Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 08:27 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 08:27 | SYDNEY

Australia on the outer in Solomons

28 October 2010 16:29

Charles Prestidge-King is a former editorial staff member at East Asia Forum. He is based in Honiara and has contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Earlier in the month, the Solomon Star reported that Solomon Islands' Ambassador to the UN, Collin Beck, was being recalled. Citing Cabinet sources, Ambassador Beck's handling of the Goldstone Report vote and his conduct regarding Iranian funding for Solomons students in Cuba were the reasons given.

The Foreign Ministry was against the move, with Foreign Minister Peter Shanel (pictured; photo by the author) explaining that the issues in question had been managed 'transparently well'. The recall was then cancelled, though some in Cabinet – reportedly including the Prime Minister – still consider it a good idea.

The attempted recall signals a clear break from the policy of the previous government. 'Friends to all, enemies to none' was the Sikua Government's policy, using a slogan borrowed from Sir Michael Somare. Under Foreign Minister William Haomae, Solomon Islands pursued relationships with a variety of unlikely candidates: alongside Iran and Cuba, the Government drew closer to the UAE, and its leaders attended Arab League meetings. The Iranians even gave Haomae a ceremonial name.

The current government has played it safer with the slogan, 'constructive engagement'. No more friends for the sake of it, and no more 'one-offs'. Aid has to touch the lives of Solomon Islanders, said Foreign Minister Shanel. Trade links are key, with investment in technology the focus. Solomon Islands' relationship with Israel is likely to be more of a priority. Portugal is now funding Solomons students in Cuba.

You'd think all of this meant that Prime Minister Danny Philip's Government was looking towards its traditional friends. That's not entirely the case.

Despite its Middle Eastern adventurism, the last government maintained a close relationship with Australia, and was supportive of RAMSI's continued presence in Solomon Islands. Prime Minister Sikua was always a welcome figure in Canberra. The new government, following a 'Look North' policy, is far more interested in Asia. Few people are talking about Australia, though there's obviously still a strong relationship. Instead, they're talking about opening a High Commission in Singapore and taking advantage of opportunities from a rising India. Danny Philip's first diplomatic visit was to Taipei.

'Constructive engagement' might mean just that, but there's little room left for building closer ties with traditional partners in Solomons foreign policy.