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


Rising tension in the South China Sea is study in Chinese hybrid war doctrine

China responded to the deployment of a joint US, Australian, Japanese and Philippines task group that conducted a ‘Maritime Cooperative Activity’ in the South China Sea.  Immediately, the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command announced its own naval and air patrols in the area and issued a statement blaming Philippines saying that “Under the guise of ‘protecting fishing’, Philippine government ships have illegally violated and provoked, organised media to deliberately incite and mislead, continuing to undermine stability in the South China Sea.” 

This situation and the response contribute to a case study of Chinese hybrid warfare doctrine.  Hybrid war theory has a long history in China, in the late 1990s Chinese strategists started to discuss the idea of war being fought across the full spectrum of competition and in 2003 this thinking became doctrinal when the “Political Work Guidelines of the People’s Liberation Army” were revised. The new doctrine described ‘Three Warfares’ based on legal war, public opinion war and psychological war. 

Seventeen years later in 2020, Gao Wei, a Chinese strategist described hybrid war in similar terms as “a unified and coordinated act of war that is conducted at the strategic level, employing political (public opinion, diplomacy, law, etc.), economic (trade war, energy war, etc.), military (intelligence warfare, electronic warfare, special operations), and other such means.” 

Legal war is the least discussed of the ‘Three Wars’ but is very important because defining a legal mandate, no matter how spurious, provides a casus belli for either information or kinetic war.  For instance, when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and intervened in Syria between 2010-15 it justified its military activity based on legal claims that it was invited by the host nation. 

- Sponsor Promotion -

In this case the disputed areas are far from China, are within Philippines’ internationally recognised territory and the Chinese claim is not substantiated by international arbitration but China continues to claim a ‘legal’ right to control this part of the South China Sea.

A claim that is a good example of Chinese hybrid war doctrine in action. First, a legal claim is made that becomes the basis for diplomacy and the justification for other action.  China’s information operations (propaganda) leverage off the claim, presenting the situation as the Philippines or its allies denying China’s legal claim.  Any escalation is cast as the other side’s fault and that the other side is acting illegally. Concurrently, aid, trade and diplomatic concessions are used to influence smaller nations to support China’s claims in international forums, to defend Chinese actions or to ‘look the other way.’ A much easier proposition when China can argue it has a legal right.   

When force is used, legitimacy is reinforced by using non-military resources like police or coastguard vessels.  The message is that they are civilian agencies simply enforcing Chinese law.  A similar tactic was used in Crimea in 2014, when Russian volunteers overran the peninsular their action legitimised by a call for protection from ethnic Russians.

The counters to hybrid war are transparency and collective security but first it must be accepted that hybrid war is ‘war,’ an undeclared form fought in the shadows but still competition with few restraints. Military theorists make no distinction and nor should states being targeted with hybrid war techniques and tactics.  Philippines new president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. changed the nation’s policy direction. Instead of trying to negotiate diplomatically offline with China, Philippines is now ‘turning a spotlight’ on this activity showing the world exactly how China’s Coast Guard and militia vessels operate. That a thousand kilometres from China, off the coast of Philippines, large and powerful Chinese vessels are harassing and bullying Philippines civilian and Coast Guard vessels forcing them out of areas claimed by China. Philippines new strategy, sharing information, makes sure that the international community is well-informed about the situation in the South China Sea, possibly influencing their willingness to work with China. 

The second counter to hybrid war is collective security.  By encouraging alliances and partnerships smaller nations can work together to deter military escalation by larger nations.  China’s powerful military easily overmatches Philippines but together with Australia, Japan and the US, Philippines can provide a credible deterrent to Chinese military escalation. 

The situation will continue to develop, we can expect more escalation and Chinese sabre rattling, particularly as they continue to move closer to Russia diplomatically.  But I do not expect open conflict soon, China’s military is still far weaker than the US’s and the current presidential administration values international security partnerships.  The real test will be if Donald Trump is elected later this year because a weak or unpredictable US president undermines deterrence. 

Solomon Islands elections 

Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the Solomon Islands election that will be a defining moment in Pacific politics. Voting finishes on 17 April and will be followed by intense politicking as the recently elected members of parliament negotiate to form a new government.  A process that can take weeks and that can lack transparency. 

