If you were to believe a number of former Prime Ministers, and a handful of so called foreign policy "experts", you would hold the view that China's growing influence in our region is relatively "benign".
I have repeatedly given evidence drawn on my observations of China's growing influence in Papua New Guinea that is not "benign" but in fact of real concern to Australia, and one would hope the silent majority in Papua New Guinea.
However, of all the contributions I have written on China in our region I regard this as the most troubling, if not alarming, of all.
Papua New Guinea is our most strategically important, and largest, neighbour. It is also a former colony of Australia, with enduring business, investment, wartime, sporting, educational, and people-to-people links.
In this contribution I want to highlight China's massive influence in our next most strategically important South Pacific "neighbour", the Solomon Islands.
The Solomon Islands was a British colony until it achieved Independence in 1978. It elected to retain the Queen as head of state and join the Commonwealth of Nations. Independence was achieved smoothly and there is no doubt Papua New Guinea's peaceful transition to Independence was in part a guide to its neighbour.
When PNG achieved Independence it chose to establish diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China and has broadly pursued a "One China" policy ever since. On the other hand, the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and had no formal relationship with the PRC.
Relations between PNG and its neighbour the Solomon Islands were generally sound, though tensions arose when the Bougainville Copper Mine was shut down and a deadly and costly rebellion began. The island of Bougainville is separated from the Solomon Islands by a narrow strait. The proximity of Bougainville to the Solomon Islands ought to be of the highest order strategic importance to Australia.
After years of ethnic tension and a total breakdown of law and order and government services, the SI Parliament unanimously supported a government request for "outside assistance". The response was led by Australia, supported by Pacific Island nations generally.
In July 2002, Australian and Pacific Islands police and troops arrived in the Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The force totalled 2,200 police and troops led by Australia and New Zealand.
Australia essentially met the cost of the 14 year exercise – around $A2.8 billion.
The RAMSI mission is generally regarded as being initially successful, but as it dragged on ethnic tensions resumed, and one of the nation's political leaders, Manasseh Sogavare, was implacably opposed to the continuing Australian-led presence until it finally ended in 2017.
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