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Scott Morrison made a visit to the Solomon Islands in early June, the first visit by a sitting Australian prime minister in 11 years. The visit was part of an effort to counter the growing influence of China in the Pacific. This effort is not for the benefit of local people, but represents a clash between Australian and Chinese imperialist interests.
A number of countries, including the Solomon Islands, accept aid from both China and Australia. There are debates among ruling elites in the region over which government to lean towards.
Morrison went to the Solomon Islands to announce a $250 million infrastructure grants program, and $2.7 million over three years to assist Solomon Islanders with passport costs related to finding work in Australia. He has pledged support for the building of new government offices, as well as funding for sports – including a program to increase women’s participation in rugby.
This is in addition to the $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility aimed at Pacific nations, announced last November, and $200 million put toward building a fibre-optic connection to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, announced in May 2018. This was in direct competition with plans from the Chinese firm Huawei to build this cable.
Ultimately the goal is to allow Australian businesses to profit from the region. While the level of Australian business investment in the Solomon Islands themselves is very low, the Australian ruling class is concerned about the loss of influence, and the possibility of this spreading.
As the Chinese government tries to expand its influence, the Australian ruling class sees itself losing ground.
Workers in China cannot spend enough money to support the profit-making of Chinese capitalists. The ruling Chinese ‘Communist’ Party (CCP) has only kept the economy growing by accumulating vast amounts of debt. The CCP wants to create conditions for Chinese profiteers to keep making money by expanding across the world.
These imperialist ambitions are shared with their most powerful rival, the United States. The two countries are in conflict on multiple fronts.
Australia’s ruling class considers the US their main military ally. Australia is part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – an informal strategic alliance between the US, Australia, Japan and India. This alliance exists to counter the influence of China.
At the same time, China is Australia’s largest trading partner. This has caused rifts in the ruling class over how much to engage with China versus the US. Both the US and China actively pressure Australian politicians.
The stepping-up of aid for the South Pacific reflects a rising fear among the rich that China’s plans are now cutting across Australian dominance in the region. When a rumour emerged in early 2018 of plans for a Chinese military base in Vanuatu, the fears of the ruling class seemed to crystallise.
Australia is an imperialist power in the South Pacific, alongside the US and France. One of the key tools they use, besides armed force, is the fact that South Pacific governments rely on Australian aid. The leverage the Australian government has through aid is what enabled them to make Papua New Guinea and Nauru accept refugee detention centres on their shores.
The government’s goal is to maintain access to political leverage, markets, and profitable natural resources. For example, currently Australian advisors in Bougainville, neighbouring the Solomon Islands, are pushing for mining access. In the 80s and 90s, Australia played a disgusting behind-the-scenes role in a war that killed 15-20,000 people, fought over Bougainville’s Panguna copper mine.
The Australian Federal Police were there in June, touring the mine. Bougainville will have a referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea in October, and Australian capitalists are hoping to win mining access and have work in place before this happens.
The South Pacific suffers from extreme poverty because of capitalism and imperialism. More than half the population of the Solomon Islands lives on less than $4 USD a day. Aid is needed, but even more important is for workers and the poor to take democratic control over their country’s wealth.
The interventions of Australia and other imperialist powers are aimed at exactly the opposite outcome – maintaining the rule of capitalists. Only an international socialist approach from workers in China, Australia, and across the South Pacific can end the cycle of poverty.
By David Elliott