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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West Papua 

West Papua or Irian Jaya is a province of Indonesia that occupies the western half of the island of Papua, the eastern half being Papua New Guinea. 

The territory has long struggled for independence, fighting both physically and politically to achieve this goal.  Recently, the Pacific Island Forum’s Melanesian sub-group the Melanesian Spearhead Group is supporting West Papuan representation in the forum.  Indonesia is already represented and having independent indigenous representation is not new, New Caledonia’s Kanak people already being represented.

Later this month the Melanesian Spearhead Group is scheduled to meet in Port Villa, Vanuatu. At this meeting West Papuan representation will be discussed, and in the territory public rallies and meetings are taking place in support of the province’s application. 

This week there have been reports of Indonesian activities to repress these gatherings.  Attendees and activists being arrested and detained.

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West Papua is a large, resource rich territory that is strategically located in Melanesia. The chances of Indonesia supporting local independence are low; and with the United Nations new sea-mining regime coming into force are getting lower.  This means that the area risks remaining an active ‘hotspot’ for violence and instability.  The kidnapping earlier this year of a New Zealand pilot by rebels providing a timely reminder that a war is still being fought in West Papua.  

From the perspective of regional security and stability, any armed insurrection provides an opportunity for foreign intervention.

Indonesian President meets Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister

Last week Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia visited Papua New Guinea and met with its Prime Minister James Marape.  The key items for discussion were trade, education and border arrangements.  Widodo announced a scheme to allow Papua New Guineans to attend university in Indonesia and pledged $15 million to support redevelopment of Port Moresby’s hospital. 

However, the subject not discussed was the status of West Papua.  Many Papua New Guineans have close connections with West Papua and support its independence.  The country also hosts many refugees from the violent war; and from repressive Indonesian tactics.  

Essentially, Papua New Guinea is strategically important and becoming more so as Sino-American competition develops in the region. Indonesia is not a close ally of either the United States or China but understands the importance of Papua New Guinea to these nations and is keen to maintain a close relationship. 

The countries also share a roughly 700km long land border.  A border that bisects an island of rugged mountains and dense jungles that allow for an easy flow of drugs and other contraband.  Maintaining a strong relationship is important for both nations security.  

This column’s mid-year summary of Pacific issues highlighted Papua New Guinea’s strategic significance; and Indonesia’s interactions are an important consideration in the wider discussion of the area’s stability.  If there is Sino-American conflict in Melanesia, West Papua becomes a valuable area for military bases and therefore provides Indonesia leverage with either the United States or China.  

Solomon Islands and China update

Last week Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare visited China and updated the nation’s security agreement with China. Details of the arrangement are secret but are of great interest to other Pacific nations. China and Solomon Islands signed a secret security agreement last year and this week’s deal demonstrates a further commitment to this relationship.  A commitment that is at odds with United States, Australian and New Zealand concerns about China’s intentions in the region.

This column has previously highlighted the military significance of Solomon Islands; and why a Chinese military presence there is of great concern to Australia, the United States and New Zealand. Solomon Islands has a history of political instability and has historically received security support from Pacific nations mediated through the Pacific Islands Forum.  Australia and New Zealand providing the administrative and logistic support for multi-national deployments of police or military personnel to support the Solomon Islands government.  

The increasingly close security arrangements with China combined with Solomon Islands history of political violence and rioting make the deployment of Chinese police officers or soldiers to the islands much more likely.  A situation that would cause great concern for Australia and its allies because Chinese police officers and soldiers being in the nation may be a precursor to a more permanent deployment or development of military bases in the area.  Bases that could be used to dominate maritime trade routes vital to Australia.

It is a delicate situation, one that is likely to get more tense as Prime Minister Sogavare has also stated that that nation’s 2017 security arrangement with Australia needs to be reviewed.  Further, the situation in Solomon Islands impacts on Papua New Guinea, its increasingly close relationship with China increasing the nation’s importance as a potential ally for Australia and the United States.

Pacific Amphibious Leader Conference – How military relationships work!

This month, Indonesia hosted the annual Pacific Amphibious Leaders’ Summit in Bali.  Military commanders from across the Pacific gathered for discussions and more importantly socialising and building relationships. 

