Why China’s ‘debt-book diplomacy’ in the Pacific shouldn’t ring alarm bells just yet


Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

Talk of Chinese “debt trap” diplomacy is nothing new, but a recent report by Harvard University researchers has resurrected long-held fears that China’s debt diplomacy poses a threat to Australian interests in the Pacific.

The crux of the report is that Pacific island states like Vanuatu and Tonga, as well as other nations in Southeast Asia, are at risk of undue influence from China due to unsustainable loans they’ve received for infrastructure projects.

The Australian Financial Review quoted the report as saying that while Papua New Guinea in particular has “historically been in Australia’s orbit”, it’s been “rapidly taking on Chinese loans it can’t afford to pay and offers a strategic location in addition to significant LNG and resource deposits” for China.

The story follows a well-trodden path from speculation to suspicion to alarm. Last month, another media report emerged saying China had approached Vanuatu about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific – an assertion Vanuatu quickly shot down.




Read more:
Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy


The latest report by the Harvard researchers comes with interesting context. A classified version of it was allegedly produced for the US Pacific Command last year, but the version leaked to the Australian Financial Review was written by graduate students, purportedly for the US State Department.

Interestingly, the students were supervised by Professor Graham Allison, who wrote the book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?. The “Thucydides’s Trap” in the title relates to whether the US as a hegemonic power can accommodate China’s rise without resorting to war.

But this so-called trap does not necessarily point to historical inevitability. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the dynamics in the region is needed to fully understand China’s motivations, and what can be done to avoid conflict.

China has long been accused of using “chequebook diplomacy” to gain favour with nations around the world. The implication of the new “debt-book diplomacy” in the Harvard report is that China is using unsustainable loans to gain influence with Pacific island states that aren’t able to repay them.

Suffice it to say, this form of leveraging takes influence to a different level.

Historical fears

There is a long history of alarmism in Australia over the activities of strategic competitors in the Pacific. During the second world war, Japan was widely believed to have been poised to invade Australia from bases in the Pacific islands. This threat was later discredited, but the legacy of this fear of invasion from foreign powers lingers to this day.

During the height of the Cold War, Soviet fishing agreements with Pacific countries were also perceived to be a threat to Australian interests. These agreements were widely seen as strategic threats that could lead to military bases and/or spying arrangements, but nothing significant ever came from them.




Read more:
Aid to PNG and the Pacific should focus on fixing cities


The constant in Australia’s geostrategic view of the Pacific is that the region is viewed simultaneously as both a buffer and a potential location of threats.

In the second world war and the Cold War, perceived encroachments by strategic competitors led to a “strategy of denial”. This involved creating a buffer through forward defence initiatives, such as the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, in which Australia donated 22 vessels to Pacific island countries at the same time the Soviets were negotiating their “fishing agreements”.

It might not be a coincidence this program has been reinvented with a new Pacific Maritime Security Program that will see 21 vessels delivered to Pacific island nations from 2018-2021.

Reassessing Australia’s role

Australia has also been the largest aid donor to the Pacific region, a position that has withstood recent increases in Chinese aid. Furthermore, this development assistance to the region was prioritised in the latest federal budget.

This is significant considering the relative sizes of the two economies and the relative ease with which China can allocate resources (without transparency and without regard to a domestic constituency scrutinising its actions). Presumably, China could very easily overtake Australia as the largest donor if it wanted to, and the fact that it has chosen not to is telling.

It’s true China is becoming more active in the region. Australia appears to be responding through development assistance, defence cooperation and emergency disaster response with its Pacific neighbours, even if there is speculation the US doesn’t believe it’s doing enough.

But if there is a genuine Thucydides’s Trap in the Pacific, what’s needed is a coherent analysis of China’s interests in the region, rather than a quick and almost reflexive interpretation of their intentions as aggressive. (One angle worth exploring its China’s ongoing conflict with Taiwan over diplomatic recognition for the self-ruling island, as six of Taiwan’s 19 supporters are in the Pacific.)

Of equal importance for Australia would be to understand the motivations of Pacific island nations. What’s missing is any examination of why Pacific states might be welcoming China with open arms, or even whether they are simply begrudgingly welcoming them.




Read more:
Pacific pariah: how Australia’s love of coal has left it out in the diplomatic cold


This opens a Pandora’s box. Could Australia’s (benign) neglect and perceptions of neo-colonialism actually be part of the problem? One that exists independently of China’s intentions?

This is certainly the case with [Australia’s sanctions against Fiji]from 2006-2014, which led to Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and the creation of alternative forms of Pacific regional arrangements, such as the Pacific Islands Development Forum, which are supported by China.

