Australian Prime Minister John Howard has furthered suspicions of a neo-colonial agenda by telling impoverished South Pacific island nations they must share resources with neighbours to survive. Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, which last month approved sending a multinational police force to the Solomon Islands following a suggestion from the Australian leader, will discuss the proposal at its summit in New Zealand next month. Mr Howard said recently his country planned to play a more assertive role in the South Pacific, noting that many Oceania nations were 'too small to be viable in the normal understanding of that expression'. 'It's just not possible if you've got an island state of fewer than 100,000 people to expect it to have all of the sophisticated arms of government,' he said. Nauru, with 21 sq km and 12,000 people, fits Mr Howard's criteria. With riches from spent phosphate mines dwindling, it is selling assets and closing embassies. Its only representative to the United States, Steven Ray, said yesterday that Pacific nations had sustained themselves in some cases for 1,000 years and could continue to do so as long as their people were educated and inspired. 'Although Mr Howard's comments are well-intentioned, there has to be an understanding that almost anything would be perceived as usurping these nations' sovereignty,' he said in Washington. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and China would do better to help by using the islands for strategic placement of satellite and communications stations and train and give jobs to islanders. The executive director of Victoria University of Wellington's Centre for Strategic Studies, Peter Cozens, said Mr Howard was 'perhaps not as sensitively attuned to Oceania and its politics as New Zealanders'. 'Flushed with his new-found power from his leading of Australia into Iraq, he feels as if perhaps this is a leadership role for Australia,' Dr Cozens said. 'Of course, Australia must play a part, but it needs to do so diplomatically.' Increasing civil unrest has accompanied rising poverty in the South Pacific. But co-operation has been growing through the Pacific Islands Forum, South Pacific University and aviation and policing. But Pacific islands security expert Ellie Wainwright, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, said Mr Howard's suggestion that pooling sovereignty to maximise the success of small and micro states was sensible. 'There should be an exploration of creative solutions to maximise the success of the states,' Dr Wainwright said.