Remarks: A major escalation in Australia’s missile defence capacity demonstrates the Australian government is concerned about the “ramped up rhetoric we are seeing from China,” Sky News host Peter Gleeson says. FULL STORY HERE: https://www.4cmitv.com/2020/07/01/2020-jun-30-australias-defensive-capability-to-be-strengthened-by-missile-defence-technology/
Australian Mushrooms; have Been Feeding On Mainstream Australian Media BS and now are wondering why Australia needs to up the ante in Military Spending. Well while we were being kept in the dark; being stroke by Mainstream media whispering Kum Ba Yah, and us being preoccupied smoking utopia; China has been furiously making inroads into the South Pacific Region; our leaders sad to say thought the could dance with the devil collect all the benefits and get away with it under the Average Australians Utopia fogged mind.
COVID 19 changed all that and switched on some serious alarms for average Australians as the utopia smoking stopped and Lock-downs Kicked in. CCP China is the Big Bad Wolf and be sure hes not here to build anything he’s been here playing the long game with one purpose TAKE EVERYTHING! Our question must be What roles did John Howard, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison play in letting the CCP dragon into Our Australia; and when and who is it that’s going to kick this CCP dragon out of our home never to return.
Japan & Asia Media thankfully did there job reported the news
Japan Times: 2020 MAY 20 U.S. military faces down two challenges in western Pacific: COVID-19 and China.
Asia Times: 2019 JUN 08 China targeting Pacific isles for strategic bases.
Asia Times: 2018 SEP 07 China’s plan for conquest of the South Pacific.
BACKGROUND: The Australian is reporting the Morrison government “will deploy an anti-ballistic missile defence shield for the first time, as well as land, sea and air based long-range and hypersonic strike missiles to project military power to the region”.
“The hairy-chested bullying and adversarial way in which China has been carrying on both in trade and in cyber-warfare” has finally earned a significant defensive response.
Twin announcements on Tuesday concerning the allocation of money towards cyber-security and an increase on government spending on the military to be confirmed on Wednesday will be “very important for positioning the country in the south pacific,” according to according to 6PR’s Oliver Peterson.
JAPAN TIMES HEADLINED:
U.S. military faces down two challenges in western Pacific: COVID-19 and China
As the U.S. Navy’s top officer went into quarantine earlier this month after a family member tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-based USS Ronald Reagan was preparing for a return to patrolling the waters of the western Pacific after dealing with its own COVID-19 outbreak.
The scenes were a microcosm of the U.S. military’s recent ups and downs in grappling with the virus as it has battled to maintain its formidable presence in the western Pacific, while both reassuring allies and preventing China from capitalizing on any perceived opening.
While U.S. defense chief Mark Esper said earlier this month that the pandemic has “had a very low impact on readiness,” he has also warned that it could absorb a “greater impact” over time if the virus shows no signs of ebbing.
As of Tuesday, more than 5,700 service members have tested positive for the new coronavirus since late February, according to the Pentagon.
It’s unclear how many cases have occurred in the Indo-Pacific region, as the Defense Department has ordered military bases and combatant commands to withhold those figures, citing operational security concerns. However, the USS Theordore Rooselvelt aircraft carrier, currently sidelined in Guam, has seen more than 1,150 cases, while the USS Kidd destroyer, which was forced to return to a naval base in San Diego after cases were confirmed while operating in the Pacific, eventually confirmed 63 cases, according to the navy.
The Reagan — the United States’ only forward-deployed aircraft carrier — had seen at least 16 cases of the virus while undergoing annual maintenance, The New York Times reported on April 22.
U.S. Forces Japan, meanwhile, has extended its coronavirus public health emergency imposed on all U.S. troops in the country to June 14.
But regardless of how quickly the U.S. military recovers from the virus, experts say the pandemic is compounding already faltering views about Washington’s commitment to the region under President Donald Trump, with concerns that China may be looking to fill any ensuing vacuum.
In Japan, Defense Minister Taro Kono last month acknowledged the infections of U.S. forces in the country but said the outbreaks were “not at a level where there is a problem with deterrence.”
Still, experts say anxieties among allies such as Japan will continue to grow under the current circumstances.
“There’s certainly trepidation in Tokyo over U.S. military readiness due to the pandemic,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow and maritime security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Koh said the U.S. military’s battle with COVID-19 could, in the longer term, even see “the onus … fall on Japan to increase defense self-reliance.”
“Given Japan’s stature as a regional power that exerts a certain level of influence across the Indo-Pacific region … it may have to envision scenarios where the Self-Defense Forces would have to step up to the plate and fill certain voids as a result of problems with U.S. military readiness,” he said.
