Readers often ask me just how extensive is China's influence beyond the South Pacific, and whether there are lessons we can learn from the China influence in Africa and South East Asia.
I detect growing concern within the broad Australian community in our region at China's seemingly uncontrolled march towards effective political and economic control - something that has unquestionably been exacerbated by its secret security and economic agreement with the Solomon Islands.
The Australian Government, principally through DFAT, has done a really poor job educating the Australian community on our regional relationships. and China's direct and growing challenge to our presence and influence.
It can be argued DFAT was "asleep at the wheel" when it came to the extent of China's influence in the Solomon Islands - and the secret agreement which gives China unparalleled influence right on our doorstep.
I warned about it in my column months ago - long before it was revealed as a reality a few weeks ago in the form of an agreement that covers military as well as economic "co-operation"........something that would be better described as "control".
Our response since the revelation has been so typical - just inadequate!
It is clear to me that if we are to contain, if not reverse, China's influence then it is going to be costly - and much more costly than our already generous development assistance programmes.
I find the view in the Australian community towards overseas aid, even to our immediate region, is mixed. There remains a substantial body of opinion opposed to it.....led by minor parties such as One Nation.
The current government and opposition may pretend they have a broadly bi-partisan approach to our region - but that does not extend to overseas aid.
In 2014 the Abbott Government unwisely cur total aid program - something that sent the wrong signal to our neighbours.
While there have been some increases, such as our generous support for all our regional neighbours to help in the fight against Covid 19, the simple reality is that our development assistance program has failed. It has not in any way countered China's growing influence, even though China itself has switched from aid to trade and tied loans.
What increased lending has given China is the opportunity to massively outspend Australia, and New Zealand, the United States and Japan, via tied loans that lack transparency and give China a stranglehold over public sector capital works - in fields such as road construction and telecommunications.
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