By Professor Transform Aqorau
Professor Transform Aqorau is the Vice-Chancellor of the Solomon Islands National University and widely respected for his thoughtful and visionary leadership. Ocean Equity Research is delighted to re-post his occasional blogs on Pacific development. These blogs provide important insights into the Pacific development context and look beyond global geo-political narratives. The originals of these blogs can be found on Prof. Aqorau’s Linkedin profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/transform-aqorau-2b673420/
In the Solomon Islands, a picture emerges that starkly contrasts the headlines of geopolitical rivalries. Here, the tug-of-war between China and Western powers is hardly the talk of the day. Instead, the narrative is dominated by tangible actions and visible benefits – the new sports stadiums, roads, and medical facilities that residents can touch, see, and use.
It is easy for analysts and observers from thousands of miles away to distill the region’s dynamics into a neat frame of “China vs. West”. But, the reality on the ground paints a different picture. To the locals, who often lack basic support services and facilities, the origins of the aid matter far less than the benefits they bring. When new infrastructure or services emerge, it isn’t about which flag flies overhead, but about the tangible improvements in their day-to-day lives.
Witnessing the throngs of people in Honiara gathering at the docks with the Chinese Army Mercy Ship this week and the US Navy Mercy Ship last year, it becomes clear that these events aren’t about politics. They are about hope. A hope that one might receive the kind of medical care that is so often inaccessible to the average Solomon Islander.
What is often invisible in international headlines is the palpable disillusionment with the way foreign aid is often administered. Programs laden with foreign consultants and advisers, who might be more acquainted with local cafes than with the real challenges the people face, create a disconnect. The funds that are ostensibly earmarked for local development sometimes never reach those who need them most.
Yet, in the face of this disillusionment, the people’s resilience and pragmatism shine through. The flag under which a helping hand is extended becomes immaterial. The urgency of need blurs affiliations. Whether it’s a bridge constructed by the Japanese, a stadium funded by China, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, or medical treatment aboard a foreign ship, the primary concern remains: Does it make life better here in the Islands?
As debates continue to rage in distant capitals and think tanks about the geopolitics of the Pacific, it would do well for these analysts to remember one thing: For the people of the Solomon Islands, the real issues are much closer to home. The pressing concerns are not of global powerplays but of basic human needs. Until these needs are met, the geopolitics will remain, for many, a distant and abstract concern, overshadowed by the immediate reality of daily life.