China’s Propaganda Machine
While Washington and Beijing have traded barbs over the origin of the virus and their handling of the pandemic — both sometimes at the expense of the truth — China has used its state-run media to present a narrative that the U.S. military is attempting to conceal a weakened position.
Headlines have ranged from those focusing on the U.S. fight against the disease (“Epidemic hinders U.S. military presence near China”) to those delivering prescient, if tone-deaf, predictions (“Will U.S. aircraft carrier become next Diamond Princess?”). Some have even latched onto conspiracy theories that the U.S. military was the original propagator of the virus (“U.S. military victim or spreader of virus?”) — much akin to official, but unsubstantiated, pronouncements out of Washington citing “enormous evidence” showing that the virus originated in a Chinese lab.
Koh said that in its official media, China is “certainly seeking to capitalize” on the situation.
“The theme that recurs in recent state media commentaries is one that sends this message: ‘The U.S. military is in trouble over the pandemic, it’s abandoned by its political masters in Washington due to the politicking and inept handling of the crisis by the Trump administration, and regional governments should not have too much expectation of the Americans in coming to any assistance,’” he said.
The Chinese military, meanwhile, says there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases among the 2 million members of its People’s Liberation Army, the world’s biggest armed force — a claim some observers have labeled dubious.
“It is hard to believe that their readiness hasn’t been negatively impacted by coronavirus,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst with the Rand Corp. think tank. “From that perspective, Beijing may be trying to paper over its readiness challenges by projecting a strong image externally.”
In conjunction with its push in state-run media, Beijing has continued to exhibit what many experts characterize as an aggressive stance in the flashpoint South and East China seas.
Earlier this month, it sent government ships to chase fishing vessels in Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea — staying there for three consecutive days for the first time since August 2016. The tiny, uninhabited islets are administered by Japan but claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu. The latest attempts by Beijing to change that status quo via “gray zone” tactics — actions deliberately calculated to remain below the level that would trigger an armed response — have unnerved Tokyo.
Japan also watched warily last month when China, in a show of growing military strength, sent the aircraft carrier Liaoning and its strike group on its first round-trip mission through the Miyako Strait, between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako, and past Taiwan. The international waterway is strategically important as it is one of just a handful of routes that allow the Chinese Navy access to the Pacific Ocean.
But it has been in the disputed South China Sea — where Beijing in April established two districts to administer islands and reefs it controls in an apparent bid to cement its claim to sovereignty over the area — that the standoff between the U.S. and its allies and China has garnered the most attention.
Over the past month, the Chinese Navy has conducted “mock battles” and “live-fire training” in the waterway to improve its “combat capabilities,” according to state media, while also deploying a survey vessel and armed China Coast Guard and “maritime militia” vessels to tail the West Capella, a drillship contracted by Malaysia’s national oil company within that country’s exclusive economic zone. The area is near waters claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia and China, and falls within Beijing’s “nine-dash line” claim that covers much of the South China Sea, home to vital sea lanes and rich energy deposits.
Chinese forces in the waterway have also “continued risky and escalatory behaviour,” a senior Pentagon official told Fox News on Tuesday.
According to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia Reed B. Werner, Chinese fighter jets have harassed U.S. reconnaissance aircraft “at least nine times” in the South China Sea since mid-March, about the same time the Roosevelt entered port in Guam.
Werner said the provocative behaviour had not been limited to the skies, citing “harassment” of the Yokosuka-based USS Mustin guided-missile destroyer last month near a Chinese aircraft carrier strike group that was patrolling the South China Sea. A Chinese escort ship had manoeuvred in an “unsafe and unprofessional way,” he told Fox without giving details.
Those confrontations between the U.S. and Chinese militaries had not been previously reported.
U.S. goes public
The moves have triggered a series of furious responses out of Washington, including a statement in late April by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he ripped into Beijing for attempting “to take advantage of the distraction” presented by the pandemic.
“It is important to highlight how the Chinese Communist Party is exploiting the world’s focus on the COVID-19 crisis by continuing its provocative behaviour,” Pompeo said. “The CCP is exerting military pressure and coercing its neighbours.”
But Grossman said that while “Japan and other allies have got to be worried about U.S. military readiness … there are many other signs of a still-strong and sustained U.S. military presence in the region.”
He cited back-to-back U.S. freedom of navigation operations near Chinese-held islands in the South China Sea last month, as well as the simultaneous sailing of the USS America, an amphibious assault ship loaded with F-35B short-takeoff and vertical-landing fighter jets, ostensibly for training in the strategic waterway — part of what he said was a concerted effort “to confront Chinese assertiveness.”
