GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Pacific Intelligence Update

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

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Papua New Guinean instability in the news this week 

Although under-reported in mainstream media there was lots of important activity in and around Papua New Guinea this week.  Activity that could have implications for Sino-American competition in the Pacific.  Starting in Bougainville a large island situated between Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.  Approximately 15,000 people died during a bitter war for independence from Papua New Guinea fought on the island between 1988 and 1998.  The war stopped after New Zealand brokered a peace settlement. The settlement included increased autonomy for the island and was guaranteed by a New Zealand-Australian peace monitoring team.  

Later, in 2001 a peace agreement was signed that agreed a referendum on Bougainville’s independence would be held.  In 2019, a referendum was held that unanimously supported Bougainville separating from Papua New Guinea. 

Currently, the Papua New Guinean government is planning a vote to respond to the referendum and decide whether it will support Bougainville’s independence.  This debate jumped back into the media last week when Papua New Guinea changed the majority required for a decision from a ‘simple majority;’ or more that 50% of votes in their parliament to an ‘absolute majority’ or 66% of votes.  This unilateral change caused Bougainville’s representatives a great deal of concern.   Ezekiel Massat, Bougainville’s Minister of Independence Mission Implementation expressing his concern that the Papua New Guinean National Executive Council had not discussed the change with representatives from Bougainville before recommending this change to parliament.  

James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has always been cautious about allowing Bougainville to ‘break away,’ concerned that its secession could lead to other province’s wanting independence. And; at the same time, on the other side of Papua New Guinea there were discussions this week about West Papua, the Indonesian controlled half of the island.  

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West Papua’s ongoing war for independence, like Bougainville’s war, is a little known but bloody piece of Pacific history.  Unfortunately, both territories independence struggles tend not to be well-covered in mainstream media so are little known outside the local area. Last week, representatives from Vanuatu travelled to Jakarta to meet Indonesian officials and amongst other matters discussed West Papuan independence. Vanuatu is a strong supporter of West Papuan independence.

Historically, Bougainville and West Papua are rich in minerals so their parent nations have opposed independence.  Papua New Guinea fighting unsuccessfully for a decade to secure Bougainville; and Indonesia fighting a long war of attrition with West Papuan nationalists. Both wars causing great human suffering.  

Further, this week it is reported that ten people were killed in Papua New Guinea during an inter-tribal fight in Enga province.  An incident that saw deployment of police and military resources to quell tensions. Although not unusual, this incident highlights the general instability of Papua New Guinea.  A large and poorly resourced country, in which the institutions of government are sometimes not strong.  

With regards to the current geo-political situation this activity points to several risk factors. The United States is building a relationship with Papua New Guinea as a counter to Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands.  This means that money and resources will be flowing into a relatively small nation with weak government institutions and a range of issues it needs to deal with like; Bougainville, or the impact of the war being fought in West Papua along the 700km jungle and mountain border that separates the Papuan New Guinea and Indonesia halves if the island.  

Sino-American competition means that America and its allies will feed money into Papua New Guinea, and China will continue to compete for influence feeding its own money into the nation.  A tough situation for any nation let alone a relatively unstable one to manage.  

This situation is dangerous for stability in the South-West Pacific, the social and political impact of larger powers competing for influence in Papua New Guinea are significant.  The inherent instability demonstrated of the nation combined with a range of current and potential independence movements provides fertile ground for larger nations to try and use propaganda, lobbying and economic pressure to achieve their goals. 

Tension in New Caledonia

The indigenous Kanak people of France’s colony, New Caledonia have a long history of wanting independence with tensions escalating to violence during the late-1970s and 80s. In 2021, a contentious referendum on independence was held.  Pro-independence groups boycotted the referendum, and unsurprisingly the result of the vote was that 98% of people wanted to remain part of France.

This week Kanak representatives spoke to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization repudiating the 2021 referendum and discussing a range of indigenous rights concerns in New Caledonia.  

The colony is a well-garrisoned French outpost in the Pacific, providing a base for French aircraft, naval ships and soldiers. The French commitment to New Caledonia contributes to America’s alliance of nations in the Pacific.  French forces regularly exercising with Australian and American forces and the island itself is an important base securing the eastern end of the arc of islands above Australia.  New Caledonia is a good base for operations in the South-West Pacific.  

New Caledonia’s strategic location means that France is likely to do everything possible to maintain its presence, reducing the likelihood of independence.  This situation will not change and the possibility of more tension in New Caledonia’s future cannot be ruled out.  

Papua New Guinea and Australia trade deal 

Like the United States, Australia is on a diplomatic offensive in the Pacific.  Especially in Papua New Guinea, a vital area now that Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands has increased.  Australia’s diplomatic offensive in Papua New Guinea has two key pillars; a defence agreement that has currently stalled and potential trade deals. The most important of which is the opportunity to enter into a free trade agreement between the two nations.

Australia is working hard offering a range of technical support to bolster Papua New Guinea’s agricultural sector.  Specifically, help to develop a national bio-security regime that is compliant with international standards allowing the nation to trade more profitably. 

