Thanks to EastSouthWestNorth for the link
When the Chinatown in a South Pacific nation is burned to the ground, allegations fly that the Republic of China funneled money into the political process and corrupted the elections, the overseas Chinese flee the country and turn to the ambassador of the People’s Republic of
There’s something else, something important missing from most of the news stories, however—a discussion of the role of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and its interactions with
A major source of Sir Allen Kemakeza’s alleged graft during his term as Prime Minister was his use of a compensation fund for victims of previous ethnic conflicts as his personal piggy bank in 2001 and 2002.
The fund was underwritten by the Taiwan Ex-Im Bank, and Kemakeza was allowed to control it. That provenance, and the fact that Kemakeza and his secretary received the two largest payouts from the account, lead one to speculate it was set up by the Taiwanese government to serve as his private slush fund.
But that wasn’t all.
Earlier this year, the head of the
Tuhanuku said he had uncovered the details of the scheme from information gathered from outgoing members of parliament and intending candidates in this year’s general election.
"Most of them are happy to boast about how easy it is to get money from
He said when put side-by-side the arrangements and circumstances surrounding the funding of these special projects were strikingly similar in detail.
"Together they reveal a pattern of events that establishes a clear connection between the payment of monies by
Amusingly, Kamekeza had shown himself perfectly willing to yank
In a documentary that described non-swimmer Chen Shuibian’s taking his first ever ocean plunge ever during his state visit to the Solomons in order to demonstrate Taiwan’s interest in the archipelago as a surf-tourism destination, Kamekeza had this to say in 2005 about the People’s Republic of China’s courtship of his regime:
PRIME MINISTER KEMAKEZA: The approached me and my ministers, my officers at the international conferences for bilateral discussion.
PRIME MINISTER KEMAKEZA: Maybe. I cannot predict the future.
The People’s Republic of China escaped political damage in the Solomon Islands crisis, presumably not because of any greater probity—it recently engaged in a successful checkbook slugfest with Taiwan over Vanuatu—but because the Solomon Islands was still too busy nursing dry the Taipei teat to turn its attention to Beijing.
Kemakeza’s chosen successor, Snyder Rini, had the further
During the run-up to the vote for Prime Minister, Chan apparently grabbed two independent MPs arriving at the airport and attempted to detain them at his Honiara Hotel—which also served as Rini’s campaign headquarters-- for some impromptu coalition building before they were extracted with no little difficulty.
The result of all these alleged shenanigans was that, even though an apparent majority of reform MPs had been returned in this year’s elections, they somehow turned around and voted Rini into power as Prime Minister.
The catastrophic riots of April 16 and 17, 2006 were the result. Not unexpectedly, Chinese interests, regardless of their connection to
But one interesting element of the story is the setback
As a useful article in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian informs us, John Howard took seriously his appointment by George Bush as “sheriff” in
Thereupon, the Howard government dispatched RAMSI—the Regional Assistance Mission to the
Though Australian personnel made up the bulk of the force, in the spirit of President Bush’s cry of “What about
The term “shock and awe” was even employed, proudly and approvingly, as RAMSI forces swept the islands to disarm warlords and confiscate weapons.
For a while it looked like
But according to a left-wing regional website—and apparently the Solomon Island’s own bishop--Australia might have avoided an Iraq quagmire but found itself in something like Haiti: an impoverished, factionalized nation cracking along class lines, where the temptation for the occupier to simplify matters by choosing sides may have proven too strong:
Writing in the January 18 Solomon Star newspaper, Solomons Anglican Bishop Terry Brown, who had initially supported the RAMSI intervention, observed that “there is a major disparity between RAMSI’s rhetoric of staying for ten to 15 years in the Solomons, bringing peace and prosperity, and the reality of re-emerging violence, increasing poverty and unemployment, high school fees, a downward-spiralling economy, higher inflation and lower incomes, declining medical services, ongoing corruption in government ministries, lack of planning and implementation of how Solomon Islanders will competently run all parts of their own government, crumbling infrastructure, millions and millions of RAMSI funds spent on Australians with the money going back to Australia with minimum cash benefit for Solomon Islanders, continued centralizing of everything in Honiara, etc.”
From David Stanley’s South Pacific Travel Blog:
RAMSI appeared to be propping up the Kemakeza government through military and economic aid. The Australian High Commission even pressured opposition politicians like Fred Fono to support Kemakeza, to give the appearance of stability so European Union aid money would be released.
The Australian RAMSI contingent was unpopular among
Stanley also makes the very interesting allegation that the deciding factor in the RAMSI intervention was that Kemakeza had been shopping his country’s security needs to Indonesia as well as Australia. This consideration may have compelled
This April the parliament elected the current allegedly corrupt bastard, Snyder Rini (Kemakeza’s anointed successor and ex-Finance Minister), as Prime Minister amid allegations that he had obtained money from the local Chinese businessmen (and they perhaps had received the money from the ROC) in order to buy the votes of opposition MPs—some of whom had been elected on a reformist ticket.
The capital city exploded and, as we all know,
But RAMSI was there taking the heat as well as it secured the parliament building and provided protection to Snyder Rini. Again, from David Stanley’s blog:
But the spark which actually ignited the rioting and led to the burning of numerous Chinese businesses scattered around the capital was tear gas fired by Australian members of RAMSI into a restive but still non-violent crowd waiting for answers outside the parliament building in Honiara. Later, RAMSI and local police they had trained stood by on the left bank of the Mataniko River and took no action as a mob of around 1,000 Solomon Islanders looted and burned Chinatown on the river's right bank. Honiara's Chinese community, a large majority of whom took no part in the corruption and exploitation practiced by a few of their fellows, was forced to flee.
RAMSI forces were treated roughly for their role in defending Rini and his discredited order, suffering injuries though thankfully no fatalities in the fracas, and having their vehicles burned.
What fueled the angry outburst in
Solomon Islanders felt they were losing control of their political as well as economic destiny.
From the Green Left Weekly:
“This is worse than the ethnic crisis last time”, Solomon
The crisis illustrates the perils of intervention, in their military and monetary forms.
On the Australian side, it shows how easy it is for foreign powers embedded in near-failed states to give up on the very difficult job of nation-building and backslide to the easier and lazier habits of occupation and factional politics.
It also shows how rapidly resentment of a foreign military presence, no matter how benign, can serve as a rallying point for a political movement…and inflict collateral damage on a largely innocent non-indigenous population.
The Solomons experienced the worst of both worlds, afflicted by the recklessness of local political assets confident they had Chinese money (in this case from the ROC) and first-world muscle (RAMSI) backing them up.
Thanks to the one-night spasm of violence, the
That’s a disaster, and should stand as another object lesson of the dangers of applying the big money and the big guns to fragile nations and societies.
Of course, that’s not the takeaway for the Australian government and press, now happily reporting Rini’s resignation and the return of RAMSI-supervised democracy to the
Let’s turn to The Australian for the conventional wisdom instead:
There are many lessons from this week's tragedy. One is that
That’s what’s missing from the