“As much as allies and partners may worry about U.S. sustainability in the region, thus far, there is little evidence to suggest much has changed for the worse,” Grossman said, “Quite the contrary, the U.S. military seems to be paying more attention to the Indo-Pacific than usual.”
Indeed, the U.S. Navy has been unusually vocal in publicly conveying its operations and training in the western Pacific in recent weeks.
In one particularly surprising move, the Pacific Fleet even took the rare step on May 8 of announcing that all of its forward-deployed submarines were at sea conducting operations “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region amidst the pandemic.” A day later, the 7th Fleet said that three subs had joined ships and aircraft for “a joint advanced warfighting training exercise” from May 2 to 8 in the Philippine Sea.
And in what was widely seen as a response to the Chinese dispatch of government vessels near the West Capella, the 7th Fleet also deployed two advanced littoral combat ships for separate “presence operations” near the drillship.
In addition to the navy’s operations, the U.S. Air Force has also beefed up its missions in the region.
Although after 16 years it wrapped up its “continuous bomber presence” of rotating heavy bombers through the island of Guam for long durations, the U.S. Air Force has in recent weeks flown B-1B bombers in the area as part of its “unpredictable” new “dynamic force employment” missions.
Over the last month, it has heavily publicized five B-1B training missions over the East China Sea as well as one off northern Japan involving a whopping six U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters, seven Air Self-Defense Force F-2s and eight ASDF F-15s.
It has also publicly acknowledged three flights of B-1Bs over the South China Sea, including a May 8 training mission “that resembled a simulated cruise-missile attack against Chinese artificial island bases in the Spratlys (island chain),” according to Olli Suorsa, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School. The Spratlys are home to fortified man-made islands built by China, including three with military-grade airfields.
“These high-profile and much publicized actions are a direct challenge to Chinese propaganda narrative that claims U.S. military power in the west Pacific is down,” Suorsa said.
Koh, the maritime security expert, agreed.
“The issue isn’t whether the U.S. military has been doing these or not in the past — such activities could have been conducted, just that they might not be announced,” he said.
Rather, he added, “it’s interesting to see how media management has evolved over the recent times: There’s no more updates on the extent of COVID-19 infections within the U.S. Navy, whereas there’s an apparent uptick in open announcements” of U.S. military activities.
“That, based on what I know so far, is rather unprecedented in terms of the intensity of … the manner in which these operations are carried out; and … the public announcements made,” Koh added.
Danger Of Escalation
With all of the stepped-up activity, the chances of a misunderstanding and accidental escalation is an “ever present danger,” Suorsa said.
“This is an environment in which close adherence to agreed regulations and codes on unplanned encounters at sea and air, established lines of communication, as well as exercise of restraint on both sides becomes critical in avoidance of accidental escalation,” he said.
Others say the heightened activities may reflect a vicious cycle of rising mutual mistrust and fear amid the pandemic.
Both sides believe the other party could take advantage of the crisis, said Zhang Baohui, a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
Zhang called the situation “a classic security dilemma” that sees both parties exaggerating the belligerence of the other side.
“While hyperbole is clear, the real danger of military conflicts should remain low,” he said. “Neither government wants war.”
For Rand’s Grossman, the common refrain that Beijing is exploiting the pandemic for geopolitical gain is simply overblown.
“Its actions in places like the South China Sea and near Taiwan are simply a continuation of past assertive behavior,” he said.
Whatever the case, the U.S. military has promoted the view that it is on the mend — and looking to return to a steadier foothold in the western Pacific.
Last Thursday, navy pilots began nearly a month of carrier landing practice on Iwo Jima to qualify for the Reagan’s upcoming patrol, while the navy’s top medical officer told CNN that he is “very confident” the virus-hit Roosevelt is “medically ready” to return to action.
The carrier is expected to leave port later this week, nearly two months after it was sidelined in Guam.
And what about the navy’s top officer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday? He is continuing his self-quarantine, and currently working from home.
A glance at recent U.S. and Chinese moves in the western Pacific
April 16: F-35B fighter jets conduct flight operations in the South China Sea from aboard the USS America amphibious assault ship.
April 22: A B-1B bomber based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, trains with six U.S. Air Force F-16s, seven ASDF F-2s and eight ASDF F-15s.
April 28: The USS Barry guided-missile destroyer conducts a freedom of navigation mission near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
April 29: The USS Bunker Hill guided-missile cruiser conducts a freedom of navigation operation through the Spratly Island chain near Gaven Reef in the South China Sea.
