Morrison ordered to do US bidding in Solomon Islands
The recent visit by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the Solomon Islands has revealed a great deal about US-led military planning for the South Pacific.
The hurried nature of the high-level Australian diplomacy has shown the urgency with which the Pentagon has sought to deal with recent developments involving China by strengthening the Defence of Australia (DOA) doctrine.
The US-led military planning, however, rests upon similar defence and security provision for the wider region through the Indo-Pacific Command based in Hawaii, the role of US naval fleets, Island Chain Theory and their attempt to reassert traditional hegemonic positions.
In early June PM Scott Morrison made his first overseas trip to the Solomon islands to meet counterpart Manassch Sogavare following their recent election victories. The high-level diplomatic visit to Honiara was given maximum priority by Canberra: it was accompanied by a media release from Morrison that 'this is not just our region or our neighbourhood. This is our home', explicitly showing Australian neo-colonial attitudes toward the Solomon Islands. (1)
There was little doubt about the puppet-master who was pulling strings very hard in three significant instances following the recent visit to Canberra of US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Patrick Murphy (2):
Shortly after the diplomatic visit Morrison issued a media release in which he praised President Trump, and suggested those who opposed his political position, were wrong. (3)
Secondly, there was little ambiguity in a statement from former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, that Australia was becoming a tributary state to China unless a firmer stance was taken by Canberra to follow US-led regional initiatives. The statement also included reference to a call for the Morrison government to 'join the US in forcefully challenging' China. (4)
Finally, the elevation of Alex Hawke, a little-known backbencher into the coalition cabinet with a portfolio for International Development and the Pacific together with junior Defence Minister, likewise, has revealed a prioritising of the South Pacific by the Morrison government. (5) A further media release from the Office of the PM noted the joint portfolio 'will ensure we're able to integrate everything from our role in our international development and defence initiatives throughout the Pacific'. (6)
The three Melanesian countries of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, form an important part of the DOA doctrine, a military plan formulated in the aftermath of the Second World War to counter possible incursion from the north through use of the three countries as a strategic buffer. It was noted in official media releases that the Bannon statements 'came ahead of the visit by Scott Morrison to the Solomon Islands'. (7) It was, furthermore, noted the high-level diplomatic visit by Morrison was 'a trip aimed at shoring up Australia's influence in the region in the face of a rising China'. (8)
Further official media releases leave little to the imagination concerning Australian diplomacy toward the South Pacific. It is a master and servant relationship; when the servants become unruly, as they occasionally do so, influence is brought to bear from up yonder through layers of bureaucracy within the British Commonwealth and other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing organisation.
It is not particularly difficult to find examples:
After several months of scaremongering about China planning to establish military facilities somewhere in the Pacific region, and official denial that Australia was not behind moves to upgrade the Lombrum base on Manus Island, PNG, a recent media release eventually acknowledged the strategically-placed base was composed of 'our plans for Lombrum naval base on Manus Island'. (9) The period was also marked, and not by coincidence, with PNG PM Peter O'Neill establishing highly successful diplomatic relations and trade deals with China, which were viewed in a dim light by Canberra. O'Neill was subsequently toppled from office through hidden hands within the corridors of power in Parliament House, Port Moresby.
A further media release about the military planning clouded the murky waters of intrigue and suspicion still further with a statement that the redevelopment of the Lombrum base facilities were being taken 'in conjunction with the US Navy'. (10)
A study of regional ocean mapping and boundaries of US fleets reveal why the US, through its regional partner Australia, wants to have access to the Lombrum base. The stakes, for those concerned, are very high: the dividing line between areas of the Indo-Pacific policed by the US 3rd and 7th fleets, together with the frontier of the Northern Sphere and Southern Spheres, cuts directly through Manus Island.