However, Papua New Guinea has always had a strained relationship with its larger neighbour and last week Richard Maru, Papua New Guinea’s trade minister would have caused considerable concern in Canberra when he commented on the unfairness of the trade relationship.  Essentially, that for many years Australian companies happily extracted Papua New Guinea’s minerals but the nation does not allow their agricultural imports into the country.  A situation that creates a trade imbalance, very much in Australia’s favour.

Maru also discussed Papua New Guinea focussing on its trade relationship with China.  A country also discussing a free trade agreement with Papua New Guinea.

This is an interesting situation because it appears that Papua New Guinea understands its new strategic importance to Australia and is keen to extract benefit from it.  By playing to Australian fears by slowing down the defence agreement and highlighting the unfair trade relationship, Papua New Guinea stands to benefit.  

It is an early example of how power relationships in the Pacific are evolving because of Sino-American competition.  Papua New Guinea may have difficulty maintaining the rule or law, is managing secessionist movements in Bougainville and needs to keep an eye on West Papua but now has enormous influence with the United States and Australia as these nations seek to shut China out of the South-West Pacific.  

This is activity that we will see spread across the South-West Pacific as small nations suddenly become important to the United States and its allies; and therefore, able to negotiate more aggressively.  This trend may be very positive forcing larger nations to provide much needed investment and technical knowledge into the region stimulating economies and creating wealth.  Or; it could be de-stabilising as larger nations lose trust in smaller nations and start to act more aggressively to achieve their strategic objectives. 

Hopefully, the support provided by the Pacific Islands Forum and other regional networks helps to support a constructive and well-governed dialogue that favours a positive outcome.

 

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger 

17 COMMENTS

  1. “Essentially, that for many years Australian companies happily extracted Papua New Guinea’s minerals but the nation does not allow their agricultural imports into the country. A situation that creates a trade imbalance, very much in Australia’s favour.” BEN MORGAN

    Essentially this is succinct description of what imperialism is, it is what England achieved in India, it is what Russia wants to achieve in Ukraine.
    A trade balance in their favour is what every country with a capitalist growth economy wants to achieve, imperialism is written into the DNA of capitalism.

    • lol imagine pretending that a rescue mission to stop your nazi buddies exterminating every Russian speaker is an ‘invasion’.

      • Imagine this, President Zelensky of Ukraine is a Russian speaker.
        Odessa which is a predominantly Russian speaking city has been heavily bombed by Russian Federation missiles and drones.

        Here’s the thing Mo, several times on this blog, I have challenged pro-war trolls like your self to provide some, evidence, any evidence at all, to back up your accusation that the Ukraine authorities have been exterminating Russian speakers.
        Every time i have been greeted with silence.
        And I expect the same again from you.

        Spreading vile pro-war lies to justify the Russian Federation proven slaughter of Ukrainians, including many Russian speakers, is no laughing matter.
        But if it was; LoL yourself, the jokes on you.

        Russian speakers in Kherson tell heavily armed Russian Federation stormtrooper goons to “Fuck off!”, “Go back to your Russia!”

        And are greeted with gunfire.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgmKygmkqSA&ab_channel=RadioFreeEurope%2FRadioLiberty

        Tell me again Mo; Who is killing Russian speaking Ukrainians?

          • ….Tell me again Mo; Who is killing Russian speaking Ukrainians?

            Reply
            Nick J June 27, 2023 at 1:06 pm
            Ukrainians are Pat, since 2014. Well documented even by UN.

            How about cutting us some slack here Nick and just for once put up the link to this well documented UN evidence of killings of Russian speakers by Ukrainians.

            You won’t because you can’t. It doesn’t exist.

            Like all your pro-war buddies you will never show us the evidence. because there is none. But we are supposed to take your word for it that such events happened.

            Well count me a skeptic of this particular pro-war claim.

            I made the same challenge to another anonymous pro-war troll who goes under the pseudonym Francesca. I challenged Francesca to provide proof of her claim that Ukraine had been bombing Russian speakers in the Donbas for eight years. To her credit Francesca did her best and actually put up a youtube video panning a bombed out building in the Donbas that Francesca alleged, without any context to confirm her claim, that the video showed a building that had been bombed by Ukraine. When I pointed out to her that in the video it could clearly be seen a Ukrainian flag covered in rubble. Francesca had the nerve to say that the Russian speakers must have covered the Ukrainian flag with stones to show how much they hated Ukraine. WTF!

            I presume this is the same Francesca who put up a link denying the bombing of the Mariupol Maternity hospital.

            But who can tell with people who hide their identity behind pseudonyms.

            https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-11-02-2023/?fbclid=IwAR2AZuHIaHIiWxXi96cDzigXEQQdgsOH90C2bVtwm1sxr7_rjm0OmRDERCg#comment-1934759

            You complain about me of calling out all you anonymous pro-war commenters as trolls. I think that is mild to what you really are, which is, genocide deniers.

        • Pat your reading of global affairs is simplistic and if you are a leftist and find yourself on the side of the US and NATO against Russia or China then you need to do some serious self examining. Of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine is illegal and is the most recent action that has led to the terrible loss of life in Ukraine on both sides.