April 30: Two B-1Bs fly a 32-hour round-trip sortie from Ellsworth Air Force Base to conduct operations over the South China Sea.
May 4: B-1B bombers conduct a training mission over the East China Sea.
May 4: USS Ronald Reagan begins sea trials before annual patrol of western Pacific.
May 6: A B-1B conducts a training mission over the East China Sea.
May 7: The littoral combat ship USS Montgomery conducts “presence operations” near the West Capella in the South China Sea.
May 2-8: Three submarines join 7th Fleet ships and aircraft during a joint “advanced-warfighting training exercise” in the Philippine Sea.
May 8: Two B-1Bs conduct a training mission over the South China Sea.
May 9: The U.S. Pacific Fleet says its submarine force has every one of its forward-deployed submarines conducting contingency response operations at sea in the western Pacific.
May 12: The U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords ship conducts “presence operations” near the West Capella drillship in the South China Sea.
May 12: Two U.S. Air Force A B-1B bomber conducts a joint training mission over the East China Sea with eight Air Self-Defense Force F-15 fighter jets and eight F-2 fighters.
May 19: A B-1B conducts operations over the South China Sea.
April 2: A China Coast Guard vessel collides with and sinks a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
April 11: Chinese H-6 bombers and J-11 fighters carry out drills above waters to Taiwan’s southwest.
April 13: The Chinese Navy’s Liaoning aircraft carrier task force group sails through the Miyako Strait.
April 16: The Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 enters Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone.
April 19: China establishes new districts in the South China Sea in a bid to cement centralized control over the islands from a single city.
April 20: China officially names islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
April 28: The Chinese Navy says it “expels” a U.S. warship conducting a freedom of navigation operation.
April 28: The Liaoning aircraft carrier task force group again passes through the Miyako Strait, for the second time in April, but only the fifth time since the carrier’s 2012 launch.
May 5: Chinese Navy warships conduct exercises in the South China Sea.
May 14 – July 31: The Chinese Navy kicks off military exercises off the northern port city of Tangshan.
Original Source: Date-stamped: 2020 MAY 20 | Author: Jesse Johnson | Article Title: U.S. military faces down two challenges in western Pacific: COVID-19 and China | Article Link: japantimes.co.jp
ASIA TIMES HEADLINED:
China targeting Pacific isles for strategic bases
Beijing’s bid to project power in South Pacific is aimed at:
Vanuatu, The Solomons, Papua New Guinea
After decades as an unconsidered backwater, the South Pacific Islands have become a strategic frontline in a multi-nation contest for power and influence in Greater Asia.
It is a measure of this change that for the first time in its 18-year history, last weekend’s annual regional security conference of Singapore’s International Institute for Strategic Studies included a session examining strategic competition in the South Pacific.
What has changed, in essence, is the arrival of China in the region with clear economic, diplomatic and security goals.
The United States is pushing back against that challenge in what Washington sees as a region of core importance to its own national interests. And smaller regional players and powerbrokers such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and even India are making moves to protect and enhance their own interests.
Being the focus of strategic competition is something the South Pacific Islands have not experienced to any great degree since the Second World War, when the region was on the frontline of the Pacific Allies campaign to defeat Japan.
As always, attention from outside is a mixed blessing for the 3.2 million people who live in the 16 island nations that make up the hub of the South Pacific Island complex.
Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati,
Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia,
Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands,
Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu Vanuatu.
In the broader context, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are also full members of Pacific Island Forum, which aims to enhance regional co-operation.
On the plus side, the new attention has given most of the island nations the prospect of economic development that most of them crave and need.
But that has also brought the dangers of untrammeled development with such things as unnecessary or unwise projects, the trap of taking on too much debt, and environmental degradation among societies already among the most threatened by global warming.
And while being the focus of attention of Beijing and its regional rivals gives the islands some negotiating power, that tends to be concentrated in the hands of political leaders. There is a risk they will use that position for personal gain rather than the betterment of their societies.
A report this week by the British-based global risk assessment company, Oxford Analytica, says China has four objectives in extending its reach into the South Pacific.
One is to extend its security perimeter into a region hitherto the preserve of the US and its allies and to create a buffer between China and its neighbours.
The second is to press forward with its diplomatic contest with Taiwan. Of the 17 countries worldwide that still have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan and none with Beijing, six of them are Pacific Island states – the Solomon Islands, Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.
Beijing’s third objective is to gain access to the natural resources of the South Pacific and its islands, especially fish and timber. China is already the largest trading partner for most of the islands and has about $30 billion invested among them.
