Solomon Islands: US-led Cold War tirade continues
Written by: (Contributed) on 14 September 2022
An important anti-imperialist struggle is taking place in the South Pacific as the Sogavare government in the Solomon Islands challenges the dictatorial role of US-led diplomacy toward their country. The US-led diplomacy is based in neo-colonial relations and has included defence and security measures which are not in the interests of the Solomon Islands. Australia is also involved.
US diplomacy toward the South Pacific has, historically, been parochial and invariably channelled through Australia as the main regional hub for 'US interests'. The US diplomatic position has been marked by an indifference toward economic development and due care and consideration toward the multi-ethnic populations of the countries in the region. US-led foreign policy toward the South Pacific has tended to be based in directives rather than diplomatic consultation.
In September, 2019, the democratically-elected Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and his government in Honiara chose to switch the diplomatic allegiance of their country from Taiwan to China. It met with disquiet, escalating diplomatic tensions and downright hostility from the US and their supporters in Australia. Moves to subsequently sign a security pact with China sent diplomatic tensions soaring to new found levels.
The security pact was subsequently assessed by the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) as having 'underscored the need for Australia to have a persistent maritime surveillance capability, one able to cover significant portions of the Indo-Pacific on a single mission'. (1) One can but wonder what was going on inside the Defence Department to create the demand for a large, remotely piloted aircraft with the capability 'of remaining air-borne for up to 24 hours and has sensors which include a 360-degree maritime surveillance radar, infra-red / electro-optic camera and significant electronic intelligence capability', linked to Pine Gap and Guam. (2) It is an extremely expensive piece of military equipment.
Following the signing of the security pact, strings of US-led allegations were subsequently made that the Sogavare government was planning to allow China to open military and naval facilities in the country, without any evidence whatsoever. Australia, however, would appear to have begun constructing a secret military facility on a remote part of Temotu province in the Solomon Islands, known as an 'Eastern Border Outpost'. (3) It is, apparently, regarded as part of as longer-term diplomatic agreement between Australia and the Solomon Islands to build a 'multi-agency centre' and has been subject to official diplomatic silence and denial by the Australian High Commissioner in Honiara. One can but speculate why.
A US-led diplomatic tirade toward the Solomon Islands has continued to the present day. It has been conducted with a swash-buckling bravado and complete lack of respect for Melanesian peoples.
A more recent contribution, by a senior diplomatic official in Canberra, for example, equated the Sogavare administration with draconian political legislation and effectively undermining traditional US-led hegemonic positions in the South Pacific. (4) The fact the government in Honiara remains committed toward conducting all foreign policy along traditional Melanesian cultural lines of a 'Friend to All, Enemy to None', has been conveniently overlooked by those who choose to portray Sogavare and his supporters as regional 'bogey-men', not to be relied upon. The fact that domestic political issues arising from inter-ethnic tensions have made governance difficult and political stability problematic has not even been regarded as a matter of consideration.
One recent initiative by the Sogavare government led to a massive reaction by the US and has revealed the true mentality of Pentagon military planning, which is designed to serve only the interests of the US military-industrial complex. US-led regional foreign policy toward the South Pacific is inevitably conducted on a limited and mono-dimensional basis as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a ban on US naval vessels visiting the Solomon Islands clearly showed. It was claimed 'the correct context in which to view the ban is through the prism of a security pact signed by Mr Sogavare and Beijing that potentially opens the door to a direct Chinese military and police presence'. (5)
A recent Cold War-type statement made by US Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, stated 'the US and Australia needed to prioritise reversing the current disastrous trend in the Solomons before it's too late … a foreign aggressor seems bent on conquering the islands from within without even firing a shot', leaving little to the imagination about US-led foreign policy and intentions. (6)
Viewed in a wider and alternative context, the Solomon Islands diplomacy is quite different to what US-led intelligence assessments have concluded.
In late August the Solomon Islands imposed a temporary ban on US naval visits following a diplomatic incident where US Coast Guard Oliver Henry was refused clearance to dock, re-fuel and take on provisions. The US naval vessel had apparently been part of a regional group monitoring and combating illegal fishing in conjunction with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency. (7) A later development included the temporary ban being extended to also include Australian vessels. The Sogavare government, nevertheless, were only too willing to allow the US navy hospital ship Mercy, to dock and conduct free medical consultations, stating diplomatically, it would be 'wonderful to make it an annual event'. (8)
The Sogavare government later exempted Australian warships from entering the waters of the Solomon Islands together with their counterparts from New Zealand and Fiji. An official diplomatic announcement included reference to the problem of those participating in patrols to deal with illegal fishing and official administrative procedures. The government stated we 'needed to know more about the vessels arriving'. (9) And for good reason. The US intelligence services, for example, have a long history of stirring political tensions and supporting and funding separatist movements; the Solomon Islands remain vulnerable to such interference and the prevailing political culture is highly volatile.
The Solomon Islands own defence and security apparatus to maintain political stability also remain minuscule: a recent major and influential global intelligence assessment of the prevailing balance of forces for use with military planners, for example, did not even include a single reference to the Solomon Islands. (10) It was considered irrelevant.
When viewed in the context of two important considerations, it is not difficult to understand why and how the problem of the shipping ban had arisen: it is the role of responsible government to provide effective control over vessels entering and leaving territorial waters as a prime defence and security consideration; the fact the US military appear to regard it as their right to call into ports at will is not in keeping with usual maritime protocol and administrative procedures. Secondly, political stability in the Solomon Islands remains problematic, and when viewed in the context of a recent statement from former US national security adviser, John Bolton, that he had participated in the planning of coups in other countries, it is perfectly understandable for the central government in Honiara to be reluctant and unwilling to allow US vessels to arrive in their ports without the necessary administrative protocol. (11)
When the high-level diplomatic meetings take place in Canberra between PM Anthony Albanese and his Solomon Islands counterpart, Manasseh Sogavare, a suitable agenda item for consideration might be for Australia to implement an independent foreign policy, effectively distancing Australia from US-led Cold War positions and war-mongering in the South Pacific, in general, and the Solomon Islands, in particular.
1. Tritons back on track after funding stall, Indo Pacific 2022, Supplement, Australian, 10 May 2022.
3. See: Website - Solomons Star.
4. See: Beijing-backed autocracy festers in our backyard, The Weekend Australian, 3-4 September 2022; and, Cartoon – Pacific Stitch-up, Australian, 2 September 2022.
5. Quoted: Ship ban speaks louder than hugs in the Solomons, Lead Editorial, Australian, 2 September 2022.
6. Solomons bars warship visits, Australian, 2 September 2022.
7. US ships 'not welcome' as Solomons cosies up to Beijing, Australian 31 August 2022; and, Solomon Islands bans US navy ships from entry, Sputnik, (RF), 30 August 2022.
8. US ships, ibid., Australian, 31 August 2022.
9. Solomons drops ship ban ahead of PM visit, Australian, 6 September 2022.
10. See: The Military Balance, International Institute for Strategic Studies, (London, 2021).
11. Coups? I have helped to plan several real ones: Bolton, Australian, 14 July 2022.
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