The ConversationAustralia sees threats coming through the Pacific, and not from the Pacific, and this should be the foundation of its Pacific diplomacy. If Australia continues to reflexively see threats in China’s diplomatic moves in the Pacific, it may close off just the sort of creative diplomacy needed to escape a Thucydides’s Trap.

Michael O’Keefe, Senior Lecturer of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trump’s tour of Asia-Pacific is vital for the stability of the region



File 20171102 26456 1aglqyh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
From an Australian perspective, Donald’s Trump Asian tour could hardly be more important.
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Not for several presidential cycles, and perhaps not since Richard Nixon’s visit to China to initial the Shanghai Communique in 1972, has a visit to Asia assumed such significance – and one that is potentially fraught.

US President Donald Trump leaves Washington late this week for a 13-day tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam for APEC, and the Philippines before returning home via Hawaii.

In these two weeks, Trump will be exposed to an Asia-Pacific – or Indo-Pacific – that is undergoing a wrenching transformation against a background of risks to a “long peace”. It is one that has survived more or less intact since the end of Korean War, leaving aside Vietnam.

From an Australian perspective, the Trump Asian tour could hardly be more important, given Canberra’s challenge of balancing its security and economic interests.

An American wrecking ball in the region is the last thing Australia needs, especially one that risks mishandling a North Korean nuclear threat to regional security.

In this regard, Trump’s every utterance, including his contributions to social media, will be scrutinised over the next two weeks by a nervous region.

What is striking about this latest period is the velocity of a geoeconomic shift that is challenging long-held assumptions about US authority in the regional power balance.

Seemingly, the Asia-Pacific region can no longer take for granted a US stabilising role.

As China’s power rises, so does US leverage ebb. This is not a zero-sum game.

The question is how pieces of a kaleidoscope will settle, if indeed they do.

Trump’s Asia tour will enable an assessment of the extent to which the US will remain a reliable regional security partner and a participant in various regional forums.

Former president Barack Obama talked about a “Pacific Century”, involving as it did a US “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. Trump has not used such terminology.

Indeed, one of his first executive acts was to undo work that had been put into US participation in a region-wide trade initiative – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – aimed partly at countering China’s geoeconomic dominance.

This was a hasty, ill-considered decision that sent all the wrong signals about US commitment to building an Asia-Pacific trading and security architecture.

The other 11 TPP signatories, including Australia, are pressing on with attempts to finalise the trade liberalising protocol, but US absence significantly lessens its weight.

It may be unrealistic – given Trump’s bellicose “America First” pronouncements on trade – but Washington would do its regional credibility no harm if it reversed itself on TPP.

On a visit to Australia last month to launch the first volume of his memoir – Not For The Faint-Hearted – former prime minister Kevin Rudd warned of the risks of the end of a period of relative stability.

His warnings were based on a paper produced by the Asia Society Policy Institute – Preserving the Long Peace in Asia – of which he is president.

In a contribution to the East Asia Forum, Rudd asked the question: how can we save Asia’s “long peace” in light of North Korea’s attempts to develop a ballistic missile nuclear capability?

This has been a crisis long in the making, beginning with the Soviet training of North Korean nuclear scientists and engineers after the second world war, the north’s expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in 2002, and the subsequent series of ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.

The uncomfortable truth is that for the last quarter of a century, the international community has simply been kicking the can down the road. And now, at one minute to midnight, everyone is scrambling on what to do about it.

In Rudd’s view, the Asia-Pacific needs to develop a security understanding – like the Helsinki Accords in Europe – to deal with security challenges, including North Korea and, more broadly, territorial disputes that threaten regional stability.

His preferred option is to bolster the East Asia Summit (EAS) as a regional forum to promote peace and stability. He makes the valid point the EAS has, potentially, the regional heft to undertake such a stabilising role.

Disappointingly, Trump is not planning to stay in the Philippines an extra day for this year’s EAS gathering. It might have been time well spent.

Membership, including the ten nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations, plus China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the US, means all the main Indo-Pacific players are participants.

This is how Rudd puts it:

The EAS has the mandate to expand its activities in the security domain. The Kuala Lumpur Declaration of 2005 is clear about this. Furthermore, members of the EAS have all signed the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation, which commits partners to peaceful dispute resolution. Moreover, the EAS uniquely has all necessary players around the table.

What is required in all of this is American leadership, but as things stand there is little sign of Washington possessing an overarching vision of where it might take the region in the next stage as China continues to expand its power and influence.

