Australia will demand greater accountability from countries that receive its aid at this week's regional meeting of South Pacific leaders in Fiji. Canberra's demands could contribute to an already frosty atmosphere at the 3-day summit of the Pacific Islands Forum. Relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands have been strained over a controversial child sex case.
The Australian Prime Minister John Howard will tell his regional counterparts at the Pacific Islands Forum that aid money needs to be used more responsibly. Mr. Howard insists that recipients must improve governance standards. His words are likely to inflame the dispute between Canberra and the Solomon Islands, one of the Forum's members.
The government of the Solomons is refusing to hand over Julian Moti, an Australian lawyer wanted on child abuse charges. Moti was recently appointed attorney general in the Solomon Islands.
The Solomons receive millions of dollars in assistance from Australia. It says Australia's extradition request is politically motivated and accuses its powerful neighbor of using aid money to further its own agenda in the South Pacific. Australian Prime Minister Howard flatly rejects this argument.
"The real issue there is allowing the law to take its course," said Mr. Howard. "This man is wanted to answer criminal charges. We're not trying to make the Solomon Islands into another Australia. We are, however, respectfully requiring countries who receive our aid to lift their standards of governance."
Anger at Australia is also high following Australia's raid of the Solomons' prime ministers' office on Friday, which several Pacific nations describe as "provocative" and "unnecessary".
Adding to the diplomatic standoff, the Solomon Islands threatens to expel Australian peacekeepers sent in to quell violent disturbances in the capital, Honiara, earlier this year. Their deployment was part of a more muscular foreign policy that the Howard government has been pursuing in its own backyard.
Canberra is worried that failing states could become havens for extremists or criminals.
In 2003 Australia led a multinational intervention force in the Solomon Islands, which had been brought to the brink of anarchy by years of ethnic violence and official corruption.
Australia has often been accused by its South Pacific partners of being too aggressive, and of behaving with colonial-style arrogance in its dealings with them. The Pacific Islands Forum comprises 16 countries, including Australia, which has a population of 20 million, and tiny Niue, which has fewer than 2,000 people.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Christopher Hill, is also scheduled to address Forum leaders.