The fourth objective is to draw the South Pacific nations into Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative by selling them infrastructure, especially port facilities to benefit Chinese commerce and the long-range deployment of its navy.
Since the Second World War, the islands have been informally divided into spheres of influence under the paternal wings of the US, Australia, New Zealand and France. Australia is the largest donor of development aid to the region, and the US retains responsibility for providing security for Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Beijing’s reach into these cozy backwaters began in the early 2000s when it launched a money-backed charm offensive. This was aimed initially at luring onto Beijing’s side countries that still had diplomatic relations with Taiwan under its guise of The Republic of China. This name is a relic of the flight to the island of Chinese government leader Chiang Kai-shek and his followers in 1949 after their defeat by Mao Zedong’s communists in the civil war.
Some of the island nations have found playing off China against Taiwan is a lucrative business. Nauru, for instance, broke relations with Taiwan in 2002 when Beijing promised a lavish aid program. But when the money didn’t appear, Nauru severed ties with Beijing and shifted back to Taiwan in 2005.
Of the six that continue to recognize Taiwan, the Solomon Islands are the most populous and most influential.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who returned to power for the fourth time in April elections, has said his government will reassess whether it is in the country’s best interests to stick with Taiwan or shift recognition to Beijing.
This is a concern to many islanders, who are anxious about the existing effects of China as their largest trade partner. China takes 65% of the Solomon Islands’ exports, which are overwhelmingly timber, and are having a drastic effect on the islands’ ecosystem.
Australia and the US have security concerns about a change to recognition of Beijing by the Solomon Islands.
In 2017 Prime Minister Sogavare was removed from office after a no-confidence vote over charges he accepted bribes in return for awarding a contract to Huawei Technologies to lay a fiber-optic cable from the Solomon Islands to Sydney, on Australia’s east coast.
Australia, together with the US, is banning the use of Huawei systems in its own communications network for fear Beijing will use the technology for espionage. Canberra persuaded the Solomon Islands to cancel the Huawei contract.
Australia and others in the region are also concerned that if Sogavare changes diplomatic recognition to Beijing, it will lead to the other five countries that still recognize Taiwan make the same change.
This would give Beijing a large footprint in the South Pacific.
Other security concerns were raised in April when the Australian media reported that Beijing was in discussions with Vanuatu about building a naval base – as distinct from a commercial port – on the island. Vanuatu is only about 1,500 kilometers off Australia’s east coast and in the heart of the South Pacific Islands.
This would be highly significant coming soon after Beijing established a military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa bordering the Indian Ocean, and after its construction of seven military outposts in the South China Sea.
A naval base in Vanuatu would add to the picture of Beijing securing the ability of its navy to project power throughout the Indo-Pacific region. It would also be a significant breach in the lines of island chains the US and its allies have maintained to contain the free movement of the Chinese navy.
The so-called First Island Chain stretches from Japan’s Kuril Islands in the north down through Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia to Singapore and the Malacca Strait choke point.
The Second Island Chain is out in the Pacific Ocean and less distinct. It includes Japan’s Ogasawara and Volcano islands, the Mariana Islands, which are US territory and are home to Washington’s important military base on Guam, and stretches down to eastern Indonesia.
The Third Island Chain begins at Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and thrusts down to the South Pacific Islands, with US bases on the Hawaiian Islands as the military hub.
If Beijing were able to establish a naval base on Vanuatu it would breach both the Second and Third Island Chains.
Both Vanuatu and Beijing dismissed the stories of a Chinese military base, but the Australian Foreign Minister at the time, Julie Bishop, backed the media reports and said Vanuatu was a “natural strategic partner” for Beijing.
There appears to have been solid information behind the reports of a naval base agreement, and it is most likely that the plans have only been deferred because of the publicity.
Certainly, both the US and Australia have reacted to the prospect of a Chinese base in their backyard by beefing up their own deployments. Canberra and Washington have made an agreement to develop a naval base on Manus Island off Papua New Guinea’s north coast.
Australia and the Americans rushed in not only because of Vanuatu, but because last year there was some apparently well-founded speculation that Beijing might contract with Papua New Guinea to rebuild the Lombrum naval base on Manus as well as port facilities at Wewak, Kikori and Vanimo.
