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Chinese Military Base In The Pacific Near Australia Could Be A Nightmare For The US & Allies

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Chinese military base in the Pacific near Australia could soon be a reality if Canberra and her allies do not take urgent measures. With the aim of developing a military base in the Pacific near Australia, the Chinese government have gone all out to woo the tiny, impoverished Pacific island nations. 

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As per experts, hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese have left no stone unturned to charm the Pacific Island nations which neighbour Australia. A mere thought of having a Chinese military base near Australia, which looks quite possible, should send shivers across the US.

Australia has been an all-weather partner for most countries in the Pacific region. Their proximity to countries like Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands etc and ability to financially assist them have helped the ‘Kangaroos’ maintain a sphere of influence in the region.

But the Chinese, as in the other parts of the world, are going all out on their charm offensive to wrest control of the region using coronavirus aid as a smokescreen.

As the pacific island nations are already dealing with severe and acute diseases, such as dengue, malaria, tuberculosis and diabetes, they will not be able to deal with the deadly pandemic and that is where Beijing sees an opportunity.

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Even if COVID-19 does not hit them hard as it has the rest of the world, their economy could be crippled. Countries in the Pacific are heavily dependent on tourism, aid and investment from abroad but all this has come to a standstill in the recent weeks.

The most tourism-dependent economies are Fiji (where tourism comprises 17% of GDP), Samoa (23%), Vanuatu (40%), the Cook Islands (73%) and Tonga (10%), according to ANZ research and official figures.

Budgets across the Pacific will be ruined and a large proportion of the population will lose their jobs. The Pacific islands will need significant fiscal injections to keep their economies afloat, and fast, which is where the geopolitical rivalry comes in.

Chinese actions have been prompt in tackling the pandemic in the Pacific region. It has literally gone from being the problem to presenting the solution.

In early March, when it was itself reeling from the pandemic, Beijing convened a video conference with most of the ministers from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands advising them on beating the deadly pandemic.

At the same time, Beijing also created the China-Pacific Island Countries anti-COVID-19 Cooperation Fund. The Fund, worth $1.9 million, has provided Pacific island states with finances to purchase medical equipment from Chinese companies.

Chinese officials posted in the Pacific islands have not missed any publicity opportunity as they posed for pictures with big cheques and ministers from different nations.

The lacklustre healthcare system, lack of masks, ventilator, medical equipment and testing kits have given China another opening to make inroads into the Pacific. China has also offered test kits and medical supplies to Vanuatu, Tonga and French Polynesia, $300,000 in cash to the Solomon Islands to buy equipment.

The Chinese government also handed over $4.3 million in cash and medical supplies to Fiji and donated US$100,000 to Vanuatu and US$200,000 to Tonga towards COVID-19 preparedness.

A strong Chinese presence in PNG is a major concern to Australia and her Western allies. Separated by a distance of just five kilometres, PNG is a nation of 10 million people incredibly vulnerable to Covid-19 due to high rates of poverty, poor nutrition and pre-existing health conditions.

Stronger links with the Pacific Island countries and PNG, in particular, could lead to the Chinese creating a military base in the region.

China came close in 2018 as it discussed co-developing four major ports and eventually a military base in Papua New Guinea, including at Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island. However, the talks fell through and PNG partnered with Australia instead to redevelop the base itself.

While it was possible to negotiate with PNG earlier, a post coronavirus world with devastated economies of Pacific countries eager for aid and assistance, there is a possibility that they could turn to China and fall prey to their debt-trap strategy.

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A Chinese military base in the pacific is not a declaration of war by any means but just the physical presence can have a psychological impact on Australia, lead to a military buildup in the region and confirm the real intentions of China behind its soft-power moves.

It will also send a message to the allies including the US about the changing world and serve a direct challenge to US hegemony.

The latest Chinese action in the pacific island region is not new. In fact, China has stepped up its diplomatic efforts in the region and used economic statecraft to win the support of these countries since the turn of the century.

It worked as twin strike as they gained official recognition from countries in the Pacific and at the same reduced Taiwanese diplomatic recognition. But it’s not just Chinese efforts that have contributed to increased presence in the region.

Equally responsible are the United States and Australia for China’s rise. Washington has been dormant and not taken any concrete action in the region. While aid and trade have been the preferred avenues for engagement, the capacity and resourcing problems associated with the Obama administration’s “Asia Rebalance” have had an impact on security engagement with the region.

