GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Pacific Intelligence Update 28th February

A simple explanation of this week’s military and political developments in the Pacific


China’s international diplomatic offensive – Pacific impact 

This week China launched a diplomatic offensive, in Europe the country is aiming to position itself as a peace maker.  And; although politely received by Ukraine, China’s peace proposal was underwhelming for most European nations. Many concerned that China is playing a dangerous game by supporting Russia, while claiming to be working for peace in Ukraine.

However, the target of China’s recent diplomacy is not Europe. China’s larger plan is to develop support for future competition with the United States and its allies, specifically in the ‘Global South’.  The group of Southern Hemisphere nations that are ambivalent about supporting the United States and NATO, not just in Ukraine but generally.  Countries that voted either against; or abstained from this week’s UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion tend to be in the Global South and include about half the world’s population.  

Essentially, there is fertile ground in Africa, South America, South East Asia and the Pacific to build support for an anti-American / anti-West / anti-NATO block that can support competition with the United States and its allies. The impact of this activity is likely to be an increase in Chinese diplomacy within the Pacific region. 

Pacific Islands Forum more stable and united

Founded in 1971, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is an organisation established to encourage cooperation in trade and defence issues in the South Pacific. It is funded by Australia and New Zealand.  Although a grouping of very small nations, the PIF is of strategic importance for Australia and New Zealand because international trade routes pass through this area and both nations have deep historical links with these countries. 

Recently, the forum has been experiencing political instability; tension between the Micronesian and Pacific Island states and last week’s PIF meeting ending with messages of unity, stability and a commitment from members to strengthen the organisation is a positive sign for Pacific stability. 

The PIF forum is a key to strategy in the South Pacific, any potential conflict in the region will be naval in character and therefore requires bases for ships and planes to operate from.  Both Australia and New Zealand’s security are affected by the region. If a hostile nation develops influence amongst the forum’s members and acquires options to base military assets in the area, it could create regional instability.  Or if a member state fails, there could be an effect on regional stability.

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Further, the forum has been used in peace-keeping missions increasing regional stability. Most importantly helping organise troops for the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).  This is a vital security role in an age of hybrid warfare. The local knowledge and moral mandate of PIF peacekeeping forces is a potential counter to a range of low-level military or para-military tactics that could be employed in this region.  The RAMSI mission involved police, military and aid contributions from 15 PIF member states. 

This week’s message of unity is good news for the Pacific region. 

Russia’s Australian spy ring exposed

This week Australia announced that it had successfully exposed a Russian spy ring.  The announcement is unsurprising but provides a pertinent reminder to people in the Pacific that ‘espionage never sleeps’ because often in the Pacific, nations see themselves as unimportant or not of interest to the larger powers.  Unfortunately, this is not true. Intelligence operations often start at less well guarded fringes and work inwards.  

Both Australia and New Zealand retain exceptionally close intelligence relationships with the United States, the United Kingdom and with NATO allies.  A hostile power may feel that it is easier to build an espionage capability in these Pacific nations to gather information to use in other parts of the world. 

A key lesson from this episode is that the Australians were lucky.  The Russian operation was suspected because of an extraordinary number of Russian diplomats being posted to Australia.  Obviously, the Russians were very cavalier and under-estimated Australia’s security services.  A more competent enemy would use a more sophisticated and careful approach.  It is a good reminder that all nations in the Pacific need to remain vigilant. 

United States Marine Corps planning for future conflicts in the Pacific

3rd Marine Division is the spearhead of United States expeditionary forces in the Pacific. In 2012’s Defence Policy Review Initiative Realignment Plan the United States planned withdrawal of forward deployed Marine forces from Japan.  Recently this plan has been modified and last month the United States announced that 3rd Marine Division’s headquarters will now remain in Okinawa. Further, that one of the division’s artillery regiments will re-role as a Littoral Marine Regiment (LMR). An LMR is a small (approx. 2,000 soldiers), more light-weight unit designed specifically to deploy quickly and fight possible ‘near peer’ enemies like China or North Korea. 

An LMR is an amphibious fighting force stacked with air defence and surveillance capabilities designed to operate in a heavily contested environment called the Weapons Effect Zone (WEZ).  In layman’s terms the WEZ is the area within which an enemy could be expected to use large numbers of long-range guided missiles against the force.  Essentially, this is the area in which any large, concentrated military force or large vessel like an aircraft carrier can be effectively targeted.

Therefore, an LMR is small and able to operate widely dispersed without large concentrations of troops or large ships to be hit by guided missiles.  It’s large air defence group provides a counter to guided missiles and the LMR’s extensive surveillance assets allow it to seek out targets for American counter strikes.  It is a cutting edge, network centric organisation designed specifically to operate in heavily contested maritime environments. Perhaps supporting Japan or the Philippines fighting China; or further afield in the Pacific.

