Be careful what you say; the thought police are listening
Pacific storytelling with a focus on ignored & ‘untold’ issues

Pacific crisis is a direct threat to Australia

Illustration by Jim Pavlidis (Sydney Morning Herald)
Illustration by Jim Pavlidis (Sydney Morning Herald)

PETER HARTCHER | Sydney Morning Herald | Extract

Link here to Peter Hartcher’s full story

SYDNEY - To most Australians, the South Pacific looks like a holiday opportunity or a blank space on the map. It takes a crisis for Australia to pay serious attention to the Pacific islands.

Like when the Japanese occupied several to prepare for the full-scale invasion of Australia in World War II.

Or when the Solomon Islands became a failed state and turned to Australia in desperation in 2003, leading to the 14-year, multibillion-dollar RAMSI mission. Or when civil war broke out on Bougainville and Australia and New Zealand were asked to oversee the peace process from 1997.

All these crises ended well and Australia's performance ultimately was outstanding in each case. But in each case, Australia was complacent or distracted until events forced it to act. Some vigilance would have reduced the cost and consequences.

So it's time for Australia to pay serious attention. Crisis has again broken out in the Pacific islands, and this is one that directly threatens Australia's future.

Because while most Australians see the region's main value as a holiday destination, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party sees Australia taking a holiday from history.

To China's President, Xi Jinping, that is an opportunity to establish dominance in the Pacific as part of the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation". Beijing is using aid, infrastructure and other inducements to build influence over the small, poor nations that make up the region.

Just as China has been setting up naval bases in Africa and along the edge of the Indian Ocean, it's a matter of time before it does the same in the Pacific. It's interested in building ports in Papua New Guinea, for instance, which could be used by its military. And there were rumours this year of Chinese interest in building a military facility in the Pacific island state of Vanuatu.

"It's been an unspoken objective of Australian defence and foreign policy for 70 years to ensure that no other power could project force against Australia from the South Pacific," says the head of the Australian National University's National Security College, Rory Medcalf, ever since the Japanese were driven out in World War II.

If China were to build a military base among the Pacific islands, it would be a "pretty significant failure" of that policy, he points out. The People's Liberation Army would be in a position to threaten and coerce Australia.

"It is essential to the welfare of the whole country," wrote the American naval strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, that "the enemy must be kept not only out of our ports, but far away from our coasts." This is as sensible today as it was when he wrote it in 1890.

Is China the enemy? It's the major trading partner of Australia and another 120 of the countries in the world, but it's also a strategic competitor of the United States and its allies. We know it's determined to build power. We know it's willing to walk over international law to do so, as it did in the South China Sea. And we know it's willing to use its power to coerce other countries.

We don't know its ultimate objectives and it's possible that Beijing itself isn't yet sure. So are we feeling lucky about what the next decade, the next century, might bring?


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Paul Oates

Onya Arthur! Let 'em have it. You are absolutely correct.

The so called leaders of the so called free world are just as culpable as those so called captains of industry who only think of making more money when they can't possibly spend all they have on themselves. It has become simply a world game of monopoly.

During a recent our of Scotland some on the tour were told that less than 25 people actually own the majority of the land and most people work for a modern day 'laird'.

Prior to the Irish Independence, it was reputed that around 22 people owned most of the land and everyone else were mostly poor peasant farmers. Those self same people (Anglo Irish) let a million people starve to death on their doorstep during the potato famine in the mid 19th Century.

That is a classic potential for revolution. Just ask the French peasants around 200 years ago or the Russian peasants around 100 years ago and the Chinese around 70 years ago.

Why is it we don't learn from history?

In Australia, a bloke by the name of Dick Smith has been trying to use his self made wealth to change things and promote better ideas. Amazing how he can't seem to get much traction with the public given that no government or politician seems to be prepared to come out and actively support him?

Our leaders of the so called free world have been asleep at the wheel and we have now ended up being confronted with exactly the same dilemma everyone found themselves before the last two world wars.

When the politicians can't figure out what is going wrong they immediately cry it was 'someone else what done it!'

Amazing how many seem to accept that hypothesis.

Arthur Williams

While it’s pleasing to have a bogeyman to point our fingers at, the real concerns can be ignored.

What about plight of the world’s poor measured against the super-rich.

1 The charity Oxfam is today highlighting the fact that the world's eight richest men nearly own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world's population.

2 Belgium the richest 10% of the population appear to own half the country's wealth. The poorest half of the population own 8.8% of Belgium's riches.

But inequality in Belgium is less pronounced than in other Eurozone states.

Research commissioned by the European Central Bank showed that the richest 10% of EU citizens own 51.2% of the bloc's wealth.

Across the globe the richest 1% of the population owns more than all the others put together.

Belgium's richest 1 million people own 1,043 billion euros. The poorest half of the population possesses 208 billion. Oxfam describes the figures as "alarming". With 6.2 billion euros Albert Frère, the richest Belgian, owns more than Belgium's 2 million poorest people.

3 The 75 richest people of the world own as much as the poorest 50% of the world. This compares with 85 people in Oxfam (2014) which used the 2013 edition of the Credit Suisse wealth report.

This suggests that over the last year, the wealth of the richest individuals has grown faster than the wealth of the bottom half of the global distribution.

4 The richest 1 per cent of people in the UK own almost a quarter of the country’s wealth, a new report has revealed.

The huge levels of inequality in the UK were revealed in a detailed assessment that also showed the richest five per cent of people in the country own 44 per cent of all wealth.

