ditch attempt to stop the deal from being inked, but by then it was too little, too late.
Marise did helpfully tell us, after the agreement was signed, that “ultimately the countries of our region and abroad make their own sovereign decisions” even though she was “deeply disappointed”.
Yeah, I’m a bit disappointed too, although probably for different reasons.
On the other hand, perhaps we’re concerned over nothing. After all, Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles dismissed concerns over Beijing’s increased presence in the Pacific and fears China could set up military bases on island nations. In fact, during a 2019 trip to Beijing, funded by the now defunct think-tank China Matters, Marles told the Foreign Studies University he had been “very cognisant” since 2012 about the role China was playing in the Pacific.
“The idea the Pacific nations would adhere to a call from Australia to not engage with China is silly,” Marles said. “The Pacific needs help and Australia needs to welcome any country willing to provide it. Certainly the Pacific Island countries themselves do. Let me be crystal clear: that was and has been a good thing.”
Okey dokey. Nothing to worry about folks, move along.
The laughter in the Great Hall of the People must be deafening at times.
God help us.