IN 1981 I was sent to cover the then South Pacific Forum Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu. (I was then a reporter with the Port Moresby-based Post Courier newspaper, owned by multi-millionaire Rupert Murdoch).
As it was my first overseas assignment, I was determined to make the most of it.
There were other Port Moresby journalists on the trip.
Journalists picked for the trip travelled with then Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan on the Papua New Guinea Government private jet, Kumul 1. Prior to departure, we were thoroughly briefed on the dos and don’ts in terms of protocols.
Importantly, we were briefed on what the PNG Government was taking to the Forum – an annual gathering of Prime Ministers and Presidents of Member States.
As a nation, PNG was smarting from its successful military operation on Luganville, Espiritu Santo in putting down a rebellion led by Jimmy Stevens.
Armed with his nation’s experience, Sir Julius took a proposal to establish a South Pacific Peace Keeping Force. He told us then there was merit in setting up such a force, which in peacetime could assist Member states in civic work.
It is a force, he said, that required a minimum response time when trouble flared up in anyone of Member states.
He argued the merits of cost-sharing, which PNG did not have when its troops went to Vanuatu only a year earlier.
Sir Julius was a visionary.
What he saw then happened in Solomon Islands 19 short years later when armed groups forced a democratically-elected government from Office.
In a knee-jerk reaction, Canberra promptly put a regional coalition, consisting of military and police personnel – together to confront the deadly uprising. Members of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) for short began arriving at the Henderson Airport in June of 2003.
Participants in RAMSI came from Member States of what is now the Pacific Forum – something Sir Julius had in mind when he proposed the South Pacific Peace Keeping Force.
A decade and SBD4 billion dollars in expenditures later, Solomon Islands is still suffering the effects of the uprising.
Would it have been cheaper if Sir Julius’s proposal was not shot down by Australia and New Zealand? Canberra and Wellington have their own reasons. They both rejected the proposal because of the costs in maintaining such a force
Like cyclones forming in the Coral Sea, political troubles in the South Pacific simply swirl around, sometimes landing on unsuspecting islands nation.
The second such negligence happened around 2014.
Prior to leaving office in then, Prime Minister Danny Philip, another of the South Pacific’s visionary leader spent time studying political troubles in the region.
His government approached Canberra to build a border post on Sterling Island in the Shortlands. The post would be manned by police, immigration and officials of other government agencies.
The proposal was rejected.
Today, Australia is crawling back, offering to build a new Office complex for the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade.
It is building a patrol boat base in the Shortlands and offers to build another, along with communications towers for spying in the name of improving telecommunications in the country.
It is doing all these as a direct response to China’s presence in Solomon Islands.
I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the United States and its allies with no China card to play, is already on a war footing.
Talks of Australia invading Solomon Islands over China’s presence here are spreading like wildfire in Australia.
In the United States, key Members of Congress are being briefed on the security situation in the Pacific almost on a daily basis.
Given that the US and its Allies have no China card to play, the draft security pact between Beijing and Honiara has become the convenient scapegoat to force a regime change in Solomon Islands.
Former Australian Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this week accused the conservative government in Canberra of creating a political vacuum in the Pacific region by neglecting their needs and concerns.
Promoting his book, The Avoidable War, Mr. Rudd commented on the draft security pact between Solomon Islands and China.
“From my own perspective this would represent a highly retrograde step in terms of peace and security and stability in the Southwest Pacific,” the former Labor Prime Minister said.
Mr. Rudd said much of the blame lies with the current Australian government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“The current conservative government of Australia has frankly had its eye off the ball when it comes to the South Pacific and Pacific Island countries more generally both on aid and on climate change policy, over a long period of time, creating therefore in the Pacific Island countries a growing strategic vacuum which made it possible for island states to turn to other countries like China,” he said.
Rudd said Australia also slashed the aid budget for the Pacific for several years after his term in office ended.
“When I left office at the end of 2013, our annual aid flows to the Pacific Island countries was something in the vicinity of about $1b per annum,” Rudd said, noting in subsequent budgets that was cut by “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
When will Australia and others stop being reactionary rather than being pro-active?
It is time they learn from us. It is time they learn that by allowing our views to be taken aboard on an equal footing is more advantageous than being reactionary every time something happens.
It is time condescending attitude stop. It is time human beings are treated equal. A re-education of Melanesian values and aspirations is called for and is probably the starting point.
We live here. We read the signs of the time. We read storm clouds on the horizon. And most importantly, we want peace because that is why we are called Solomon Islands – Solomon means peace.
BY Alfred Sasako