Behind the scenes, however, very real fears exist in the Pentagon about the new government in Honiara severing its diplomatic links with Taiwan. In fact, incoming PM Sogavare has already announced his government is reviewing the matter, and a decision will be taken within six months. (12) The urgency with which Morrison flew to the Solomon Islands took place in light of a warning from the US that a diplomatic switch to Beijing taken in Honiara 'would threaten regional stability'. (13)
A further media release timed to coincide with the statements issued by Bannon from a Washington-based correspondent, interestingly included reference to Island Chain Theory, used by the US military during the previous Cold War against the former Soviet Union. (14)
The US-led Cold War military planning from previous times has now been adapted for use against China, and a return to the times of military stand-offs, diplomatic rivalries and possible real-war scenarios. The planning was designed to encircle and contain the influences of adversaries.
There are three main chains within the theory:
• The first, runs from the Kuril Islands and finishes near Borneo, clipping the northern part of the Philippines;
• The second, runs from the Ogasawara Islands and Volcano islands, reaching the Mariana Islands;
• The third, runs from the Aleutian Islands and finishes in Oceania, composed of Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.
What is particularly significant to note is that Taiwan is a key part of the first chain, and central to US military planning for the wider region. A recent arms deal between Taipei and the Pentagon included plans for Taiwan to purchase over a hundred tanks, together with air defence systems and anti-tank missile systems, 1240 TOW anti-armour missiles, 409 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 250 Stinger portable air defence systems. (15) The size of the arms deal reveals how central Taiwan remains to existing regional US-led defence and security provision.
And therein lies the hurried nature of the Australian high-level diplomatic visit to Honiara by PM Morrison. If the incoming government in Honiara does eventually switch diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing, the political fall-out will resound through the corridors of power in Canberra and all the way into the heartlands of the Pentagon.
Secondly, the Pentagon scaremongering about possible Chinese military facilities being established in the region acknowledged Beijing’s ability 'to project power beyond the second island chain and severely complicate the ability of the US Navy to control Pacific waters of vital strategic influence'. (16)
And then finally, the stepping up of US-led Cold War rhetoric has at last acknowledged the very real prospect of military exercises escalating into real-war scenarios with the recent publication of the 2019 Lowy Institute Asia Power Index, which acknowledged the US was losing ground to China, even without them establishing a base in the region. (17) The US does not take any assessed threat to their traditional hegemonic positions kindly. When the Lowy report stated in matter of fact terms, devoid of any ethical content, that 'short of war, the US is unlikely to halt the narrowing power difference between itself and China', it should be taken very seriously indeed! (18)
We need an independent foreign policy as a matter of the utmost urgency!
1. Editorial, Countering Beijing's rising neighbourhood influence, Australian, 28 May 2019.
2. Hold the line on Beijing's power posturing, Australian, 7 June 2019.
3. Morrison at odds in defence of Trump, Australian, 6 June 2019.
4. Australia 'alerted the US' to China's Pacific threat, The Weekend Australian, 1-2 June 2019.
5. Changes to Morrison's Team, Australian, 27 May 2019.
6. Morrison's mission to rebuff China, Australian, 27 May 2019.
7. Weekend Australian, op.cit., 1-2 June 2019.
9. Morrison seeks to turn the tide of neighbourhood opinion, Australian, 5 June 2019.
10. Pacific rises into focus as leading US priority, The Weekend Australian, 1-2 June 2019.
11. Fundamental Study of American Military Power, H. Fudzii, (Tokyo, 1986), page 214.
12. PM moves to shore up Pacific links, The Weekend Australian, 1-2 June 2019.
14. Weekend Australian, op.cit., 1-2 June 2019.
15. Taiwan asks Uncle Sam for 100 tanks, Australian, 7 June 2019.
16. Weekend Australian, op.cit., 1-2 June 2019.
17. US losing its major player powers in Asia, Australian 29 May 2019.
NOTE: The contributor was a former permanent resident of PNG and made a DFAT parliamentary submission for Canberra about the Solomon Islands for the 2006 inquiry into the turmoil which had lasting implications for political stability and ethnic and inter-ethnic violence affecting the four main islands of the country.