Speaking at the Singapore conference last weekend, the Australian senior official in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, echoed similar remarks by American officials. She said
So the South Pacific has joined the widening circle of regions – the Far East, Southeast Asia and the northern India Ocean – where there is a clear contest for power and influence between Washington and Beijing. END
Original Source: Date-stamped: 2019 JUN 08 | Author: Jonathan Manthorpe | Article Title: China targeting Pacific isles for strategic bases | Article Link: asiatimes.com
ASIA TIMES HEADLINED:
China’s plan for conquest of the South Pacific
China’s militarization of South China Sea features allows its fighters to reach deep into the South Pacific, jeopardizing US bases while advancing Beijing’s ‘neo-colonial’ ambitions
Beijing’s militarization of islands and features it claims in the South China Sea is by now widely seen as a threat to freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most strategically important waterways.
What’s gone less noticed, however, is how Beijing could use those emerging forward bases to project power into the South Pacific, where critics say Beijing harbors “neo-colonial” ambitions and the United States maintains crucial naval and air force bases on Guam.
A Pentagon report released last month that said China was likely training for air strikes against US and allied targets will have brought China’s emerging power projection capabilities into the Pacific into stark and urgent relief among policymakers in Washington.
The report indicates these training flights are also designed to influence island nations in the South Pacific, where China’s advance southward is already viewed with concern by the US.
“With a strong foothold in the [South China Sea] now, China can project military power across the Pacific Islands at a time when its fishing fleets are also increasing their presence there,” said Ben Bohane, a Vanuatu-based reporter who has written extensively about Beijing’s growing presence across Oceania.
China’s bases in the South China Sea’s Spratly and Paracel island chains, from which Peoples Liberation Army Air Force strategic bombers can reach well into Oceania, now back Beijing’s economic and political ambitions in various Pacific Islands.
Naval and aviation support facilities on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the South China Sea are roughly 1,500 miles closer to Oceania than mainland China bases. Ongoing construction on these three major outposts supports Beijing’s ability to impose force in the poorly defended region.
Captain James Fanell, a retired senior US Navy intelligence officer who has focused on China’s Navy for 30 years, claims that China’s militarization of these South China Sea islands plays into its larger scheme of regional hegemony.
The Pentagon’s “2018 China Military Power Report”, released on August 16, depicts the offensive strike reach of the PLA’s bombers that can now fly from South China Sea islands deep into Oceania.
File Size: 15mb | Pages 1452018-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT
It also details the fast improvement of its military capacities on these artificial islands, including through enhanced aviation and port capabilities, fixed-weapons and sensor positions, barracks, communication facilities, and plans for floating nuclear power plants.
DEEP OFFENSIVE REACH
While China’s notorious nine-dash line map claim to most of the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea was ruled illegal by a Permanent Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague in July 2016, Beijing has openly flouted the international law-based ruling.
Instead, it has increasingly used its military, which now includes its Coast Guard and “Maritime Militia” fishing fleets, to interfere with other nations’ vessels when they transit through the sea. It also deploys those assets to block other claimant nations from accessing the area’s resources including fish and oil.
China started to militarize the South China Sea in 2015, despite a promise by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to do so. Beijing first deployed advanced fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles to the Paracels, an island chain near Vietnam.
In the Spratlys, Beijing has recently completed defense-related infrastructure, including runways capable of accommodating fighter jets across seven artificial islands.
Navy warships now routinely use berthing areas and logistics and intelligence capabilities on the fortified features. Further, Beijing is installing long-range anti-ship cruise missiles and air-defense missile systems in the contested maritime region.
In mid-May, PLA Air Force long-range, nuclear strike-capable H-6K bombers operated for the first time from Woody Island in the Paracels. From there, the cruise missile-equipped bombers can attack targets as much as 3,300 kilometers away, or deep into the Pacific Islands and down to Australia.
Establishing unrivaled military control in the South China Sea helps Beijing achieve immediate strategic objectives, but it is also a key step in China advancing its status as a Pacific Ocean power intent on rivaling America’s long-standing predominance in the area.
ECONOMIC ADVANCES, COLONIAL AMBITIONS
Over the last five years, Beijing has significantly bolstered its economic ties within Oceania, according to a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report released in June.
Oceania consists of more than 10,000 islands divided into the sub-regions of Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australasia; “Pacific Islands” refers to only the first three sub-regions.
While the Pacific Islands’ combined landmass is small—roughly the size of Spain–their total exclusive economic zones (EEZs) span nearly 7.7 million square miles of ocean space.
As Bohane notes:
China has growing geostrategic interests in the region. It is the largest trading partner with Pacific Island countries, with trade totalling US$8.2 billion in 2017.
