Reflections on the emerging diplomatic relationship between the Solomon Islands and China.
It’s a wet start to Sunday in Bangkok from where I write and perhaps gives me the opportunity to stay indoors and reflect a little on the happenings in the Solomon Islands that has seen the government enter into diplomatic relations with China.
What to expect next will be on the minds of many Solomon Islanders knowing that China is a communist country with seemingly different core values to those holding Christian values and following Christian teaching.
I asked myself a similar question some 24 years ago when I was asked to join the Ministry of Safety and Security in the Western Province of the “ new South Africa” as the Senior Legal Administrative Officer.
The head of the Ministry, with the portfolio of MEC for Safety and Security, was a member of the Communist Party of South Africa and, frankly I really did not know what to expect of the Ministry but especially of my boss.
I have to be honest in saying I both surprised and honoured to be tasked with introducing a Human Rights Training Programme for the members of the South African Police Service (as it had been re-named from the South African Police (SAP) following the election of Nelson Mandela to the position of President of the Republic of South Africa)
I was surprised too by the way my boss conducted the affairs of his office. He took a strong leadership role when it came to policy instruction and implementation but always involved the members of his staff in decision making and seeking their comments and advice.
On the welfare side, it was common for the lowest paid staff, including office cleaners, to be invited to all office functions and treated equally with the more senior personnel.
I came to realize that there was much in my accepted Christian ways in what was happening in that Ministry.
Using that past experience as an example, I began this morning to consider how Christian values I grew up with and cherish have been weakened, if not completely lost, by new liberal ways that I struggle to comprehend and I believe I need not spell them out to Solomon Islands society when not so long ago the former Governor General spoke openly out about such liberal changes in society.
Liberalism I perceive having had its effect on crime trends in Western society and liberal trends that run contrary to Christian values and tradition – most certainly as I knew them when growing up in the post Second World war period in Britain from 1945 to the mid 60s.
The Solomon Islands has strong, if not varied cultural values, and traditions that goes back many centuries. It is also a country that recognizes and practices Christianity. A position reinforced by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s recent address to the nation.
Turning to the prospects for China’s aid to the Solomon Islands, China will come up against the culture, traditions, and religion of its new diplomatic partner and will have to adapt to meet the challenges to gain the acceptance of the people.
My basic instinct tells me that direct aid will be needed to see positive, tangible, results in country-wide development, infrastructure, education, health services, poverty reduction, and climate change adaptation, job creation, gender equality and sports education and facilities, to mention just a few.
The practice evidenced in neighbouring countries such as in Vanuatu and Fiji has seen development projects being supervised by Chinese workers brought to those countries and led to many local people being excluded from work opportunities and training.
It would be my view that the SIG should consider having contract proposals include provisions for a percentage local personnel to employ in all development works that might be undertaken by the Chinese.
On a more general front, the question arises which Chinese political values will allow China to help shape Solomon Islands future environment for the better.
I think of the fact that there are three political values in the Chinese way of doing things, Marxism, economic pragmatism, and traditional values.
In recent times I have seen China putting economic pragmatism and Chinese traditional values competing strongly with Marxism in attempts to win over allies.
I the past, I recall the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remarking, “Very soon we will find ourselves at a point in history when, for the first time since George III, a non-Western, non-democratic state will be the largest economy in the world. If this is the case, how will China exercise its power in the future international order? Will it accept the culture, norms and structure of the post-war order? Or will China seek to change it? I believe this is the single core question for the first half of the twenty-first century, not just for Asia, but for the world.”
Time will tell how Chinese aid will enable a better future for the Solomon Islands and the entire people. I very much hope, however, that China will practice fairness, justice, respect for rights, civility and, above all, the acceptance of the sovereignty of the Solomon Islands in all its affairs