Australia and Pacific neighbours, security and economics, the PM’s confused choices?
Short term decisions seldom stand the test of time as Trump’s tweets show. Thought bubbles and populist executive decisions seldom last nor go unchallenged, as inevitably they confuse more than they are instructive in gaining insight that generates consistent support.
The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has had to learn this the hard way. He was disposed of, by Tony Abbott, as Opposition and Liberal Leader and had to wait several years to reclaim his leadership of the Liberal Party. PM Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to give up easily after this; or be seduced by short term thinking, as he suffered from it substantially. He is more of a strategic businessman than tactical politician, driven by economic reality and rationality rather than ideology; from my perspective. That unfortunately leaves the PM blindsided by many of the daily political issues; especially when the communications skills instead of the facts, of his Government, leave the people unconvinced. I hope the PM can change that situation in time, for his own sake.
For example, Australia has for nearly two decades invested heavily in its relationship with Solomon Islands, but few Australians are aware of it. Looking at recent developments the Australian Turnbull Coalition Government has affirmed the commitment to deliver a high-speed undersea telecommunication cable between Australia and the Solomon Islands. Given the success of the NBN in Australia, another nation building communications project, I wish them luck and can understand why the Government is not putting a lot of effort in advertising the Solomon Islands initiative at the moment.
Australia will deliver and majority fund the project as part of a cable system that will connect both Honiara and Port Moresby to Australia, with a financial co-contribution from both Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2019 but do not be surprised if it takes longer.
The joint project will be a first for Solomon Islands, which is reliant on satellite technology to access the internet. Given the geological conditions satellite technology will always be part of the future.
Ensuring stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific is one of the highest priorities. Boosting connectivity in Solomon Islands will improve governance and security as well as drive economic growth.
Unfortunately, increased connectivity also exposes countries to risk. Through the Cyber Cooperation Program, Australia is working with Solomon Islands to manage these risks by strengthening its cyber security architecture and combating cybercrime. Given China and Russia have been accused to have caused recent cyber crisis the Australian Government should be more explicit in how the new connectivity is protected, that would no doubt be of great interest to most Australians too. Case in point, e-commerce needs to be able to trust the communication system from the USA to China, otherwise real free trade will not be possible.
Support means patience!
Australia’s strong support is a reflection of its stepped-up engagement in the Pacific and commitment to promoting economic cooperation and integration in the region.
It follows a long-standing commitment to peace and stability in the region, with Australia having led the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), by enlarge a police force, law enforcement and economic assistance mission, over its 14 years of existence. Australia will continue to work together to sustain the gains made under RAMSI and support long-term stability and growth in Solomon Islands, such as through the bilateral security treaty.
Australia can ensure these projects are transformational for Solomon Islands and foster a new phase in the strong bilateral relationship.
Rule the world?
One would hope Australia could take some of the lessons learnt from its dealings with Solomon Islands to its relationship with the USA, China and others, creating a foreign policy that combines security and economics, making it more comprehensive and comprehendible. This approach may even be successful in defusing super power tensions through peaceful technical and economic cooperation rather than competition based on might is right.
Do you now better understand the issues Australia grapples with in its quest to deal with the USA and China?