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A look at two island nations – one with optimism, one with concern

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Monday, 9 August 2021

While my focus quite naturally is on Papua New Guinea, I find it increasingly important we look closely at the smaller island nations of our region given China's focus on almost of all them.

In this contribution I want to look at a close and strategically important neighbour the Solomon Islands, and a more distant nation which has significant people to people links with Australia, Samoa.

Whichever way you asses the position in both countries one overwhelming conclusion just has to be drawn: the strategic position in our region is changing rapidly. And it frankly follows that Australia's overall response is simply not adequate in the environment we face in our immediate and wider region today.


The optimistic case first of all. Until the recent change of government in Samoa this small Pacific Island nation, with close ties to New Zealand, and increasingly closer people links with Australia, was regarded as one of China's strongest allies in the Pacific.

The small nation, population just under 200,000, is heavily indebted to China for a range of infrastructure projects under Belt and Road and related initiatives including the funding of the last Pacific Games. The capacity of such a small nation to meet its debt obligations was an issue in the recent Samoan elections.

The long entrenched government was finally ejected from office weeks after the elections and replaced by a coalition led by Faime Naomi Mata'afa.

One of the first acts of the new government was to cancel a $100 million agreement the former government had with China to build a new port, notwithstanding the fact that the country's major port has been recently upgraded under an aid agreement with Japan.

This is a courageous decision, but it is one which is highly likely to attract retribution from China, possibly calling in loans it has advanced to Samoa in recent yeares.

Australia provides just $41 million in "development assistance" to Samoa. We may have to offer significantly more assistance if and when China responds. We should not hesitate to do so as easing China's influence in Samoa is not just good for the Australian people, it is good for our influence in the region.


There is a very large Samoan community in Australia, a community that will be watching developments closely. If ever there was a case for an immediate "Step Up" in the region then it relates to Samoa today, Australia needs to be engaging with the new government to see what support above our existing budget commitment we can offer.

Our assistance might also include some "soft diplomacy" in the form of support for sport and culture. There is a significant Samoan presence in both rugby league and rugby union in Australia that can be readily built on to enhance the all-important "people to people" relationship.

This is an opportunity to reduce China's all pervasive influence in a small nation in our wider region. It is one we must embrace with urgency.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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