Ben Morgan’s Pacific Update

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


AUKUS – Pressure likely to come on New Zealand about the partnership

On 19 March, Politico carried a story stating that Australia, the US and UK are rushing to consolidate the AUKUS agreement because all three partners face national elections later this year.  The article opined that In Canberra, London and Washinton officials are concerned that if Donald Trump wins this year’s US presidential election he may reduce or stop the AUKUS arrangement.

Therefore, the partners are pushing to achieve two goals that will help secure the programme; first by strengthening the existing commitments within Pillar 1 and by increasing the number of partners involved in Pillar 2. The logic being that; the more partners involved in the agreement, the harder it is for the US to break.

It is no secret that the US, UK and Australia are keen to include Japan and Canada. Politico reporting that “One senior diplomat involved in the talks told POLITICO that Japan and Canada are in line to join the so-called pillar 2 section of the AUKUS agreement, which will see participants sign up to extensive military technology collaboration, by the end of 2024 or early 2025.”  A range of other nations are potential AUKUS partners, specifically New Zealand and South Korea. 

However, the big question in the South Pacific is whether New Zealand will join.  Immediately after their election, Minister of Defence, Judith Collins and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peter’s visited Australia and discussed AUKUS involvement.  New Zealand has committed to investigating involvement, a course of action that provoked a negative response from China. 

This week Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi visited New Zealand and AUKUS is likely to have been on the agenda.  New Zealand has a relatively unique and influential position in the Pacific.  It is a relatively wealthy, modern state and historically helped to act as a ‘bridge’ between the larger Pacific powers like Australia and the US. Its engagement with AUKUS is being watched closely of its symbolic impact and the influence its decision has on smaller Pacific nations.

Politico’s article rings true, and it is very likely that people in Washington, Canberra and London are worried about the future of AUKUS under a Trump presidency.  It is therefore likely that New Zealand will soon come under pressure from Australia and the US to join Pillar 2; and likewise, from China not to join.  A tough diplomatic period is looming for New Zealand, one that will define the country’s security relationships for a long-time as the nation is forced to choose between long-standing historic security partners and its largest trading partner. 

Philippines races to do security deals

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Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, spent 2023 travelling widely visiting about a dozen countries and working hard to put together collective security arrangements.  Philippines now has security deals or is negotiating security deals with 18 countries. Deals now exist with the European Union, India and the UK. Additionally, Japan, Canada and France are discussing visiting forces agreements with Philippines.

This pace of activity is unusual and is clearly driven by increasing security concerns in the South China Sea.  Philippines is bearing the brunt of aggressive Chinese enforcement of China’s unrecognised territorial claim that encompasses almost all of the South China Sea.  Fishing vessels and Philippines Coast Guard vessels are ‘monstered’ by large Chinese Coast Guard and militia ships, that use aggressive manoeuvres to force them away from Chinese fishing boats or islands claimed by China. 

Although this Chinese activity is aggressive and puts people and vessels in danger, it is not warlike.  Creating a South China Sea stand off as the two parties manoeuvre and threaten each other, aiming to enforce their claims but afraid of escalation.

Philippines is the ‘underdog’ so is working hard to build a network of security partnerships to protect itself and deter Chinese escalation.  An important point to note is that one of the Philippine’s new partners is the European Union.  Reinforcing the trend towards more European involvement in the Pacific.  

Since 2023, increasing European and NATO involvement in the Pacific reminds us that Chinese aggression should not be seen in simple bi-lateral terms, or simply as a Sino-American conflict. Instead, this trend demonstrates that China’s aggressive foreign policy approach is a concern that worries not just the US but Europe as well.  

Japan seeks defence arrangements with Pacific nations

The leaders of 14 Pacific nations were invited to Tokyo, on 19 and 20 March to discuss a new Japanese security initiative.  The meeting with Japanese Defence Minister, Minhory Kihara is believed to be about Japan offering military and police support to these nations. New Zealand, Australia and the US will attend as observers.

Japan’s objectives are clearly to develop relationships that help deter further Chinese aggression. Additionally, Japan has for some years been increasing its level of financial support for small Pacific nations, working together with the US to strengthen the web of nations that support the current rules-based order. 

