Readers may recall I supported the sending of Australian defence and police personnel to the Solomon Islands after rioting and destruction in the country's capital, Honiara, even though I did so with some concerns.
I was wrong. This was a poorly constructed, and now frankly ill-judged exercise that raises real questions about the intelligence capacity – and frankly competence – of the Department of Foreign affairs, and the Pacific Office in particular.
The request for our engagement came from a desperate Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manessah Sogavare, who is no friend of Australia, and who it ought to be remembered drove the SI shift from recognising Taiwan to recognising The People's Republic of China. And he has driven the PRC engagement to the extent that China has an overwhelming influence across the SI economy – with over 80 per cent of the nation's exports going to China.
When he requested Australia's assistance, surely our High Commission in Honiara, and the heads of DFAT and the Pacific Office, sought intelligence briefings on how genuine the request was, and importantly whether it was a "stop" gap emergency measure that might be followed by an "invitation" to China to assist once Australia (and PNG, Fiji and New Zealand) had restored basic law and order?
At the time our engagement was announced it was widely reported that one factor in accepting the request was that the alternative would be the direct involvement of China.
Our engagement was trumpeted as a victory for the "Step-Up - Pacific" policy and it even suggested this was a serious "setback" to China's influence!
Our engagement was short and sharp. In terms of restoring relative peace, it was successful. There were no casualties.
After a few weeks the process of withdrawing Australian, and Pacific Island and NZ, personnel began. The mission was described as a success by the federal government.
But even before the last Australian and other personnel were withdrawn the SI Prime Minister announced that he has accepted an offer from the People's Republic of China to supply "non-lethal" crowd control equipment AND a contingent of six PRC police personnel who will "train their Solomon Islands counterparts".
There can be no doubt the initial six will just be the start. China has extended its influence from construction, mining, telecommunications, government services, sport and forestry to law and order.
And Australia, together with New Zealand and other Pacific participants are left like the proverbial "shag on the rock".
Yes, we did the hard yards, and did them well. Restoring basic law and order was relatively easy.
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