Despite the complications caused by the rapid escalation of the Covid-19 virus in Papua New Guinea, and its possible spread throughout the region, Australia needs to urgently ensure its response to the pandemic does not detract from the need to more widely strengthen our links with the immediate region.
China's "advance" may on the surface appear to have suffered a setback but the reality is that its advancing influence has not been stopped, or even impeded in the countries it is giving the greatest attention to.
China has made token offers when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine and especially in PNG there is division in government about whether to take it up or go only with the generous Australian offer and WHO-led international support.
The reluctance by PNG to decide on the 200,000 China vaccine offer was all too clear this week when the PNG Health Minister was interviewed on Sky News Australia. When pressed about whether PNG would use the China vaccines on offer he dodged and weaved in his response. The impression I got was that if he can get away politically with adopting the China offer he will do so!
The virus remains a huge and growing issue in Papua New Guinea. Aspects of our response may have been slower than they might have been, and suspicion in the PNG community about the virus, and vaccines, remains a real problem. But generally the Australian response has been strong enough to counter Chinese official and unofficial criticism.
But I believe the virus, and rolling out testing and vaccines, must not detract from our wider challenge in the South Pacific – effectively countering the growing and increasingly aggressive China influence AND rebuilding our relationships which have been allowed to drift for years.
The death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has reminded me of another link that should not be under-valued as we engage more meaningfully than we have done for some time.
Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have a common link via the Crown. We are not just members of the Commonwealth, the Queen is our head of state.
Other Pacific Island nations are members of the Commonwealth – such as Vanuatu, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati and Nauru - but have their own head of state.
We need to look at how our common link with the Crown can enhance our influence in the "Crowned Countries" of PNG and Solomon Islands.
The nature of our relationship with The Queen, and the Royal Family, differs from that of the people of PNG, and the Solomon Islands, in some key respects….but there are important similarities.
As an example, the Queen's representative in Australia is chosen by the Prime Minister. In both Papua New Guinea and The Solomon Islands the Governor General is chosen by the National Parliament and agreed to by the Queen.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
3 posts so far.