          But the history since the reunification of Germany and the progression of NATO eastwards up to Russia’s border is well understood. Russia flagged very clearly over many years what would happen if NATO came too close and many in the US understood this perfectly and made assurances to the Soviets accordingly. But the US since WWII has practiced total global hegemony, it thinks it can do whatever it likes and that they could bait Russia to invade and then exhaust it. But Russia is proving to be a much tougher adversary than expected.

          In the 90’s the US thought Yeltsin would help them sell off all Russian assets to Western companies via local oligarchs, which is the fundamental basis of US imperialism – the CIA (and the US military if required) are always acting at the behest of Wall St & US Corporations. But Yeltsin realised he was being used and appointed Putin who is a Russian nationalist and has ensured that at least Russian elites benefit from Russian resources rather than US elites – of course that sort of thinking got Arbenz, Mossadegh, Lumumba, Allende and plenty of other world leaders killed in the past.

          This likely defeat of the US and NATO in Ukraine is looking like the US Empire’s Suez canal event – the clear marker of the end of the Empire when reality bites and hubris is unmasked. It is happening alongside a huge global realignment of nations away from the warmongering West and towards the development minded BRICS alliance led by the ascendant China. And all the while the climate time bomb keeps ticking.

          Make no mistake that this Ukrainian situation is existential for both sides, for the US to avoid accepting their decline (they couldn’t even allow Ukraine and Russia to finalise a peace agreement) and for Russia to control their borders. The real concern is one of them uses their nuclear weapons if they see themselves losing. The tragedy is Ukraine and Europe sacrificing themselves on the alter of the dying US Empire which is no longer the single global hegemon for the first time since WWII.

          • I should’ve added that the 90’s were terrible for Russia, huge declines in living standards and life expectancy and associated social ills. Adopting the West’s capitalism, such as it was offered, did not work for them at all. This is the same for most countries outside the west that are opened up, it is a pillaging. The Russians remember this, they don’t want to lose the war and be exposed to western capitalism again, they don’t trust it for good reason.

      • If readers are sick and tired of the seemingly endless stream of shit that spews out from the Pro-war trolls, bots and useful idiots….

        The always good, ‘Democracy Now’.

        If you want to understand the war in Ukraine, ‘Democracy Now’ is a must watch.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDS1UiI4-RM&ab_channel=DemocracyNow%21

        Exerpt; @2:14 Minutes in

        ….Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address, Saturday, that the revolt by the Wagner mercenary troops in Russia, expose chaos in the country.
        At one point he switched to his native language of Russian to address the Russian people and Putin….

      • those russian speaking plants who just happened to “settle” there. next you’ll be blaming palestinians in the west bank for being Hamas Jihadi. you have your ass about face mate.

  2. Actually Pat, you need to read what Bob says above. And you need to stop labeling anybody who agrees with viewpoints like Bob’s as a Putinista troll. You might simply disagree strongly and not go ad hominem like others on this site who are trolls and should not be fed.

    • I read what he said.

      The anonymous troll Bob wrote:

      “Pat your reading of global affairs is simplistic and if you are a leftist and find yourself on the side of the US and NATO against Russia or China then you need to do some serious self examining….”

      Followed by a long rambling justification of the Russian Federation’s brutal imperialist aggression.

      The following link is to a Youtube video explaining where Bob and the other pro-war trolls who call themselves Leftists are coming from.

      In my opinion it is Bob and the others like him who need to do some serious self examination.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NUJuGSsfNA&t=2s&ab_channel=BadEmpanada

    • “…you need to stop labeling anybody who agrees with viewpoints like Bob’s as a Putinista troll.” NICK J

      Bob needs to stop labeling anybody who disagrees with his viewpoints as being on the side of the US and NATO

      If Bob doesn’t want to be seen as a Putinista troll. Bob needs to refrain from accusing me of being on the side of the US and NATO, which is an ad hominin slur with no basis in fact.

      In my opinion this kind of false ad hominin slur marks Bob out as a particularly nasty troll. Another marker of a troll is that they hide behind a pseudonym to make ad hominin smears against those they disagree with.

      As per your advice not to feed trolls like Bob. I believe on calling them out on it.

  3. China announces a coprosperity sphere of influence.

    Latest news on the rise of Chinese imperialist foreign policy in the Pacific.

    The Xi regime passes a law making any restriction of their extra territorial “development” by other powers as a cause for war.

    https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/29/china/china-foreign-policy-law-xi-jinping-intl-hnk/index.html

    China unveils sweeping foreign policy law as Xi consolidates power — and aims to counter the US
    Simone McCarthy
    By Simone McCarthy, CNN
    Updated 3:56 AM EDT, Thu June 29, 2023

    ….The new law stresses its right “to take corresponding countermeasures and restrictive measures” against acts that violate international law and norms and that “endanger China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” according to a copy of the text published by state media….

    The last rising empire which sought to challenge the US Hegemon, by extending their foreign economic development into the Pacific, were the Japanese imperialists with their Co-prosperity Sphere.

    With their growth and expansion constrained by their economic and military rivals, war is not a choice for capitalist growth economies, but an imperative.

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