Ben Morgan’s Pacific Update – A simple explanation of this week’s military and political developments in the Pacific


Controversial Fijian offcer appointed Deputy Commander of Australia’s 7th Brigade 

Last week, Fijian Colonel Penoni Naliva was appointed Deputy Commander of Australia’s 7th Brigade.  7th Brigade is a high readiness unit of professional soldiers equipped with modern artillery and armoured vehicles.  Deputy Commander positions in first-line brigades are important, an appointment that demonstrates a high level of trust.  Command appointment like this are often used in alliances like NATO to strengthen working relationships. For instance in NATO the Supreme Allied Commander is always American but their deputy is appointed from an alliance partner, like the UK. 

Last year, Australia appointed Lieutenant Colonel, Boniface Aruma from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force as Deputy Commander of its 3rd Brigade.  An important announcement signalling Australia’s willingness to build stronger defence relationships with its Melanesian neighbours.

However, Colonal Naliva’s promotion is controversial, ‘The Australian’ has raised concerns about Colonel Naliva’s appointment, citing allegations he was involved in the physical abuse of detainees during the Bainimarama administration.  The newspaper acknowledges that Colonel Naliva was not charged,  but has questioned the appointment. The Australian government is now investigating the allegations. 

By appointing officers from Melanesian nations into these roles the Australian Defence force is taking tangible steps to build deep relationships between defence forces.  Strategic relationships that will improve inter-operability if Australia needs to operate with either Fiji or Papua New Guinea’s defence force in the future.  However, any appointment of this seniority is high-profile and if the allegations are true, Australia cannot be seen to condone unprofessional or immoral behaviour.   

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Philippines benefits from Japanese supplied radar 

Japan is supplying air surveilance radar systems to Philippines. A three radar station network is planned. The first station started operating in December. The new radar network will provide Philippines with better long-range surveillance of the South China Sea. 

The new radar network will help coordinate Philippines’s air defence system, allowing threats to be identified at longer range, providing more time to respond. The system’s published ranges are approximately 555km for tracking aircraft and 930km for ballistic missiles. 

The project represents a change of policy for Japan, it is the nation’s first export of military equipment.  Additionally, the project is part of a wider Japanese programme in the region, the country supporting defence upgrades across a number of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) partners including Malaysia and Vietnam.

Essentianlly, this project is an example of ASEAN members working together to strengthen maritime security cooperation in the South China Sea. 

North Korean missile tests submarine launched cruise missiles

North Korea continues to develop its missile capabilities, testing submarine launched cruise missiles last week. The missile being tested is the new Pulhwasal-3-31, that successfully launched underwater, then flew towards a target on a coastal island. 

Submarine launched cruise missiles, like the US Tomahawk are long-range missiles that fly just metres above the surface of the ocean or across land, avoiding radar detection.  Fired from under the sea they are a potent weapon because the submarines launching them are difficult to detect and destroy. Although these tests do not prove that North Korea can deploy submarine launched cruise missiles, they do demonstrate that the nation has no desire to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.  

Update on China’s post- Taiwan election diplomatic offensive in the Pacific

Regardless of Chinese warnings, Taiwan’s recent Presidential election returned candidate Lai Ching-te.  A result that China is unhappy about; and that has initiated a Chinese diplomatic offensive in the Pacific.  Small nations either switching or confirming their allegiances to Taiwan or China.  

US funding situation

Currently, billions of dollars of US aid are stuck in the US Congressional stand-off.  Republicans blocking the Whitehouse’s budget request for foreign policy funding for a range of projects. Ukrainian aid is often discussed in the media but the standoff also impacts on funds committed to the Pacific by the Biden administration. 

Essentially, the US Congressional funding debate holds up US aid providing a ‘window of opportunity’ for Chinese diplomacy in the Pacific. 


Less than 48 hours after the Taiwan election, Nauru announced it no longer recognised Taiwan and would focus on diplomatic relations with China.  


On Friday 26 January 2023 Tuvalu held and election and the elected MPs are currently forming a new government. The election results provide some indication of Tuvalu’s political climate, incumbent Prime Minister, Kausea Natano failing to be re-elected while Enele Sopoaga, opposition leader was successful. 

