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Defense & Security
Paris,France,1st of May 2024.Thousands of people protested and celebrated on mayday in Paris. Labour unions,workers,students and others marched through the streets

The nickel behind Macron's recolonization project in New Caledonia

by Pablo Elorduy

The protests by the Kanak population are taking place against an electoral reform that will further benefit the settlers recently established on the island. In the background are the profits from nickel mining, which the metropolis wants to monopolize. The riots in New Caledonia have led the Government of the French Republic to intensify repression on the Pacific Island. This week, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc has announced that the police presence would be increased, nearly doubling from 1,700 to 2,700 officers. Officially, five people, including two police officers, have died in the clashes, which have arisen due to a legal change in the system of electing representatives that discriminates against the indigenous Kanak population, who make up 40% of the total population. The clashes are also a result of the deep inequality between the Kanak people and the settlers, who are organized into militias, and are said to have carried out executions of civilians. Kanak organizations claim that the death toll among civilians could be higher. Since Wednesday, May 15th, an emergency state has been declared in the archipelago, and the army has been deployed around ports and airports. More than two hundred people have been detained. The situation has worsened due to problems accessing food — due to distribution issues, according to the island government — and healthcare services, which have arisen since the unrest began in early May. The government has stated that in several neighborhoods, "control is no longer assured," and they hope to dismantle the barricades with explosives placed by the masses of protesters. It is estimated that there are around 9,000 protesters, of whom 5,000 are in Nouméa, the capital, especially in the neighborhoods of Kaméré, Montravel, and Vallée-du-Tir. Additionally, the metropolis has banned access to TikTok — a network used for information among the protesters — and the Ministry of Justice has announced "harsher penalties against rioters and looters." The Ground Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) is the main organization of the Kanak population and has linked the protests to the "methodical sabotage of the decolonization process by the French state" from the very beginning. The fact is that since 1986, New Caledonia has been part of the territories to be decolonized according to the United Nations. "Since Emmanuel Macron came to power, France has radically sabotaged the decolonization process," stated the anticolonial organization Survie in a statement. The government's response has been to discredit the CCAT as a "mafia-like" organization and to denounce foreign interference from Azerbaijan, a country which, according to the Élysée Palace, would be seeking revenge for France's support of its Armenian rivals in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Why do protests arise in New Caledonia? The protests arose in response to a reform by the French government aimed at expanding the electorate for provincial elections in New Caledonia, a territory with an estimated population of 300,000 people. The plan involves extending the right to vote to the recently settled colonial population, around 25,000 people, which would further exclude 40% of the island's indigenous population from the representative system, who are the most affected by poverty and exclusion. The settlers are already able to vote in French presidential and municipal elections, but the plan would change the balance in provincial elections. Thus, supporters of independence and the Kanak population interpret that the "Nouméa Accord" of 1988, which grants more guarantees to the Kanak population, would be reversed in order to further privilege the settlers who have gradually been settling in the territory, attracted by tax benefits and the relationship between their high salaries with European standards and the low prices in the archipelago. This is yet another nail in a hardline shift directed by Macron's government, which in 2021 imposed a referendum to shore up French colonial power over the archipelago despite demands for postponement from the Kanaks and significant voices in French society, who called for respect for the Kanak mourning for those who died from COVID-19. As expected, abstention determined the results. The current constitutional bill to "unfreeze" the electorate, which has been voted on in the Senate and must be endorsed by the French Assembly, has sparked multiple protests, including strikes at the port and airport of Nouméa, closure of numerous administrations, the beginning of a riot at the Nouméa prison, and clashes between police and youth from working-class neighborhoods of Nouméa. As noted in an article from the environmentalist newspaper Reporterre, the control of New Caledonia is strategic for France. The island hosts between 20 and 30% of the world's nickel resources, a resource used in the manufacturing of batteries for electric cars. One out of every four people works in the nickel sector, despite which the industry is in crisis, leading the metropolis, under the guidance of Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy, to present a "nickel pact" that would introduce millions in aid to the sector but, at the same time, reverse a 1998 agreement by which the island secured management of the nickel. The proposed pact, explained by an expert cited by Reporterre, "completely departs from the model of mining revenues that benefit New Caledonia for its own development" and follows point by point with a neocolonial logic. Additionally, the metropolis aims for the archipelago to export more raw material, which would lead New Caledonia to lose the added benefit of in-situ nickel processing.

Defense & Security
Wellington, New Zealand - November 29 2019: HMNZS Wellington, a protector-class off-shore patrol vessel in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailing into Wellington harbour.