Beyond its trade interests, Beijing’s enhanced engagement with the region is driven by “its broader diplomatic and strategic interests, reducing Taiwan’s international space, and gaining access to raw materials and natural resources,” says the Commission report, entitled “China’s Engagement in the Pacific Islands: Implications for the United States.”
To this end, China is deeply involved with Pacific Island regional organizations, for which it often provides funding and other support. However, Beijing’s perceived tendency in recent years to throw its weight around at the annual Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has started to run some the wrong way.
On September 6, China’s representative to the PIF partner dialogue in Nauru stormed out of the meeting after trying unsuccessfully to address the session and engaging in a tense exchange with the forum’s chair, Nauru President Baron Waqa.
Beijing’s strategy for achieving its aims in the Pacific Islands is well-established and predicable, says Fanell. It starts with financial aid, political donations and investment that pave commercial inroads and an increase in Chinese migration to the region. After co-opting government officials, invariably a PLA Navy-related military objective emerges, he says.
This objective can range from Chinese military access to ports and airfields to so-called “blocking efforts” against the US, seen in the recent obstruction of the development of US military training facilities in the Marianas.
INTEGRATION OR INFILTRATION?
Australia’s Lowy Institute think tank reported in August that China’s financial aid commitment to the Pacific Islands has skyrocketed to US$5.9 billion since 2011.
Australia’s commitment is still the largest of all nations (US$6.72 billion), and it provides all of its aid as grants; by contrast, Lowy’s data suggests about 67% of China’s aid has been disbursed as loans, with only 32% given as grants.
China’s interest-bearing loans have saddled many countries worldwide with what are increasingly being referred to as unsustainable “debt traps.”
This debt allows Beijing to take control of the cash-strapped debtor nations’ ports and other facilities as partial repayment, as evidenced by the 99-year lease Sri Lanka signed with a Chinese state-owned enterprise for its Hambantota Port in July 2017.
The “China debt trap” model has become a serious crisis for Pacific Island nations, said Tonga’s Prime Minister Akalisi Pohiva on August 16. Tonga is one of several Pacific Island nations that have borrowed heavily from China and is currently struggling to pay back loans worth about US$160 million from China’s Export-Import Bank.
Last month, Pohiva called on Pacific Island leaders to band together and press China to write off their debts.
Nearly 4,000 miles to the northwest, another small Pacific Island nation, Palau, is a country under economic siege. Its empty hotel rooms, idle tour boats, and shuttered construction sites are the result of Beijing’s economic warfare against it for its continued diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Until recently, China accounted for roughly half of Palau’s all-important tourist trade. But late last year, China employed what some have called “weaponized tourism” to force Palau, a sovereign nation, to submit to Beijing’s foreign policy direction. Beijing effectively banned tour groups and further investment in the idyllic tropic archipelago.
Another rising concern for Pacific islanders is fast-shifting demographics. Island nations have small indigenous populations that could easily be swamped by Chinese immigration, especially now that many island nations are “selling citizenship and passports”, according to Bohane.
“In Vanuatu, a nation of less than 300,000 people, there are plans for two Chinese cities that could host a total of 10,000 to 20,000 people. Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, currently has only 40,000 residents.
While many islanders welcome Chinese investment and trade, they are simultaneously concerned about losing control of their economies and the influx of both Chinese workers and wealthy Chinese expats who live in walled compounds, Bohane said.
Some Pacific Islanders, such as the Solomon Islands researcher Toata Molea, have used the term “colonialism” to describe largely unchecked Chinese investment and immigration to his country, according to a recent New York Times report. “They own everything,” Molea was quoted saying about his ethnic Chinese neighbors. “My fear is that in the next 10 years, this place will be taken over by the Chinese.”
A more accurate term might be “neo-colonialism”, academically defined as the use of “capitalism, globalism and cultural imperialism to exert influence and ultimately control over a country.”
Chinese “neo-colonialism” is, for now, a battle for the hearts and minds of local island populations, Bohane says. “Currently, massive Chinese investment to boost island economies is winning the hearts and minds of island leaders and well-off elites, but not necessarily the populace.”
FOREIGN POLICY FOR SALE
Vanuatu, well known for its robust independent foreign policy, is seen by some as the political capital of Melanesia. China boasts it now has more aid projects in Vanuatu than any other Pacific Island country.
“Beijing built a new wharf on the Vanuatu island of Espiritu Santo, making it one of the largest ports in the South Pacific,”
“It has built sports stadiums, convention centers, roads, airport upgrades, office buildings for Vanuatu’s Foreign Affairs, and the Prime Minister’s new office.”
Australian, Japanese, European, and US aid is comparatively much less visible, he says.