Mr Sopoaga’s campaign specifically included getting rid of the Australia -Tuvalu Falepili Union treaty. The treaty blocks China developing a security relationship with Tuvalu, in exchange for offering sanctuary in Australia to Tuvaluans effected by climate change.  Mr Sopoaga and his supporters believe that the treaty unacceptably cedes sovereignty to Australia by allowing that nation to veto security arrangements.  

It seems very likely that the new government will reassess the Australia -Tuvalu Falepili Union Treaty and re-consider its current recognition of Taiwan.   

Marshall Islands and Palau 

Marshall Islands and Palau both immediately, responded to this diplomatic situation by re-stating their recognition of Taiwan. Both Marshall Island’s President Hilda Heine and Palau’s President Surangel Whipps congratulating Lai Ching-te on his election victory.  


The election of Lai Ching-te will continue to influence Pacific politics for some time as the small nations of the Pacific that have formally recognised Taiwan are lobbied by the US and by China. Both sides trying to build their network of relationships in the Pacific that in time of conflict may provide bases for warships, aircraft or missiles.  At this time the US is diplomatically disadvantaged, its proposed aid payments held up by the Congressional debate. 


South Korea organises new ‘drone command’

South Korea recently announced plans to develop a new ‘drone command.’ A joint unit with representatives from each branch of service in the South Korean military; Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. 

The aim of the command is to centralise development and deployment of drones within the South Korean military.  This is an interesting experiment that should be studied by militaries around the Pacific.  Drones provide a useful and cost-effective surveillance and strike capability in the vast expanses of Pacific. However, any technology requires careful development for its use is fully realised and an inter-service command provides the opportunity for integration of work programmes across a military reducing the likelihood of inter-service rivalries. 

Melanesian update 

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

Papua New Guinea, riots lead to talks with China

On 29 January, security discussions between China a Papua New Guinea were made public. China offering the nation police and security assistance after riots in Port Moresby and Lae. Papua New Guinean Foreign Minister, Justin Tkachenko spoke to Reuters correspondents saying the discussions were at an early stage and the offer was being assessed. 

China’s immediate offer of assistance is another example of the intensity of Sino-American competition. Australia recently signed a $ 200 million security assistance agreement with Papua New Guinea. Recent rioting provides an opportunity for China to develop a relationship with Papua New Guinea by offering police and security assistance. The aim of which is to gain greater influence and possibly the ability to base Chinese diplomats, police or security personnel in the country able to support the nation’s diplomatic objectives.

Australia pledges $35 million to Timor Leste

Australia recently committed to providing $ 35 million worth of policing assistance to the Timor Leste government. Like many of the nations to Australia’s immediate north, Timor Leste is a new nation and poor.  Its state-institutions are weak and this support is important because it helps to develop the nation’s institutions. 

Australia and the US are especially worried about China’s consistent use of police support as a form of aid.  Police serve an important role in any community and the have access to a vast range of information and influence.  Unlike the military, police forces are not internationally integrated making them harder to monitor and easier to influence.  Further, most Pacific nations have weak, underfunded police forces meaning assistance is gratefully received.  Essentially, targeting police forces is an effective way to develop influence in any nation.   


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer, a former Officer in NZDF and TDBs Military Blogger – his work is on substack


  1. Ah, the NATO shill is celebrating the corrupt and murderous Bongbong Marcos regime.

    How…. unsurprising

  2. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the growing geopolitical interdependence between the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. China, in particular, has helped soften the impact of Western economic and political pressure on Russia.

    In fact, Beijing’s image in Europe, which has been declining for years, took a complete nosedive when the perception spread that it was secretly supporting Moscow’s assault on the Euro-Atlantic security order and global norms. On the other hand, the diplomatic, economic and military support provided to Ukraine by Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand helped strengthen the country’s resistance and maintain global norms. More broadly, the battle is how to reconcile the need to assist Ukraine while maintaining US focus on the threat posed by China in the Indo-Pacific ( -vs-europe-is-a-false-us-foreign-policy-choice/) triggered intense debate. In these discussions, questions continue to arise about the consequences of the United States prioritizing transatlantic relations and European security.

    • Because democratic governments wouldn’t work with the US and their stooges like the Luxon/Hipkins/Ardern regime. Simple as

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