In this regard it is hard to disagree with a Lowy Institute paper – East Asia Policy under Trump. It identified a serious case of drift in American engagement with the region under a president whose knowledge of – and interest in – the Asia-Pacific appears limited at best.

US policy on East Asia is thus on autopilot, which presents two distinct risks. First that of a crisis, whether created by the president or events.

The US faces challenges to its economic leadership from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program of massive infrastructure investment that will enmesh the economies of China and its Asian neighbours, challenges from Chinese attempts to shape regional institutions to its advantage, and to shape a narrative of the region’s future that puts Beijing at its centre.

It also faces challenges from an increasingly capable Chinese military. All this in a region that is becoming increasingly illiberal – and doubtful of US staying power.

This is a fairly bleak assessment of a US ability to engage the Asia-Pacific constructively in this latest period. In fairness to Trump, he remains on a steep learning curve. How all this will play out is anyone’s guess.

What is the case is there is no more important stop of Trump’s itinerary than his visit this coming week to China to engage the newly reinforced ruler Xi Jinping.

The China talks, in the lead-up to APEC in Vietnam, are the linchpin of Trump’s Asian foray. The two leaders exchanged a visit in April this year when Xi visited Trump in Mar-a-Lago.

On that occasion, a novice American president was feeling out his main rival for global leadership. This was a getting-to-know-you opportunity.

However, on this occasion more will be expected of a Trump-Xi encounter on issues like North Korea, concerns over China’s mercantilist behaviour, and its assertiveness in the South China and East China Seas.

While it would be unrealistic to expect a “grand bargain” to emerge between the leaders of a new bipolar world, what is needed is some clear guidance about US priorities amid the confusion that has accompanied Trump’s nine months in the White House.

Laying out some sort of vision for US engagement in the region should be a minimum requirement at a time of considerable uncertainty.

Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations put it this way in a CFR blogpost:

The president can allay regional fears that the United States is commitment-phobic, by reinforcing at each step Washington’s allies and partners are the cornerstone of US engagement in the region. Reiterating the US commitment to freedom of navigation, free trade, and political freedoms will also reassure regional actors that it still makes sense to buy into a regional order underpinned by a US alliance system. Of course, this trip is only the first step in putting the United States on firmer ground in Asia, after many months of confusing signaling and disruptive initiatives.

The ConversationExpectations for Trump’s engagement with the region may be low, but the same could not be said for the stakes at a time of considerable uncertainty and risk.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 29 July 2013


The ALP asylum seeker policy appears to be a winner with Australian voters overall, with Kevin Rudd now being favored over Tony Abbott to deal with asylum seekers. However, the Pacific region isn’t impressed.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/arrogant-png-solution-a-shock-to-pacific-nations-says-fiji/story-fn9hm1gu-1226687594296





Footage of Tsunami Striking American Samoa


This footage of the tsunami striking American Samoa appeared some time ago. I thought I’d post it here for future reference. This was a tragic event in the Pacific during September 2009.

 

 

The footage below contains footage of the tsunami aftermath.

 

 

 

COLOMBIA: CHURCH LEADERS UNDER FIRE


One pastor missing, three others reported killed in past month.

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, November 4 – Christians in Colombia are anxious to learn the fate of pastor William Reyes, missing since Sept. 25, even as three other pastors have gone missing.

Reyes, a minister of the Light and Truth Inter-American Church and member of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (FRAMEN, Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao), left a meeting in Valledupar, Cesar, at 10 a.m. that morning heading home to Maicao, La Guajira. He never arrived.

Family members and fellow ministers fear that Reyes may have been murdered by illegal armed groups operating in northern Colombia. Since March of this year, FRAMEN has received repeated threats from both the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary units.

Abduction is another possibility. Often criminals hold their victims for weeks or months before contacting family members to demand ransom, a tactic designed to maximize the anxiety of the victim’s loved ones before proceeding with ransom negotiations.

In the past month, three other Christian pastors were reportedly killed in separate incidents across the country. According to Pedro Acosta of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL, Consejo Evangélico de Colombia), two ministers died in the northern Caribbean region and a third in Buenaventura on the Pacific coast.

At press time, members of the Peace Commission’s Documentation and Advocacy team, which monitors cases of political violence and human rights abuse, were traveling in those areas to verify the identities of the victims and circumstances of the killings.

 

Demand for Action

On Oct. 4, churches organized a public demonstration to protest the disappearance of Reyes. Thousands of marchers filled the streets of Maicao to demand his immediate return to his family. The FRAMEN-sponsored rally featured hymns, sermons and an address from Reyes’s wife, Idia.