New Zealand is waking up to threats

by Tim Hurdle

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском While Australian defence policy looks north, Kiwis focus west. New Zealand has always benefited from strategic isolation and the distance from international conflicts. But as global dangers increase, the reality of the geo-political situation is cutting through in New Zealand’s public discourse. With the active aggression of totalitarian powers like China and Russia causing disruption, New Zealand is waking up the threats they pose to the international order. That’s a good thing for Australia, creating a stronger, more engaged partner to work with in the Pacific and on regional security arrangements. Awareness of the threat that China and Russia pose has evolved in the past 10 years. In June 2022, then Labour prime minister Jacinda Ardern attended the NATO Summit, calling her participation a ‘rare thing’. She condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said ‘China’s increasing assertiveness is resulting in geopolitical change and competition.’ This mild comment provoked the strong rebuke from Beijing that her comments were ‘unhelpful, regrettable and wrong.’ Her open criticism was a shift from a foreign policy that had been closely tied to protecting the strong trading relationship with China. This shift continued under Chris Hipkins, who replaced Ardern as prime minister until Labour lost office in November. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a strategic foreign policy assessment, ‘Navigating a shifting world’, in July 2023. And Hipkins’s defence minister, Andrew Little, said ‘In 2023, we do not live in a benign strategic environment’ as he unveiled a Defence Policy Strategy Statement that achieved cross-party support. With a three-party centre-right coalition government now in office, there is a growing recognition that New Zealand will need to spend more on defence. This is challenging due to excessive pandemic spending that has left a legacy of a bloated public service and a structural fiscal deficit. But on 10 May the government said money from cost-cutting elsewhere in the Defence budget would be recycled back into Defence rather than being subsumed by fiscal consolidation. All parties in the new government have made positive statements about New Zealand reaching the NATO standard of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defence. New Zealand last achieved this level in 1992, and spending has continued to decline in recent decades. Currently sitting just above 1 percent of GDP, the fraction is significantly less than Australia’s. New Zealand’s GDP per capita is only three-quarters of Australia’s, meaning its defence spending per person is much lower. The inaugural Australia–New Zealand Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations in February bought a new focus to the trans-Tasman relationship. Ministers of both countries said the meetings had taken place amid the most challenging global strategic environment in decades. They committed to increasing military integration. The debate in New Zealand has become sharper as the country has considered joining Pillar 2 of AUKUS, the part of the Australian-British-US defence partnership that deals with technology other than nuclear submarines. Active military collaboration for international security marks a strong shift away from the view of then Labour prime minister Helen Clark, who said in March 2001 that New Zealand was ‘very lucky to live in one of the most strategically secure environments in the world’ and that New Zealanders ‘would like other nations to experience the peace of a benign strategic environment too.’ For as long as her view dominated foreign policy circles, attention was on trade policy; there was little focus on national security or defence issues, beyond a fascination with nuclear disarmament. Clark and her generation promoted a so-called independent foreign policy. Encouraged by the anti-American and anti-nuclear lobby, this amounted to a shift away from the Western alliance. The more modern view in New Zealand is that, as a small country, it must help to uphold the international rules-based system and contribute to stability and security efforts. New Zealand has engaged with Asian-centred regional collaborative security frameworks. More spending is needed. The government will release a new Defence Capability Plan in June or July, setting out procurement priorities. There is no longer a sense that spending on defence will be unpopular. The main challenge will be renewing the fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). Key units that need replacement are the two Anzac-class frigates, and there are clear signals that New Zealand will consider buying ships of the general-purpose frigate class that is intended for the Royal Australian Navy. Using the same design would promote interoperability and economy. The Royal New Zealand Air Force has modernised with the recent purchase of P-8A Poseidon maritime patrollers and C-130J Hercules airlifters. New naval helicopters are likely to come soon. New Zealand can provide better awareness of the eastern approaches to Australia with Poseidons. A runway extension on the Chatham Islands, 800km east of mainland New Zealand, was opened in January to handle aircraft of the size of Poseidons. These assets are vital to supporting ongoing participation in collective security efforts. The first international deployment of a New Zealand Poseidon was to Japan in April, to help enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Kiwi gunners have trained Ukrainian soldiers in Britain. The RNZN is vital to Pacific relationships. New Zealand’s strategic isolation is becoming less apparent amid cyber attacks on the parliament in Wellington, great-power competition in Antarctica and acceptance that the country’s trade routes are exposed. Global conflicts feature on Kiwis’ screens daily, showing that the world is a more dangerous place and that foreign policy must change. It’s understood that stepping up will come at a cost. New Zealand needs to have defence capability that can integrate and enhance Australian forces in the Indo-Pacific. The new government knows that Australia, as New Zealand’s only formal defence ally, is the most important partner.

Defense & Security
France and New Caledonia flags.

France, New Caledonia and the Indo-Pacific

by Denise Fisher

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском How France manages the first outbreak of serious violence in New Caledonia in 40 years will affect not only its future role there but its acceptance as a resident Pacific, and Indo-Pacific, power. The violence of indigenous independence supporters, many of them very young, signals that the inconclusiveness of earlier peace agreements risks taking New Caledonia back to the bloodshed of the 1980s. The unrest is targeting the capital, Noumea, and its population of Europeans, who mostly support staying French. The wounds are deep. The peace agreements that ended violence in the 1980s largely succeeded because of difficult and constant compromises by the French state, loyalist parties and independence parties. Mutual trust in the promises of those agreements to work towards self-determination underpinned the French state conducting three referendums in New Caledonia from 2018 to 2021. The first two were impeccably organised and showed, respectively, that 56.7 percent and 53.3 percent opposed independence. But the state dropped the ball in a third referendum in 2021, sticking with an intended voting date despite indigenous requests for postponement. At the time, hundreds of Kanaks had died from Covid-19. Their leaders said they could not ask their people to campaign or vote when their traditions required lengthy mourning rituals. The resulting indigenous boycott saw the count of opposition to independence soar to 96.5 percent. Since then, divisions have deepened. Loyalists, backed by the government in Paris, say all three votes were valid and want to cement the territory as part of France. Independence groups reject the third vote and seek another; some refuse to participate in discussion about the future. They rejected Macron’s offer of a chemin de pardon (path of forgiveness) when he visited in July 2023. They did not attend a meeting he convened, and their supporters did not turn out for his major speech there, sending a strong message of discontent. Macron then threatened unilateral action unless local parties came to an agreement. Informal discussions between some parties from each side in December ended with wide divergences, including over a further independence vote and voter eligibility. To set a deadline, Macron introduced legislation postponing local elections from April 2024 to December 2025, and he put forward another bill that would amend the French constitution, imposing broader voter eligibility and thereby diluting the Kanak voting share, unless locals reached agreement before the end of June. Demonstrations erupted into violence on 13 May, the day France’s National Assembly debated imposing from Paris the enlargement of voter eligibility. The destruction perpetrated by young Kanaks signalled not only to France and loyalist parties who were their targets but also to Kanak leaders and neighbouring countries the depth of distress of a new generation who felt disrespected and excluded from determining the future of their homeland. How France responds will be decisive for its sustainable future in New Caledonia. New Caledonia’s population is about 270,000. In the census of 2019, indigenous Kanaks were 41 percent, Europeans 29 percent and other Pacific islanders and ‘others’ composed the remaining 30 percent. Another census is due this year. Kanaks may now exceed 45 percent, since there have been net departures of about 2000 people a year since 2015, almost all presumably non-indigenous. Moreover, some people in the ‘others’ category, which includes the sub-categories of ‘mixed’ and ‘Caldeonian’, would also be Kanaks. And the Kanak share of the population will rise, especially since recent developments may contribute to an increase in non-Kanak departures. While New Caledonia’s neighbours have quietly supported the peace agreements, they remain concerned about the interests of the islanders in the non-self-governing French territory. Some of them took New Caledonia to the United Nations Decolonisation Committee in 1986, ensuring annual UN scrutiny of the territory and France’s dealings with it since then. The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has regularly sent missions monitoring implementation of the Noumea Accord and observed each referendum, expressing serious reservations on the third. The Melanesian Spearhead Group (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia’s FLNKS independence coalition) was formed in the mid-1980s specifically to support Kanak independence claims. With the eruption of violence, their silence has broken. Making Australia’s highest-level statement in decades, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was closely monitoring the situation and encouraged all parties to work together constructively to shape the institutional future of New Caledonia. PIF Secretary-General Henry Puna said he was not surprised by the riots, noting it was unfortunate that the third referendum had been allowed to go ahead amid the pandemic. PIF chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said New Caledonia and French Polynesia had been included in the forum ‘in recognition of their calls for greater autonomy coming from their people’, and supported providing help to prevent conflict. Vanuatu Prime Minister and Melanesian Spearhead Group Chair Charlot Salwai publicly opposed France’s constitutional change and urged a return to the spirit of the peace agreements and the sending of a dialogue mission led by a mutually respected person. France has done much to regain the acceptance and trust of the region in recent decades. Responding to island governments’ visceral opposition to its policies in the 1980s, France abandoned nuclear testing in the region and gave greater autonomy to its Pacific territories. It did so by respecting local governments and people. Macron has articulated an Indo-Pacific vision for France that’s firmly based on its sovereignty in the Pacific. But, to maintain France’s claims as an Indo-Pacific power, he must listen to the large and growing indigenous minority in its pre-eminent Pacific territory, New Caledonia. And he must listen to the appeals of Pacific island governments, so they and France can move forward together with humility and respect.

