Who knew what and when? Asks our Australian correspondent
If Australia’s federal exchequer had a spare half billion or so dollars sloshing around in the vault, might it not have been a better idea to use it to secure the ownership of the strategic port of Darwin instead of earmarking it for a vague investment in Pacific islands aid; aka climate change?
The government’s willingness to allow the port of Darwin to end up in China’s control for want of the same amount of money it has just topped up in the name of climatics its existing billion dollar contributions to Pacific islands welfare is just one of the bizarre outcomes of the recent Pacific Islands Forum in which Australia must surely have learned the lesson that virtue is not its own reward.
No government on the planet on a population basis has such a comprehensive foreign service as Australia’s, yet in regard to the Tuvalu meet the nation still gives all the signs of walking around in the dark.
Was Australia not warned for example by its high commission in Wellington that the dominant Labour wing of New Zealand’s governing coalition is doctrinally compelled to see everything through a climatic filter?
What about the equally comprehensive United States embassy listening post in Wellington?
Did nobody in Wellington or Washington, or, at a pinch, London, convey the message to Australia about the true nature of the reception that was building up for it at Tuvalu?
How was it that with China’s known expansionary designs on the region and especially so in regard to Port Moresby, was Australia still allowed to wade into the Tuvalu brinkmanship encounter believing that it was dealing with a compliant “family?”
Did nobody know, and then let it be known, that China has associate membership of the Pacific Islands Forum?
And so it goes on. More questions than answers with the only certainty that there will be no answers.
The episode has hallmarks of the end product of a western and certainly Westminster zone intelligence breakdown.
Intelligence has just one single purpose and it is to avoid surprises.
Australia, with perhaps the single exception of Canada, is the Commonwealth nation most closely aligned with method and order. In other words, planning.
Yet it wandered into the Pacific Island Forum exuding paternalism and blind to the fact that its “family” members were ready to lynch it, and had, unseen and unheard, carefully laid the groundwork in preparation for the shakedown.
There are though in fairness several explanations.
One is that the parties involved knew what the true agenda was at Tuvalu and decided to let Australia do a walk-through to draw the sting, and also with the additional purpose of disguising the existence of embedded sources of information.
Still another explanation is that Tuvalu was a pre-arranged pantomime set piece.
One designed to let the island leaders reinforce their own base by showily letting off steam at the expense of a well-intentioned Australia which as the world’s 13th largest economy could happily absorb and sustain a bit of a pasting.
In the normal string of events the ensuing unintentional comedy about gagging piety from New Zealand with socks, followed by island survival through Australian fruit picking would have reinforced pre-knowledge and thus these let-it-happen explanations.
As it is the train of events leading up to this Pacific Islands Forum indicate that the course that the meeting in fact took came as a surprise.
This is just because the seriousness of the evolving alignments, the ones involving China, would have been considered too critical to accommodate such tactical show boating, letting off steam.
Federal prime minister Scott Morrison’s current and subsequent exhortation to Australia’s public service to sharpen up its footwork and to focus on Australia as a whole instead of on sector interests may or may not be connected to events in Tuvalu.
The determination though of Official Australia to continue to refer through gritted teeth to the now unruly Oceania archipelago as “family” carries new weight just because in real family life the head of the household is so often the last to know……..