Meetings like this are the lynchpin of military relationships. The most powerful commander, Lieutenant General William Jurney who controls the United States Marine Corps Pacific Forces essentially ‘held court’ supported by his Indonesian co-host for senior officers from twenty-four countries including: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Fiji, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, United Kingdom.

Like any professional conference the meeting included business discussions including reviews of recent exercises and operations. It also included detailed discussion of the new tactics being developed by the United States’s, Marine Littoral Regiments.  Essentially, this conference is a gathering of key military leaders who have an interest in the Pacific and in amphibious military operations.

It is interesting to study events like this because we can see how alliances are developing.  Like civilian conferences these events include lots of networking and relationship building so it is interesting to note who is there. In this case, several European powers with strong amphibious warfare capabilities were represented; the United Kingdom, France and Netherlands.  Key NATO members building relationships in the Pacific. 

The conference also included a range of bi and tri-lateral discussions so that delegations can discuss more detailed technical arrangements.  It is likely for instance that an AUKUS discussion took place discussing amphibious inter-operability.   

United States and Australia build air power inter-operability

The United States and Australia recently finished three weeks of intensive air combat training.  Regular readers will know that the Australian Defence Force and the United States Marine Corps are developing their joint capability in the north of Australia.  Both governments investing heavily in building the infra-structure to support large deployments and military units training extensively to build inter-operability.

Number 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Airforce and the VMFA – 314 a United States Marine Corps fighter attack squadron trained together exercising with their state-of-the-art F – 35 Lightning fighters.  

A significant element of the exercise was maintenance and logistic support, both parties demonstrating that they could service, fix, fuel and arm their partner unit’s planes.  This may sound mundane but the United States has exhaustive security procedures to protect its tech, so working together in this manner demonstrates the high level of inter-operability being allowed with Australia.   

This exercise is business-as-usual but is worth reporting because it demonstrates the longer-term vision for Australia and the United States, both of whom are highly committed to this military relationship.  This commitment means that if either side becomes engaged in a ‘kinetic’ war in the Pacific then the other will automatically be involved. While this is a strong deterrent to Chinese aggression it does mean that small conflicts have a greater chance of escalating quickly, particularly in an area like the Pacific that is vast, remote and largely invisible to European and American media.  

 

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger 

9 COMMENTS

  1. Oops… too many bureaucrats perhaps who can’t do their jobs and deny it’s happening, even when someone is actively trying to warn them!

    Millions of US military emails ‘sent to Mali by mistake’
    Misdirected messages have included the chief of staff’s itinerary, medical and tax records of personnel, and maps and photos of bases

    “Millions of emails written by military staff at the Pentagon have been mistakenly sent to the west African government of Mali, a Russian ally, because of a basic typing error.

    The Pentagon email used by the military ends with the suffix “.mil” but, by leaving out the ‘i’ by mistake, the emails have been going to “.ml” — the domain used by Mali, a country that has been hit by terrorism and civil war since 2012.”

    “A Pentagon official said that wrongly addressed emails were “blocked” before they left the .mil domain. However, Zuurbier said that since January he had collected nearly 117,000 misdirected emails from the Pentagon, with about 1,000 arriving in Mali on one day alone.”

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/millions-of-us-military-emails-sent-to-mali-by-mistake-rrwts5fxq

  2. The US military ramping up its warmongering shit in our region the Asian pacific to combat the rise of China. They will do to our region what they have done to Europe. On a macro-scale we have 3 economic regions Europe/Asia/America. The western govts and its allies in the asian pacific are willing to accommodate the US oligarchs to fracture our economic life line and trade arrangement because China is getting to big for its shoes.

    There’s a military think-tank report that envisioned a war with China by 2025 or there about to fracture the rise of China who is challenging the US hegemony by undermining its dollar. Taiwan is being used as cannon fodder to facilitate this aggression but China has also taken measure to combat this with its BRI.

    Free West Papua

    https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1140.html

  3. I guess part of our population will be happy to be under the USA umbrella however given the potential political power of religious interests I would want to keep as far away as possible from them.

  4. You american loving whores are going to be driven out of the Asia-Pacific (it is not and never will be the ‘indo-pacific’). And it will be glorious.

    • Are you a graduate of the Kim Yong Un Academy of Ridiculous Insults Mo or does this shit just come naturally?

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