Idia Reyes continues to work as secretary of FRAMEN while awaiting news of her husband. The couple has three children, William, 19, Luz Mery, 16, and Estefania, 9.

CEDECOL and Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-based organization that assists violence victims, launched a letter-writing campaign to draw international attention to the case and request government action to help locate Reyes.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support from churches in Canada, the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom,” stated an Oct. 26 open letter from Janna Hunter Bowman of Justapaz and Michael Joseph of CEDECOL’s Peace Commission. “Human rights violations of church people and of the civilian population at large are ongoing in Colombia. Last year the Justapaz Peace Commission program registered the murder of four pastors and 22 additional homicides of lay leaders and church members.”

Some of those killings may have been carried out by members of the Colombian Armed Forces, according to evidence emerging in recent weeks. Prosecutors and human rights groups have released evidence that some military units abduct and murder civilians, dress their bodies in combat fatigues and catalogue them as insurgents killed in battle.

According to an Oct. 29 report in The New York Times, soldiers commit the macabre murders for the two-fold purpose of “social cleansing” – the extrajudicial elimination of criminals, drug users and gang members – and to gain promotions and bonuses.

The scandal prompted President Alvaro Uribe to announce on Wednesday (Oct. 29) that he had dismissed more than two dozen soldiers and officers, among them three generals, implicated in the murders.

Justapaz has documented the murder of at least one evangelical Christian at the hands of Colombian soldiers. José Ulises Martínez served in a counterinsurgency unit until two years ago, but left the army “because what he had to do was not coherent with his religious convictions,” according to his brother, pastor Reinel Martínez.

Martínez was working at a steady job and serving as a leader of young adults in the Christian Crusade Church in Cúcuta on Oct. 29, 2007, when two acquaintances still on active duty convinced him to go with them to Bogotá to request a pension payment from the army. He called his girlfriend the following day to say he had arrived safely in the capital.

That was the last she or his family heard from him.

Two weeks later, Martínez’s parents reported his disappearance to the prosecutor’s office in Cúcuta. The ensuing investigation revealed that on Oct. 1, 2007, armed forces officers had presented photographs of Martinez’s body dressed in camouflage and identified as a guerrilla killed in combat. Later the family learned that Martínez was killed in Gaula, a combat zone 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Bogotá.

Such atrocities threaten to mar the reputation of Colombia’s Armed Forces just as the military is making remarkable gains against the FARC and other insurgent groups. Strategic attacks against guerrilla bases eliminated key members of the FARC high command in 2008. A daring July 2 rescue of one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other high-profile FARC hostages was greeted with jubilation around the world.

Yet in Colombia’s confused and convoluted civil war, Christians are still targeted for their role in softening the resolve of both insurgent and paramilitary fighters.

“I believe preventative security measures must be taken in order to protect victims from this scourge that affects the church,” Acosta said in reference to the ongoing threats to Colombian Christians. “In comparison to information from earlier [years], the cases of violations have increased.”

Report from Compass Direct News

BUSHFIRE SEASON HAS STARTED


The bushfire season is off and running in New South Wales, Australia. There have already been several fires in my region of the Mid North Coast.

On Saturday there was a fire just south of Bulahdelah that closed the Pacific Highway for two hours. From what I understand the fire is thought to have begun by a discarded cigarette thrown from a car travelling on the highway.

The fire started at about 3.30 pm and as the fire intensified cars were seen travelling on the wrong side of the highway in a bid to keep clear of the fire. With the thick smoke about this was not the best move to make.

Another fire was burning off the highway near the Karuah Bridge on Monday, again producing thick smoke.

With the massive amount of growth in the bush over the last couple of wet growth seasons, the fuel load is now massive and fuel reduction burns have been limited. With temperatures already peaking in the low thirties (Celsius), the season ahead looks grim.

Global Warming


I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on the news the other day – there was a member of the Australian government all but saying that there really isn’t an issue with global warming. Is he for real? We had our hottest day ever here a week or so ago, probably because of global warming and he still can’t see what is happening.

Surely it is time to now start doing something to try and repair the damage we have done to the environment! Sure, it may take some time to reverse – but if we don’t start now the problem is only going to get worse and eventually we will have no choice but to try and do something. I say now before things get much worse!

The industrial nations like Australia should be leading the way – after all we did cause the problem!

What do we do – we refuse to assist those low lying nations in the Pacific who are in danger from rising sea levels. Pathetic really! We should definitely be helping these people before they loose their countries to global warming.