A specific area of interest for Japan is supporting smaller nations to protect their Exclusive Economic Zones from illegal fishing, which in turn relates to freedom of navigation. For instance, the key issue with China’s ‘9 Dash Line’ and its claim over the South China Sea is that it could restrict free passage of merchant shipping.  Trading nations like Japan rely on maritime trade and by protecting the territorial claims of smaller nations around the South China Sea (or anywhere in the Pacific) Japan can help secure trade routes by stopping one major power dominating an area and limiting transit by other nations.

Like European nations stepping up their military and diplomatic activities in the Pacific, Japan’s plan is an important indication that China’s aggressive policies are creating concern not only in the US but in most nations that support the current rules-based order.  

Melanesian update 

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

New Caledonia and China

Last week, New Caledonian politician Virginie Ruffenach voiced concerns about Chinese companies buying a 49% share in the Glencore nickel mine, near Koniambo. A public statement like this is an indication of political concern in New Caledonia about Chinese influence in the region.  The key issue is that the Chinese government has extensive influence on private companies. Stanford University’s Centre on China’s Economy and Institutions estimated in 2023 that 65% of China’s thousand largest companies are partially state-owned. 

This means that many Chinese companies can be directed or influenced by the state, making them potential agents for Chinese foreign policy. Therefore, any large Chinese investment causes concern amongst people worried about long-term Chinese ambitions.

This is not the first indication that there are concerns about China in New Caledonia. In February, French Home Affairs and Overseas Minister Gérald Darmanin met with Australian counterparts to discuss France’s role in the Pacific stating that “We want to work with them [Australia] on matters of strategic protection in relation to great powers such as China, which is sometimes behaving in a predatory manner towards our territories”.

Clearly, there are concerns about China’s ambitions in New Caledonia and in the wider Pacific both in France and in its colonies. 

Truce in Papua New Guinea’s inter-tribal war

Papua New Guinea’s inter-tribal war, in the highland province of Enga is quietening down and a three-month unconditional cease fire was agreed recently.  The deployment of Papua New Guinea soldiers to the region appears to be a significant contributing factor to the desire for peaceful resolution.

The Papua New Guinea army gained a fearsome reputation during the war in Bougainville but since then, with Australian and New Zealand support has become a much more professional force.  But, the need to use military force to support the civil authority clearly demonstrates the weakness of Papua New Guinean civilian institutions in the highlands. 

France’s New Caledonian forces exercise with Australia, Fiji and the US

In recent weeks, New Caledonian based French forces have exercised with the Australian army, the US Coast Guard and the Fijian army.  This exercise demonstrates France’s desire to built its local defence relationships.  

Fiji takes delivery of new, Australian supplied patrol boat

Australia has delivered a second Guardian-class Patrol Boat, the RFNS Puamau, to Fiji. This delivery is part of Australia’s Pacific Maritime Security Programme. Australia provides smaller Pacific nations with patrol boats. The programme develops the local nation’s enforcement capabilities helping small nations police their own Exclusive Economic Zones and provides a larger number of vessels monitoring the wider Pacific.  This empowers smaller nations and reduces the Royal Australian Navy’s requirements to support small nations.  

Guardian Class boats are built in Australia, are about 40m long and can travel 5,600km at 12kts.  The vessels are designed to be effective multi-role patrol craft that easy to maintain. 



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


  1. It’s funny how NATO Ben admits that AUKUS- like NATO and other evil alliances- is fundamentally undemocratic with his nonsense about ‘consolidation’, while shilling for those same evil alliances.

    Oh, sorry, I forgot. ‘Democracy’ means voting for whatever bloodthirsty neoliberals/neoliberals want, whether that’s destroying Iraq because Saddam Hussein supported Palestinian refugees, or starting a race war against the Chinese people because the Chinese government has openly supported the Palestinian people’s right to resist against alien invasion.

  2. Mohammed, you need to understand that for NZs “elite” and our military and diplomatic caste, Union Jack socks and Stars and Stripes underwear are the standard. Also standard is an inability to understand that the Empire has ended. They don’t even recognise that the “new” empire run by our “American friends” exists. Thinking more broadly amongst this caste is discouraged, it’s better to be smug than see the reality unfolding counter to their views. Given that the world is a dangerous place this blind faith in running with a moribund pack may not be wise. Being a long way away and very little may be the only thing to save us from ourselves.


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