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Sign up with China, and enjoy the scramble from out of Canberra

by Mark Sawyer | Apr 26, 2022 | Lobbyland

After Mao Zedong’s communist revolutionaries seized power in China In 1949, US politicians spent two decades flinging accusations at each other over ‘‘who lost China?’’. A similar dialogue is at play in Australia over the ‘‘loss’’ of the Solomon Islands to China, with added parochialism.

Labor rush-released its Pacific policy today, with foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong pledging an increase foreign aid spending in the region by $525m over four years, provide infrastructure to combat climate change, overhauling labour schemes and restore the presence of ABC radio that was axed by the Abbott government. 

Wong sounded confident about Australia’s competitive advantage: “The power of Australia’s voice, power of our proximity, the power of our people-to-people relationships and the power of economic relationships. This is how you work to secure the region.”

In response Scott Morrison displayed his usual gravitas. He mocked the policies as ”absurd” but also ‘‘doing what we’re doing’’. Referring to Australian Federal Police missions to the Solomons, he made a puerile gag about how ‘’I sent in the AFP ; the Labor Party wants to send in the ABC when it comes to their Pacific solution’’.

Who lost the Solomons, Labor or Liberal? Likely neither. If, as has been suggested, this treaty is driven by domestic politics in a country riven by separatism, unrest and lawlessness, it’s unlikely Australia could have done anything (except perhaps pulling some reverse psychology and urging the Solomons to sign up with China ASAP).

Having signed a still secret security treaty, Solomons PM Manasseh Sogavare denies it will result in his country hosting a Chinese military base. He might ask Hong Kongers about pledges from Beijing. They thought their freedoms were safe until 2047.

The people of the Solomons lost the nation they knew last week. It will become very different as time goes on. And Australians will still be listening to their politicians running parochial slanging matches.

Mark Sawyer is a journalist with extensive experience in print and digital media in Sydney, Melbourne and rural Australia.

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