Trump, Russia’s (unique!!) cyber-attacks, Chinese seeking supremacy abroad, #MeToo are all good clickbait.
Possibly plenty of women who signed up to latter cyber protest are demonstrating at this moment against Kavanaugh’s democratic appointment to USA Supreme Court seemed to have been silent about the events in Congo but recently highlighted again by the Nobel Peace Prize going to Dr Denis Mukwege aka 'Dr. Miracle' who, over the past 20 years, has treated tens of thousands of women in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, many of who had been gang raped. Where were they for 240 months or more?

The UK Foreign Minister Hague visited DRC with Angelina Jolie in 2013 Alas terrorist continued to rape.

I wonder too at Mrs Obama and many celebrities signing up to the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls campaign for the 276 abducted schoolgirls of Nigeria. Obama had drones with which he could have traced them. He had satellites that can photograph a face even see the moustache on a Taliban leader but nothing was revealed.

Many folk abhor the plight of Rohingya but have ignored the 70 years of ethnic violence, rape and murder by Burmese Governments against the nation’s ethnic minorities.

As folk have noted in comments elsewhere we have perhaps the worldwide worst problem of climate change that sees no state boundaries, ethnicity, rich folk or poor.
A Red Under the Bed! Or the ‘Yellow Peril’ are far easier for sound bites on Facebook, Twitter for your billions to read on their mobile phones or online ‘News’. So don’t mention the rise of multi-nationals wealthier than many so-called sovereign states as their greed makes them want to takeover more and more of their competitors until Big Pharma can dominate what an India peasant farmer does with his little subsistence plot or rice paddy.

In PNG perhaps some of us will recall the eventual scandal when the Hagahai, also known as Pinai, of Enga had their blood samples taken by anthropologist Carol Jenkins and were patented by the USA National Institute of Health because some of the tribe’s blood contained unique genetic characteristics (HTLV-1) that potentially offered resistance to a certain type of leukaemia. Due to international pressure, the NIH withdrew the patent, but the blood sample is still held under the Budapest Convention by the semi-private American Type Culture Collection, and can be accessed by anyone for a small fee. More than 2,000 blood samples are being held at the NIH and it is known that pharmaceutical companies trade indigenous DNA on the international market read more at

I know my daughters gave hair and/or nail clippings possibly blood to some scientist during the 1980s. There are tales of an Asian allegedly Japanese taking ‘mud’ samples around PNG too.

Know we should be aware of the down side of our liberal democracies and the role of globalisation which seems to be a capitalist trick hatched in Davos or some other ‘Big Men’s’ gathering and often behind closed doors. That we saw in the rise of the ‘7 Sisters’ in the oil business of the 1920s.

Maski! Ples daun tasol bai youmi tok wanem? Bigman I tok, “70 yias na yumi olgera mas dai.” Klostu nau mi stilim 10pela yia

*1& 2

Paul Oates

Apparently no one is really sure who first said, 'the price of freedom is eternal vigilance' so perhaps its been thought of and said many times by many people over the centuries.

Therefore we should all take particular note.

Where a power vacuum exists some will always seek to fill it.

Stephen Charteris

One can't help but see the image a pathetic Neville Chamberlain holding aloft a piece of paper and announcing peace in our time. Appeasement didn't work then and it certainly wont work now.

Will Self

Plus qua change plus qua chose. An excellent start would be to put yourself back to around 1932 and read history. Or any era you choose. Weakness and vacillating politics invites savages.

Chris Overland

The history of China is one in which the power of the central imperial authority waxes and wans, mostly according the judgement, military capacity, diplomatic skills and luck of the incumbent Emperor and his minions.

However, a consistent thread throughout that history has been China's conviction that it represents the apex of human culture and civilisation and that, as a consequence, all other powers should humbly acknowledge this and submit to its will.

This belief has persisted despite what the Chinese regard as the "century of humiliation" inflicted by the burgeoning European imperial powers and which is seen as having been terminated by the triumph of the communist party in 1949.

By this view, the so-called American Century (which arguably commenced in 1917) is a mere aberration, during which the upstart USA usurped China's legitimate role in the world.

Bearing this in mind, what China is currently doing is reasserting its prestige, military and economic power and authority, starting with South East Asia, still spreading through Africa and now appearing in the Pacific.

The strategic aim is to replace the USA as the world's foremost power, and thus be able to significantly influence if not entirely dominate world affairs to its advantage.

Naturally, the USA is going to push back against the Chinese efforts and this has already commenced. It is exerting its still enormous economic power and Donald Trump's overt belligerence towards China enjoys real support amongst many, probably the majority, of Americans.

While overt warfare seems unlikely right now, a covert digital war is already occurring, with both China and Russia seeking to find ways to disrupt western societies and, especially, the social cohesion amongst democratic societies that is a necessary prerequisite for any effective resistance to their geo-political ambitions.

Right now, the authoritarian regimes across the world seem to be winning this undeclared war.

The western democracies are in almost total disarray, with their political leaderships engaged in ideologically driven conflicts over things like Brexit, immigration policies, economic management, rights of minorities and so forth.

There is clear evidence that Russia at least, has deftly used digital means to exacerbate these divisions to its own advantage. They are following the old adage of "divide and conquer" to great effect.

I do think that it has belatedly dawned upon our political leadership that we are collectively under real threat but their responses seem to have been inadequate to date.

I guess it takes a long time to overcome the inertia of 30 years of self congratulatory delusion that liberal democracy could not and would not again be challenged by authoritarian powers.

If history repeats itself, this is all going to end rather badly for someone or, maybe, all of us.

In particular, if things go badly for China's economy, there is a real risk that the ruling regime will ramp up its nationalistic rhetoric in an effort to distract the populace from focussing on its various very real failings.

If that happens, then the risk of someone doing something quite stupid escalates very rapidly.

I fervently hope that this is not what happens, but history does not encourage optimism.

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