In Honiara, they’ve just finished this brand-new stadium, and there’s not enough medicine in the main hospital in the country. There’s medicine shortages, so they’re turning people away from the hospital. You couldn’t ask for a more clear contrast in terms of the misallocation of priorities from the Chinese approach. And that really angers people.
There is a really quite sad cynicism among many rural Solomon Islanders that nothing will ever change. They saw billions of dollars getting pumped into Honiara previously from Australia in terms of its peacekeeping efforts and state-building efforts. Now they’re seeing millions of dollars or hundreds of millions, at least, going into sporting infrastructure supported by China.
So there’s an opportunity for Australia or the United States there, right?
Australia is not going to build sports stadiums in Solomon Islands — and nor should we. But what Australia, the United States, the broader development ecosystem should be doing is figuring out how to solve the problems that no one else can or will — those really stubborn, long-term, grass-roots issues. Things like small-scale energy, poverty alleviation, making sure that local clinics have enough medicine.
I went to the home village of the head of Malaita for Democracy, Knoxley Atu. He’s the figurehead of the anti-China movement in the whole country. On the same ferry that I caught across to Malaita, a bunch of Chinese businessmen came over and they were going to that exact same area, within a few kilometers, to finalize a prospecting deal for a mine, which they managed to do by paying people, like, $1,000 each.
So literally in the heartland of the anti-China movement of the entire country, despite all of the promises and all the ambition, a couple of savvy Chinese business blokes with security guards rocked up with a bag of cash, and the community is so desperate for anything that suddenly, they stitch up this prospecting deal.