A key election issue, from a security perspective, is China’s role in the nation. Current Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare moved the country closer to China during his term, including signing a new secret security agreement between the two nations.  

The nation’s relationship with China causes concern amongst US partners and allies, especially Australia.  Solomon Islands could provide a base from which China or a Chinese supplied proxy force could attack Australian trade or the nation directly. 

Many people within Solomon Islands are also concerned about the relationship, the Japan Times interviewed Daniel Suidani, an opposition leader from Malaita this week.  Mr Suidani is an outspoken critic of China’s influence and told the Japan Times that “During these past five years, there have been so many things that China was involved in. It’s really alarming at the moment.”  Opposition leader, Matthew Wale has already stated that he believes Prime Minister Sogavare has ‘sold out’ to China and distancing the nation from China is a campaign policy. 

On 15 April, the US Embassy in Solomon Island’s issued a statement refuting anti-American disinformation that alleges the US is using aid to influence Solomon Islands politics.  See –   An interesting and important side note, that even in the Solomon Islands a very small nation, disinformation may be being used to influence an election. 

Additionally, Solomon Islands has a history of violence during elections. A risk in the current environment because it could provide a reason for China to deploy police or soldiers to the nation.  Obviously, a Chinese intervention would be at the request of the government, so would have a level of legitimacy but the event could escalate unexpectedly.

However, in a demonstration of how seriously Australia and New Zealand take the threat of instability there are now many Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea police and service people already on the ground. Although their role is supporting the election, they may serve another purpose because a large contingent of police and defence force personnel from other nations provides a ‘trip wire,’ or a force deployed ‘forward’ that complicates an opponent’s planning considerations.  

This is because even a few hundred non-combatant Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinean police and service personnel ‘on the ground’ in Solomon Islands, creates complexity if China wishes to intervene. It is impossible for China to predict the reaction of other nation’s personnel in Solomon Islands or how the international community would react to an incident. Factors that increase to China of intervening and therefore make this option less likely. By deploying forces to Solomon Islands Australia, New Zealand and their partners are supporting peace and stability both by helping with the electoral process and by reducing the risk of a sudden and poorly planned Chinese intervention that could escalate quickly.

Bondi Junction stabbing incident provides examples of misinformation

The Bondi Junction stabbings are headline news around the world and it was interesting to note commentary from American blogger Ryan McBeth on the event.  McBeth is a military blogger and cyber-security expert, countering state -sponsored disinformation is an area of interest for him.

McBeth’s recent You Tube and Substack analysis of social media activity and the potential for a disinformation campaign leveraging off this event is sobering viewing for anyone living in Australia, New Zealand or the wider Pacific in countries un-used to thinking about these threats. McBeth describes how disinformation works in simple terms, referencing a variety of credible sources and providing an assessment of how a disinformation campaign could develop.  His commentary provides interesting and accessible insights for anybody with an interest in misinformation and how it could be used in the Pacific. 

His posts can be found here:  and

McBeth’s analysis is based on similar campaigns in the US that leveraged off the 2023 Hawaiian Wildfires. The campaign was identified, studied and written about by Dr Caroline Orr-Bueno and you can read an article of hers here – How Russian media & right-wing influencers exploited Hawaii’s tragedy to undermine Ukraine support (

Melanesian update 

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

US refute claims that boarding Chinese fishing boats is illegal

The US Coast Guard supports many small Pacific nations to enforce their ‘Exclusive Economic Zones.’ The US Coast Guard’s patrols are at the request of the host nation and conducted with local police. Last month, US Coast Guard patrol boats supported Vanuatu police and boarded six Chinese ships fishing illegally in the nation’s territorial waters.  China complained and this week Reuters reported that the US has refuted the claim that boarding these vessels was illegal.  


