Solomon Star

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Nov. 30) – The granting of entry permit to Foreign Affairs Minister Patteson Oti to Australia for the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers meeting is an indication by Canberra that it is willing to normalise strained relation with Honiara.

The two Pacific neighbours have been at wrong ends and diplomatic ties at an all time low as leaders ply a stick and carrot diplomacy game which seems endless a month ago after the expulsion of High Commissioner Patrick Cole in August by Honiara.

Things turned nasty over the Julian Moti affair after Honiara flatly refused to extradite the lawyer to Australia to face child sex related charges.

Australian’s tough hand approach to ban all our 50 MPs further soured the relationship.

However, the change of mind in Canberra to permit Oti in Sydney is welcoming.

Maybe Australia has now realised that as a leader it can’t continue to live in isolation with its neighbours.

In today’s many challenges - Australia can’t win the war alone it needs its neighbours regardless of their sizes and economy inferiority.

In fact, Australia needs its neighbours to give her mandate to pursuit regional goals in its fight against terrorism or whatever code name it wants to call its missions.

Perhaps during the diplomatic crisis our government must have realised that by acting on Australian orders it can easily get what it wants. But when we are in conflict with them - we are bound to go nowhere.

It therefore raises the question, at whose interest is Australia acting?

Calling the Pacific Foreign Ministers to Australia may not be intentional but Sydney has become the Forum’s own version of United Nation’s New York where leaders discuss flash points in the globe and how to act to them accordingly.

Three years ago, RAMSI’s fate was decided in Sydney, today the focus is on Fiji.

The ‘crisis talks’ comes at a time when Australia has strained relationship with PNG and the Solomons.

It will be interesting to see if both Oti and his PNG counterpart Paul Tiensten are granted visas to attend the meeting as both leaders are on Canberra’s blacklist.

By accepting the two leaders Australia sends two messages, first it’s willing to solve the strained relationships and secondly obey the leader.

Whether Sydney is chosen by the Forum, undoubtedly the participation of SI and PNG must had been hotly debated before the Forum gave the go ahead. Or, the Forum laid condition that Sydney is the host provided that PNG and SI participate.

It may imply that Australia is willing to listen to the Forum but on conditions. It could also connotes that Canberra is willing to pursuit its own interest in the Pacific and use the forum as a rubber-stamp.

Regardless of these theories, Mr Oti should make full use of the Forum to seek further dialogue to repair the damage caused to the country as a result of the Julian Moti affair. We can’t continue to live in disharmony with our neighbour.

Though there is backdoor diplomacy between the two countries - there is no better way for Oti to speak directly to his counterpart Alexander Downer to sort out the stand-off once and for all.

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