Prime Minster of Fiji meets West Papuan separatist leaders

This week, Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji’s Prime Minister met with Benny Wenda leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) the main political group representing the West Papuan independence movement.  West Papua is the Indonesian ruled half of the island of New Guinea, the eastern half being the nation Papua New Guinea. West Papua is rich in mineral resources, and a variety of military groups are fighting a long campaign for independence from Indonesia.  It is one of the little-known wars of the Pacific.  

ULMWP is a political organisation that aims to be the over-arching representative for West Papuan independence; and this meeting is the first time in sixteen years that a Fijian Prime Minister has met with ULMWP.  It is important because Fiji is a leader in Melanesian politics and a strong voice in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a Melanesian group within the wider Pacific Island Forum. This group’s membership includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and representatives of New Caledonia’s indigenous Melanesian people.  ULMWP Is campaigning for recognition and membership having previously been turned down twice; in 2015 and 2019.  After the meeting, Rabuka called for ULMWP to be made a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Indonesia is an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and is unlikely to support the inclusion of ULMWP.  Rabuka’s support raises tensions and highlights the issue of West Papuan independence.  Indonesia’s long war in West Papua and the suffering created by it, is not well reported.  However, this war creates a point of tension and instability in the South West Pacific that should be considered by policy makers. 


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger 


  1. Noone was ‘lucky’ that a human spy ring in Australia was exposed. It’s time to root out every American and American-lover from the Asia-Pacific.

  2. Long term, China has painted itself into a corner in several respects:

    > China is and always will be geographically weak. Nothing can change its strategic vulnerability. It relies on imports and exports that go through choke points that are overshadowed by other states. Its vast hinterland has always been the source of uprisings and invasions.

    > China is weak in terms of trade. It relies on exports to the West to fund the regime. Should the West decide to apply even mild sanctions, it will be destroyed economically. At the same time, it is reliant on imports because it doesn’t have a domestic oil & gas reserve and relies on imports of coal, iron, nickel etc.

    > It has spent decades threatening and bullying neighbouring states, so now it is largely friendless. Running around trying to drum up support from failed states like South Africa isn’t going to help. It’s all pretense.

    > China’s economy is in a terrible mess with the secondary banking system unofficially bankrupt and depositors unable to withdraw their money because it’s all gone! At the same time, it is in the middle of a property market fiasco. People have paid mortgages for apartments that don’t exist. They’re currently demolishing partly constructed apartment blocks because there is no money to complete them. Middle class Chinese have seen their savings stolen by the kleptocrats in charge of the CCP. Not good for national unity!

    > China is no longer a low-cost manufacturer and overseas corporations are slowly moving away. Existing plants continue to operate but their next investments will go elsewhere. Wages have risen but productivity remains low thanks to the heavy burden of the state and all that goes with it. A weather bell was Apple moving out.

    > Lastly it faces demographic collapse thanks to their one-child policy and rise of the middle-class Tiger Mom. Already declining fast, some experts think the Chinese population may halve by 2035. This spells disaster for their economic output and their military capability.

  3. West Papua is our Israel in the pacific. Our govts have been complicit in it’s deafening silence about the brutal inhumane treatment the ‘West Papuan’ people suffer from the Indonesian military etc.. If China can intervene with Fijian PM Rabuka as the intermediate than that a win to ending this unspeakable human Genocide on the West Papuan people.

    Since 1969, the Indonesian military has committed genocide against West Papuans. It is estimated that the military has killed up to 500,000 West Papuans since their war for independence began.

    NZ govts shouldn’t be buddying up with ‘NATO’ an aggressive military alliance that genesis to the current conflict in Ukraine. We need our military here spreading democracy and helping our flood stricken region not facilitate & prolonging a war that was formulated in Washington by the warhawks.

    And Japan stance in the South China Seas is also worrying! Containing China can be a lethal decision that can affect our region negatively for decades. It’s clear the USA along with the collective west are intent on remaining top dog but are running out of time, after 2025 China would become unstoppable as a stronger power or peer competitor of the 3 (US, China, Russia) that have emerged in a multipolar since 2017.

    These warhawks don’t actually participate in the fighting, they just envision a war with China before ‘2025’ and they wrote this in the early 2000s? Like Ukrainians’ dying for a conflict that NATO created, these same bastards want innocent people of different nationalities fighting for there interest using deception and lies.

  4. China is fence-sitting regarding Russia. China’s sole interest is in observing Nato and the world’s reactions to the Ukraine situation, before it takes action on Taiwan.

  5. Ben. Will you be taking one for the team when the US admit to losing another War as they did in Vietnam as they have done in Ukraine.

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