06 January 2004

John Howard Named Pacific Man of the Year

Pacific Islands Monthly has named Australian PM John Howard its Pacific Man of the Year for 2003. Why? Primarily for taking the lead in trying to solve the crisis in the Solomon Islands.
In the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand are entrenched in the region by a dint of history, geography, trade and considerations of political and military strategies, capped by full membership of the Pacific Islands Forum of independent states. Save for the last, all those factors apply to Australia's relationship with Asia. Whereas Asia could dispense with Australia, how many of the Pacific Islands Forum member states, although they do not like such dependence, could enjoy the reasonable degree of sovereignty they have without Australian and New Zealand support?

Australia, to our minds, is part of the South Pacific (except perhaps the bits fronting the Indian Ocean) and that is why Howard is presented appropriately as the Pacific's Man of the Year.

There will be some who will be taken aback and irritated by this year's nomination. Even Howard may be taken aback.

Some Pacific Islands leaders view Australia's dominant role in the region with suspicion and resentment, just as in other regions the United States presence is so viewed.

Whatever the motives, who can seriously rebut the notion that Australia's intervention in the Solomon Islands in July, requested by that sad but now happily reviving country, was a pivotal event in the region's history? We hope that it is not an event that will ever need to be replicated in any Forum country, but that possibility cannot be ruled out.

In Honiara [the capital on Guadalcanal], Howard was received with relief by people on the streets as a liberator from the shameful misrule of their own leaders and their hooligan accomplices. That, tellingly, is food for thought for critics of Australia's policy. The Bali bombing in which so many Australians died would have partly motivated the capture of Howard's attention by the Solomon Islands failure. Of course, Australia has its own national interests to pursue in the region, not all of them benevolent, but now having captured Howard's attention, the islands would be foolish to let it slip. They have too much to lose.
On the eve of the intervention, The Rt. Rev’d Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia (Anglican) outlined ten ways that Australia and New Zealand could help rebuild shattered institutions in the troubled Solomon Islands. The BBC has more on Australia's "new taste for intervention." The intervention "coalition of the willing" (which also includes Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji) has already begun talking about scaling back its military force. The Sydney Morning Herald covered the initial launch of Operation Helpem Fren and the first disarmament efforts.

No comments: