The Labour Party in Australia has called the China-Solomons deal “the worst Australian foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since the end of world war two”.
By extrapolation, it could also be argued that it’s New Zealand’s worst foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since the end of world war two.
I’m inclined to agree.
The Aussie opposition accused Prime Minister Scott Morrisson of going missing and talking a tough game. The same can be said of Jacinda Ardern and this Labour government.
Where the bloody hell were we? Why weren’t we cultivating that relationship with Honiara given the vulnerabilities in the region? China could see it. We failed too.
The last and only ministerial visit since Labour came to power was in 2019 and frankly, Labour gets no credit, that was a Melanesian mission led by NZ First Foreign Minister Winston Peters.
At least the Australian government had a crack once news of the China-Solomons deal leaked last month. It sent its Pacific Minister. Probably should have sent the Foreign Minister but at least it sent someone. Even the United States is sending two of its top officials to try to re-pivot the Pacific pivot back in its favour.
New Zealand, nup, a couple of phone calls and a promise to keep our whopping five soldiers and four police officers in the Solomons to help with security and unrest. I’d probably be looking to China too with all its terrifyingly large navy and military hardware and personnel if those were the options.
Remember we also only found out about the proposed deal because it was leaked on social media. Not because of our Five Eyes spying network extraordinaire
"If genuine, this agreement would be very concerning,” said our Foreign Minister on the 25th of March. If genuine. We literally had no idea.
Like I said, Jacinda Ardern talks a tough game. Impressive wordplay in her media stand up yesterday speaking from Singapore. She sounded strong.
"We must draw clear lines where we have areas of concern and the militarization of our region is a very clear line".
But on this, Ardern is all hat no cattle.
She may’ve picked up the blower to the Solomons PM but she hasn’t ushered a peep to the Chinese Premier - or as far as I could tell from her answers, even attempted to have a leader to leader conversation scheduled. And that’s for good reason. There’s no way Xi Xinping would pick up or care what we think.
China saw an in, it exploited it and now New Zealand and Australia and walking around in circles banging into each other, wondering how on earth that happened.
It’s time for Ardern to up the ante big time and a good place to start is her next stop on the jet-set, Tokyo. China’s presence in the Pacific - and its new, very solid foothold in the Solomon Islands - should immediately be elevated to the top of the grin and grip, bilateral agenda when she meets Japan’s Prime Minister. Japan too is extending its military presence in our backyard.
We need all the friends we can get after taking some of our Pacific friendships for granted.