Obama’s successor Donald Trump understood the importance of the region but did not offer any concrete solution. The 2017 National Defense Strategy does not mention the region at all, while the Indo-Pacific Strategy did not provide long-term blueprints for addressing the region’s strategic challenges either.

Australia has cut health aid to the Pacific by 10% over the last five years. In some nations, it has been much more severe. Health assistance to Fiji has been cut by 22%, Samoa 36%, Solomon Islands 13% and Tuvalu by 75%. This has led the Island nations to look for other sources of income and naturally turned their heads towards China.

Just like the spread of the virus has provided China with an opportunity to increase its foothold in the Pacific, Australia and its allies also have an opportunity to counter Beijing.

A revision of Australia’s Pacific step-up policy post-COVID-19 could spearhead the response to China’s growing influence in the region. Many countries all over the globe have stepped up anti-China rhetoric for Beijing’s mismanagement and not sharing information about the deadly virus.

Restarting the AU $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP), which was supposed to be launched before the pandemic started, would be another positive step and reaffirm the commitment of Australia towards pacific countries.

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The US needs to wake up too and support Australia. In the recent G-20 summit, Australian PM Scott Morrison urged for the same and called the Pacific our ‘family’.’’

Australia is assisting Pacific Island governments with laboratories, medical equipment, health expertise, public information campaigns and support for national preparedness plans and the World Health Organization’s regional plan, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne had stated.

The pandemic has brought back the pacific region into the spotlight once again. The last time it was in this position was during WWII as the Axis and Allied powers fought each other for controlling the region. 75 years later the stakes remain same, but Australians and her allies have their work cut out.

OpEd By Jonathan Pryke & Richar Mcgregor for Nikkei Asian Review and Armaan Srivastava for The EurAsian Times

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Trump’s Mediation Offer ‘Naive’; US Actually Wants India To Challenge Chinese Dominance: Russian Experts

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As Trump’s offer to mediate the India-China border conflict has publically failed, experts argue that “Washington’s policy-makers, who seek to pit the Indians against the Chinese, maybe as naïve as Trump”.

The fierce military standoff between China and India that has been in the headlines for over a month now started in early May when clashes erupted between the troops of both the nuclear nations, that left scores of soldiers injured from both the sides driving a steady build-up of troops in the border region.

The US President, Donald Trump had recently offered to “mediate and arbitrate” the conflict, however, the offered was duly refused by both the involved countries.

Artyom Lukin, an associate professor of international relations at Far Eastern Federal University in Russia opines that Trump’s mediation offer “was perhaps inspired by his recent success in bringing about an OPEC+ deal that ended a brutal oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.”

In April this year, with Trump’s apparent mediation, the oil giants Saudi Arabia led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russia led by President Vladimir Putin with 21 other countries as a part of the OPEC+ agreement collectively agreed to reduce oil output by 9.7 million barrels per day between May and June, in an attempt to combat the drop in international demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pentagon on Trump’s offer

It is reported that Pentagon and experts in Washington do not share the same perspective as Trump’s on the issue of mediation. Lukin believes that “they understand that a rising and ambitious India is the only realistic counter-balance against China.

There are just no other candidates for this role. Russia is in cahoots with China. Japan is a declining and militarily weak power.”

It is widely understood that to maintain control over the whole Eurasian region, “the US needs to keep this super-continent divided against itself, which means never allowing a true rapprochement between Asia’s two biggest powers, India and China.”

Trump’s failure to mediate the Sino-Indian conflict

Lukin puts forward two primary reasons for Trump’s failure to intervene in the Sino-Indian conflict. “Firstly, it is difficult to be an effective mediator or arbiter in international politics if you don’t have leverage over the parties in question.”

He believes that in the case of India and China, “it is not clear what rewards or penalties the US has in reserve for China and India. Most likely there are none.”

Secondly, the scholar in international relations claims that “the best mediator is one that is perceived as unbiased and impartial. On this count, the White House has an obvious handicap, since the US views India as a crucial associate and friend, while China is considered a competitor and rival.”

The Blame on China

US’s rivalry with China has been taken into account by many international critics. Apart from the trade war and technology rivalry, Washington blamed Beijing for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and has also pointed at China for playing aggressively in the disputed Himalayan region.

It is reported that Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, called China’s behaviour “aggression, the constant attempt to shift the norms, to shift what is the status quo, that has to be resisted whether it’s in the South China Sea… or whether it’s in India’s own backyard, both on land as well as in the Indian Ocean.”

