The Prime Minister was on message when he committed Australia to fighting economic and other coercion in our region. But the time has come to match the rhetoric with real and substantial action and leadership - as the Peoples Republic of China is strengthening its influence, and stranglehold in PNG and the South Pacific.
Before I outline five steps that Australia ought to consider actually delivering with high priority, I want to refer to the latest evidence how dire the position has become.
Last week the PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Soroi Eoe, visited China as guest of his PRC counterpart, Wang Yi. He delivered a statement (attached) which is the most pro-China policy statement I can recall.
A veteran China watcher tells me the statement reads like it was prepared by the Chinese Foreign Ministry! It is hard to disagree.
Just a few words from the statement ought to raise serious concern in Canberra, and in the PNG Government and community. The Minister said "PNG hopes to deepen exchanges on state governance with China and draw on China's development experience…."
The Minister went on to highlight the very areas I have been warning Australia needed to focus on such as infrastructure, communication, agriculture, and health.
It would be interesting to know what the Minister meant when he talked about "state governance". Perhaps how to punish and isolate minorities, persecute Christians, crush dissent and control the media?
Whatever he has in mind there is one clear message Australia cannot ignore. The PNG Foreign Minister is in the PRC "camp" when it comes to key policy areas. He has not made remotely similar statements with regard to Australia.
I believe there are FIVE ways Australia must urgently consider to halt the side in our influence and our real relationship with Papua New Guinea and other South Pacific neighbours.
1. Helping Papua New Guinea strengthen its democracy
National elections will be held in PNG in mid-2022. A very recent by election in Moresby North West exposed serious flaws in the elections process. There were allegations of illegal ballots being printed biased polling officials and even bribery.
National elections in PNG are massive events. In many of the 100 plus electorates there will be between 50 and 100 candidates. Campaigning is effectively already under way.
It is absolutely vital these elections, arguably the most important in PNG history, are free and fair in every electorate. In view of the breakdown in law and order and even social cohesion as well as economic decline and the Covid-19 impact the threat to free and fair elections will never have been greater.
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