If Australia really wants to win the hearts of their island neighbours, step back into the background and let New Zealand do all the talking.
Let people like PM Jacinda Ardern and especially Deputy PM Sir Winston Peters speak for them.
The NZ defence Minister Ron Marks is not too far off the tone as well.
When leaders like these talk they know that we know in the islands when they are either sounding ‘paternalistic’ or ‘condescending.’
Not sure if the Minister of Defence has been to Samoa but his PM and Deputy PM have been in Apia several times.
Understanding us islands in the region comes from being a lot more closer, not just to us in Samoa but our other island neighbours as well.
The point is reached where we can all easily relate to that popular African American slang “ I feel you bro.”
Indeed when Winston Peters recently said the “ UK walked out of the Pacific’’ we in the Pacific can ‘feel’ what he was talking about.
To borrow once again from an African American slang, “We hear you’ Winston. You are coming across loud and clear to us in the islands.”
When the NZ Defence Minister Marks said ‘People, more than money, will win favour with the Pacific’ he was spot on.
We too have a saying in Samoa ‘ E mafai mea uma pea fai male loto malie’, roughly translated, ‘nothing is impossible when we put our heart into it.”
The man speaks the kind of language that not only do we know so well but feel so deeply about it too.
When our economic wealth is measured up to the standards of a materialistic world, of course we are seen as poor. But economic wealth has never been an accurate indicator of what real wealth is.
Money cannot buy happiness as the all too familiar saying goes. It does buy a lot of convenience and comfort until the so called wealthy becomes bored, lose interest and moved on in search of other interest to enjoy and bring more comfort.
In the context of winning the hearts of the ‘poor’ Pacific Islands, all it takes is to genuinely ‘hear’ or ‘feel’ them as you would another human being.
Treat them as if they are better off abandoned under a coconut tree where they can sprout roots, and that is not nice.
When the All Blacks lost at the World Cup, the grieving in New Zealand rippled all the way to the islands too.
The All Blacks are more an island team than Australia’s Wallabies although they are building up a strong fan base in the islands as well.
With time and change in attitude, the green and gold would find a warm place to nestle also in the hearts of the islands, the same as the New Zealand All Blacks have done.
China will not solve all our economic problems in the islands. So too would Australia and other rich western powers.
Working together goes a long way to lending our small economies a helping hand. We have and still are trying to do that, unfortunately the ‘palagi’ world has a saying also; “there are no free lunches.”
The Chinese would surely have a saying along the same lines as we have in Samoan; ‘ E leai se mea e maua ma se filemu.”
In simple terms the price we have to pay in the islands for trying to raise our standard of wellbeing is to be insulted by ‘paternalism’ and ‘condescension’
It could be worse. We could lose our sovereignty.