On the flip side, Indian defence experts like Lt Gen H S Panag believes that China’s is ultimately protecting its own “status quo,” that is continuously been threatened by India’s strategic growth in the contested territories along the border.

Since New Delhi seeks to maximize its benefits from the partnerships that it shares with the US, it strategically refrains from being involved in American-led efforts to contain China. “In this sense, Washington’s policy-makers, who seek to pit the Indians against the Chinese, maybe as naive as Trump with his peace-making initiatives” concludes Lukin.

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Asia Pacific

Philippines wants continued, strong military partnership with the US: DFA

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Manila, June 3 — Manila seeks to continue its strong military partnership with the United States as it suspends the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.

“We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with US even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building common defense towards enduring stability and peace, and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part of the world,” he said in a speech.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a diplomatic note dated June 1, informed the US embassy about the suspension of abrogation for half a year. Following notification in February 2020, the accord was originally set for the termination in August.

Defending President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision, Locsin said the suspension was in line with the developments in the region and the Philippines’ national interest.

“In the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, in a time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world,” he said.

He also assured that the action “alarms no country in Asia and the rest of the world” as it even “greatly assures everyone”.

Covid-19, SCS among factors

In a separate interview Wednesday, Philippine Ambassador in Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said the decision was influenced by several factors, including the coronavirus pandemic and recent developments in the South China Sea.

“Obviously, the situation as far as the pandemic is concerned is a major concern as far as the Visiting Forces Agreement. As a matter of fact, many of the Balikatan exercises had to be moved or cannot be obviously be implemented because of the pandemic so that’s one,” he said in an ANC interview.

“The political reason, obviously, is there’s quite a number of things that are happening right now in the South China Sea, very clearly we see that and so because of security issues and many things that are happening in the world, both I think our governments have seen that it would be prudent for us to just simply suspend first any implementation of the termination,” he added.

Although surrounded with “many issues”, the VFA in itself is a vehicle to implement exercises between Washington and Manila under the context of the Mutual Defense Treaty.

In the long run, Romualdez said the Philippines has to find some form of mechanism to continue with the defense pact.

“The President has always said that he has no intention of abrogating our Mutual Defense Treaty which was signed in 1951, that in itself is already an indication that we have to have some mechanism on how we can continue with that defense treaty,” he said.

“The VFA was obviously a vehicle for which we will be able to implement many of these exercises but it has been under review for many years even before President Duterte, there are many issues, of course, that need to be resolved… In the long run we need to have some form of agreement to be able to implement our defense treaty with the US,” he said.

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Asia Pacific

India-China Border Clash: Russia ‘Worried’ About Standoff Between Two Great Allies

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After the US, Russia has expressed anxiety over the border clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and urged India and China to address the issue through established bilateral dialogue mechanisms.

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“Of course we are worried with the current situation at LAC, reported the Economic Times.

However, as we know, there are specified mechanisms developed by both the nations including hotlines, special representatives dialogue, and informal summits. We are positive that India and China would be able to to find a solution. We would encourage every attempt in this regard,” Russian Deputy Ambassador to India Roman Babushkin told ET.

This is the first statement by Russia since the border clash first broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh region along the LAC.

Earlier, both India and China also pledged to use the bilateral mechanism to solve the raging border conflict. Referring to SCO-RIC mechanism Babushkin said – We think it is vital to improve Russia-India-China (RIC) dialogue as well as SCO-based coordination as essential for regional security and boosting mutual trust.” Russia presently holds the SCO chairmanship.

Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, US president Doland Trump had reiterated his offer to mediate between India and China over the border dispute between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Trump has said that he talked with Indian PM about the “big conflict” and asserted that the PM Modi s not in a “good mood” over the latest flare-ups.

Speaking with the reporters in the White House on Thursday, President Trump said a “big conflict” was going on between India and China. “I like your prime minister a lot. He is a great gentleman,” the president said.

“Have a big conflict …India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people (each). Two countries with very powerful armies. India is not happy and probably China is not happy,” he said when asked if he was worried about the border situation between India and China.

Trump had earlier offered to mediate between India and China to resolve the border conflict and had tweeted – “ready, willing and able to mediate” between the two countries. Responding to a question on his tweet, Trump repeated his proposal, saying if called for help, “I would do that (mediate). If they thought it would help” about “mediate or arbitrate, I would do that,” he said.

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