Vanuatu: In late 2016, in diplomatic return for Beijing’s financial largessegenerosity in bestowing money or gifts upon others, Vanuatu became the first Pacific Island nation to recognize China’s claims in the South and East China Seas.
Nauru & Papua New Guinea: Since then, other Pacific nations that receive copious Chinese aid like Nauru and Papua New Guinea have followed suit.
Recent media reports suggest China aims to establish a naval base at Vanuatu. While Vanuatu’s government and Chinese officials deny such plans exist, Beijing initially denied it had plans for the military base it has since established at Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa.
The base, a 200-acre heavily-fortified facility dubbed by at least one analyst as a “mega-fortress”, became operational in August 2017 and is China’s first such overseas facility.
Described by Beijing as a “logistics base”, the strategic facility is in reality a launch pad that allows PLAPeoples Liberation Army Navy and Marine forces assigned there to conduct a wide range of military operations in the region.
New Caledonia: China is also investing heavily in the South Pacific’s New Caledonia. Some there are nervous about a looming referendum on whether to declare independence from France and if the vote could potentially lead to violence.
French Polynesia: Beijing’s interest in French Polynesia stems from its access to the rich fishery resources of the so-called “tuna belt” as well as its use in space exploration activities, says Fanell. The islands also provide a refuelling and transshipment point between China and the Americas that could support PLA operations in the future.
One indicator of intent, Fanell says, is China’s investment of US$330 million for an aquaculture project in French Polynesia’s large and remote Hao atoll—an investment that surpasses all foreign direct investment received by French Polynesia between 2013 and 2016 combined.
The atoll once supported France’s nuclear testing program and is home to an airport that has the capacity to support strategic bombers.
Micronesia, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea & Samoa:
Spanning across Oceania, China is also showing deep interest in the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. Each island nation, analysts say, provides potential military logistics and intelligence facility sites.
Local Pushback By Citizens:
Bohane and others highlight the potential for instability in some of the island states. They predict possible “pushback” by local citizens against China’s rising political and economic domination of their nations, particularly if that influence is leveraged to facilitate waves of Chinese migration.
Any outburst of instability could be the initial pretext for China to dispatch its Marines to protect its interests and citizens in Pacific Island nations.
“There have been anti-Chinese riots and other violence in Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands in the past,” Bohane says. “At the time, China protested but could not intervene militarily, so the Australian and New Zealand military stepped in to protect local Chinese communities.”
China Military Marine Corps Expansion:
China is rapidly expanding its Marine Corps, from 10,000 Marines just a few years ago to around 30,000 today. Beijing ultimately aims to have 100,000 Marines. It can now deploy these elite soldiers in amphibious assault ships, potentially utilizing its militarized South China Sea islands as staging areas.
These forces could theoretically stay afloat in the South Pacific for extended periods and would be well-prepared to intervene in small island nations’ internal affairs, particularly if their respective governments were unable to maintain internal stability.
“What happens when both the Chinese and Australian military intervene to stabilize a situation next time? Will this give Chinese forces an opportunity for mission creep to stay on and protect expanding Chinese interests and populations there?” Bohane asks.
AT AMERICA’S SHORES
Beijing seeks inroads into Oceania not only for resources, but also as “stepping stones” to Antarctica and the Americas, Bohane says.
Ultimately, China seeks to block US influence and military capabilities in the region, says Fanell, and it is employing so-called “political warfare” to achieve that aim.
In the American territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), situated just north of Guam, China’s political warfare operations are disrupting essential US military activities.
For instance, Chinese resort developers are now stymying US development of vital amphibious operations training areas on Pagan Island. The inability to conduct such training on US territory because of Chinese influence operations has seriously degraded the readiness of frontline US Navy and Marine Corps forces in the Marianas, says Fanell.
The Commission report details the influence operations by Chinese-owned casino resort owners such as Alter City Group, which lobbied CNMI elected officials against US military activities there because “benefits from the military . . . are minimal, but the burdens are significant and unsustainable.”
China has legitimate geo-strategic interests in the South Pacific linked to its growing trade and investment in the region. But it also has military and political ambitions that could soon replicate the destabilizing situation it has created through its militarization of the South China Sea.
In the South Pacific, that risk comes with what many see as China’s neo-colonial ambitions, a gathering drive that threatens to overwhelm the lightly populated, resource-rich and strategically important ocean basin with Chinese capital, people and a vision for regional domination. END
Original Source: Date-stamped: 2018 SEP 07 | Author: Kerry K Gershaneck | Article Title: China’s plan for conquest of the South Pacific | Article Link: asiatimes.com
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