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


  1. I just can’t understand what’s really going on. Sadly, I’m not as intelligent as I am handsome.
    The most recent bust-ups worth remembering never seemed to involve Chinese people. The first world war, the second world war, the Korean war, the wars busting out all over in Africa and the Middle East, then there were the South East Asian fuck-ups like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia etc.
    In all instances, the Americans and their weapons manufacturing mates seemed all over everything everywhere but where were the Chinese, or the Russians for that matter?
    Generally speaking, I like Chinese people. My first recollection of Chinese people was when I was a handsome kid in a Dairy in Mataura where, out the back, there could be seen a bunch of old Chinese guys smoking what my father later called ‘opium’. Now a days in my dotage I’d quite like a small, modest, inconsequential puff myself now and then. So why are the W-Yanks fucking about in the South China sea with their little dicks out again? I honestly can’t see the logic in the argument that the Chinese are a threat when it is we, and our allies who are there, fucking about, provoking them and generally being rude wankers just off their shores.
    Imagine, if you will, that the Chinese Navy went over and fucked about around Hawaii or L.A. or San Francisco? Imagine that? I sometimes wonder; are we really on the right side of history? Or are we just arrogant, greedy, wankers? I guess we’ll see, right?

    • When the yanks went in to Syria to support ISIS in trying to destroy the country so that ‘israel’ could steal more land (they’re already squatting on the Golan Heights) China joined Russia- though at a less active level- in supporting the people of Syria against the forces of evil. That was when they had Adrian Zenz- a kooky professor of theology in Germany who doesn’t speak Chinese and has never been to China- invent the weird anti-Chinese race hate of pretending there’s a genocide going on in Xianjiang (rather than in Palestine).

      • @Mohammed Khan

        The genocide committed by the Assad regime in Syria with the backing of the Russian imperialists, set the pattern for the genocide being committed in Gaza by the Netanyahu regime with the backing of the American imperialists.

        Russian drone footage of the destruction of Homs

        What Assad did in Homs, Netanyahu is doing in Gaza

        When faced with a people that refuses to surrender to tyranny or give up their resistance to injustice, every imperialist power is genocidal

  2. War or peace?


    PM Christopher Luxon won’t commit to consulting public on Aukus

    When have the public ever been consulted about war?


    ….Political figures from Australia and the Pacific have given stark warnings against joining Aukus, suggesting the security pact will have serious consequences for New Zealand’s independent foreign policy and potentially leave nuclear waste in the region.

    Contrary to what Ben Morgan claims deterrence has never stopped a war.

    Deterrence is a subject only fit for satire.

    • Blackadder goes to war (Satire)

      @ 1:50 minutes

      Captain Blackadder: “You see Baldrick in order to prevent war in Europe, [the Pacific] two super blocs developed…”
      “…. the idea was to have two vast opposing armies each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.”

      Private Baldrick: “But this is a sort of a war isn’t it, Sir?”

      Captain Blackadder: “Yes, that’s right. You see there was just a tiny flaw in the plan.”

      Private Baldrick: “What was that, Sir?”

      Captain Blackadder: “It was bollocks!”

      • Don’t believe the ‘deterrence’ bullshit.

        Both sides are tooling up to fight a war.

        Both sides must be disarmed.

  3. Ben Morgan by turns, regularly blasts China and Russia for breaking international law in the Pacific and in Ukraine and completely edits out the Middle East where Israel with Western support breaks international law with impunity.

    Ben edits out the Wests law breaking in the Middle East to suit his partisan interests.

    Philippine activists denounce the US and China for their imperialist rivalry in the Pacific and call for an independent foreign policy. But you will also never hear about this reading Ben Morgan’s ‘Pacific updates’

    This Week in Asia Politics
    ‘The Philippines is ours, China out’: Filipino activists slam Sino-US rivalry in country’s maritime zone

    Raissa Robles. 9 Apr 2024
    + FOLLOW
    Activists slam President Marcos Jnr for allowing the US to use Philippine military facilities, and call for a ‘demilitarised zone’ for local fishermen to fish peacefully
    The Philippines needs to have an independent foreign policy and not resolve conflict ‘through warships’, activists add.

    Hundreds of Filipino activists protested against China and the United States on Tuesday, condemning both countries for waging their rivalry within the Philippines’ maritime territory in the South China Sea.

    The protesters, who gathered near the Chinese consulate in Metro Manila, chanted “the Philippines is ours, China out” as they also slammed the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr for giving the US the right to use Philippine military facilities…..

    • You masters of war, you lie and deceive,
      A world war can be ‘deterred’ you want us to believe.

      (Apologies to Bob Dylan)

Comments are closed.