Ben Morgan – Pacific Intelligence Update

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

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Pacific Islands Games, China and Australia flood Solomon Islands with aid

The Pacific Islands Games hosted in Solomon Islands starts this week, a key sporting event for many Pacific nations. Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare has extracted millions of dollars in international aid from larger nations competing for his attention to fund the games. China gifting Solomon Islands a new stadium and Australia contributing approximately $17 million. Many other countries including New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Korea, India and Indonesia also provided funding, so that roughly 80% of the infrastructure for the games is funded by overseas donations.

This week security personnel from Australia, New Zealand and China are in Honiara supporting the games.  Australia sending more military and police personnel than athletes with about 500 staff on the ground. Meanwhile, China is coy about its commitment but there is a visible presence of Chinese police at the games.  All parties competing to demonstrate their commitment to Solomon Islands; and that their respective nations can deploy forces into the area. Additionally, we can be sure that all parties are collecting information and intelligence, planning for future contingencies.

Prime Minister Sogavare is playing a delicate political game, seeking to get as much benefit as possible from all parties.  Solomon Islands is the avante garde of the ‘new’ Pacific diplomacy created by Sino-American competition, a small nation that’s strategic location enables it to broker deals with all competitors.  This trend is likely to continue with more small Pacific nations taking advantage of Sino-American competition to fund infrastructure and economic development. 

Cold War tactics lead to the injury of Australian naval divers

The Australian government has complained to the Chinese government about injuries suffered by two naval divers. The divers were clearing fishing nets that had fouled the propellers of HMAS Toowoomba an Australian frigate operating in the Sea of Japan, enforcing UN sanctions.

Australia alleges that HMAS Toowoomba had signalled its intention to deploy divers when a Chinese frigate approached and used its sonar, sending pulses of sound through the water that injured the divers.  

This type of activity is straight out of the ‘Cold War playbook,’ Soviet and NATO warships regularly conducted similar dangerous games of ‘cat and mouse’ seeking advantage or intelligence. Throughout the Cold War ships, submarines and aircraft from both sides manoeuvred dangerously close to each other sometimes colliding. There were also examples of divers injured in similar ways or even simply disappearing.  

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This incident took place soon after a groundbreaking meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Australia Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.  Perhaps it is an accident or an overly aggressive captain acting without authority but the fact remains that it provides another example of aggressive actions by Chinese ships. Unfortunately, these incidents are becoming more common across a wider area of the Pacific; Chinese para-military coast guard and militia vessels regularly bullying non-Chinese shipping in the South China Sea and now operating dangerously in the Sea of Japan. A trend that has implications throughout the Pacific and will only be stopped by nations working together to disincentivise aggressive behaviour.  

Taiwan uses civilian led wargaming to prepare for conflict

Taiwan’s ‘2023 Regional Security Military Simulation’ was a civilian led wargame designed to test strategies for defending the island. It is a good example of the role integrated civil-military simulations can play in defence planning.  The results are now starting to be published and make interesting reading. Especially for people thinking about the future of war and hybrid operations.

The wargame was organised by retired military officers but included people from a wide range of sectors including local government, infrastructure, shipping, and semi-conductor production.  It also included a range of defence analysts, consultants and academics. The aim was to analyse a possible invasion of Taiwan and how it could be defeated. 

The wargame involved a range of scenarios, half conventional military simulations and half analysing civilian impacts and response. The scenarios started months before an invasion and analysed not only Taiwan’s kinetic response to an invasion but how it would prepare and maintain its civilian infrastructure and economy during a possibly prolonged conflict. The military scenarios played out reasonably predictably projecting naval, air, air-defence and intelligence support flooding in from the US and other allies. 

The civilian focussed scenarios provided a great deal of additional information for planning not easily available in military circles.  Information about port infrastructure or the actual nature of local roads or even about how civilian logistics can be prepared for war. 

An example is that climate change and increasing urbanisation has damaged beaches on Taiwan’s west coast. Together with new wind turbines and erosion controls this reduces the number of beaches suitable for a large-scale amphibious invasion. A situation at odds with US military wargames that continue to envisage China storming Taiwan’s western beaches in amphibious operations like D Day. 

Further, this wargame demonstrates the need to take a wide span and to look at conflict outside of the kinetic aspects of warfighting. The 2020 Australia-China Trade War is an example of a punishing regime of economic sanctions imposed to achieve diplomatic goals.  The current US, Australian, Chinese and French donations too and diplomatic interest in the small states of the Pacific all fits into a wider strategy for competition.  Essentially, conflict needs to be seen as an integrated continuum; gifts and economic aid at one end, warfighting at the other and this means that all nations need to be planning defence strategy across this continuum. By setting it timeline months before an invasion this wargame was able to exercise an integrated national response.

And, this is a key point as we face a new age of hybrid war in which propaganda, economic pressure, pseudo-legal arguments, deniable para-military forces and cyber war are as important as conventional warfighting.  The use a of diverse ranges of people in defence planning and simulations provides insights that not only help the military but also help bring a wider national or international community together to manage emerging threats.  PR people able to advise on countering propaganda and dominating the information space. Lawyers and diplomats who can help develop joint defence strategies to counter pseudo-legal claims. Business community and Infrastructure experts able to provide advice about a nation’s current resilience including how to protect infrastructure and keeping the economy running during periods of conflict. 

 

Taiwan’s ‘2023 Regional Security Military Simulation’ provides a good model for all nations in the Pacific, that could be used to discuss and counter the tactics and techniques of hybrid war a form of war that involves everybody whether they wear a uniform or not. And, that we can already see is being employed by some nations in the Pacific region. 

Melanesian update 

A regular update on the Pacific’s least reported trouble spot; Melanesia. 

 France contributes to rebuilding Vanuatu’s Council of Chiefs Building

Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron committed to supporting the rebuild of Vanuatu’s Malvatumauri (council of chiefs building) that was destroyed by a fire in January this year.  Last, week France’s ambassador handed over a cheque for about $USD 13,600. 

President Macron’s visit was significant, the last French President to visit Vanuatu was Charles De Gaulle during the 1960s and this donation is significant too.  It represents another demonstration of France’s desire to play an active role in Pacific diplomacy.  Adding another layer to the existing Sino-American and NATO led diplomatic activities in the region, one that complicates politics in Melanesia. 

Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province still suffering from violence

A recent election in Enga Province was marred by violence and four people were killed. The province has been subjected to months of inter-tribal fighting, armed police and soldiers deploying there about ten weeks ago. The violence last week is another reminder of how weak state institutions are in Papua New Guinea’s remote areas.  

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger

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