Defense & Security
Map of New Caledonia, world tourism, travel destination, world trade and economy

Why is New Caledonia on fire? According to local women, the deadly riots are about more than voting rights

by Nicole George

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском New Caledonia’s capital city, Noumea, has endured widespread violent rioting over the past 48 hours. This crisis intensified rapidly, taking local authorities by surprise. Peaceful protests had been occurring across the country in the preceding weeks as the French National Assembly in Paris deliberated on a constitutional amendment that would increase the territory’s electoral roll. As the date for the vote grew closer, however, protests became more obstructive and by Monday night had spiralled into uncontrolled violence. Since then, countless public buildings, business locations and private dwellings have been subjected to arson. Blockades erected by protesters prevent movement around greater Noumea. Four people have died. Security reinforcements have been deployed, the city is under nightly curfew, and a state of emergency has been declared. Citizens in many areas of Noumea are now also establishing their own neighbourhood protection militias. To understand how this situation has spiralled so quickly, it’s important to consider the complex currents of political and socioeconomic alienation at play. The political dispute At one level, the crisis is political, reflecting contention over a constitutional vote taken in Paris that will expand citizens’ voting rights. The change adds roughly 25,000 voters to the electoral role in New Caledonia by extending voting rights to French people who’ve lived on the island for ten years. This reform makes clear the political power that France continues to exercise over the territory. The current changes have proven divisive because they undo provisions in the 1998 Noumea Accord, particularly the restriction of voting rights. The accord was designed to “rebalance” political inequalities so the interests of Indigenous Kanaks and the descendants of French settlers would be equally recognised. This helped to consolidate peace between these groups after a long period of conflict in the 1980s, known locally as “the evenements”. A loyalist group of elected representatives in New Caledonia’s parliament reject the contemporary significance of “rebalancing” (in French “rééquilibrage”) with regard to the electoral status of Kanak people. They argue after three referendums on the question of New Caledonian independence, held between 2018 and 2021, all of which produced a majority no vote, the time for electoral reform is well overdue. This position is made clear by Nicolas Metzdorf. A key loyalist, he defined the constitutional amendment, which was passed by the National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday, as a vote for democracy and “universalism”. Yet this view is roundly rejected by Kanak pro-independence leaders who say these amendments undermine the political status of Indigenous Kanak people, who constitute a minority of the voting population. These leaders also refuse to accept that the decolonisation agenda has been concluded, as loyalists assert. Instead, they dispute the outcome of the final 2021 referendum which, they argue, was forced on the territory by French authorities too soon after the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. This disregarded the fact that Kanak communities bore disproportionate impacts of the pandemic and were unable able to fully mobilise before the vote. Demands that the referendum be delayed were rejected, and many Kanak people abstained as a result. In this context, the disputed electoral reforms decided in Paris this week are seen by pro-independence camps as yet another political prescription imposed on Kanak people. A leading figure of one Indigenous Kanak women’s organisation described the vote to me as a solution that pushes “Kanak people into the gutter”, one that would have “us living on our knees”. Beyond the politics Many political commentators are likening the violence observed in recent days to the political violence of les événements of the 1980s, which exacted a heavy toll on the country. Yet this is disputed by local women leaders with whom I am in conversation, who have encouraged me to look beyond the central political factors in analysing this crisis. Some female leaders reject the view this violence is simply an echo of past political grievances. They point to the highly visible wealth disparities in the country. These fuel resentment and the profound racial inequalities that deprive Kanak youths of opportunity and contribute to their alienation. Women have also told me they’re concerned about the unpredictability of the current situation. In the 1980s, violent campaigns were coordinated by Kanak leaders, they tell me. They were organised. They were controlled. In contrast, today it is the youth taking the lead and using violence because they feel they have no other choice. There is no coordination. They are acting through frustration and because they feel they have “no other means” to be recognised. There’s also frustration with political leaders on all sides. Late on Wednesday, Kanak pro-independence political leaders held a press conference. They echoed their loyalist political opponents in condemning the violence and issuing calls for dialogue. The leaders made specific calls to the “youths” engaged in the violence to respect the importance of a political process and warned against a logic of vengeance. The women civil society leaders I have been speaking to were frustrated by the weakness of this messaging. The women say political leaders on all sides have failed to address the realities faced by Kanak youths. They argue if dialogue remains simply focused on the political roots of the dispute, and only involves the same elites that have dominated the debate so far, little will be understood and little will be resolved. Likewise, they lament the heaviness of the current “command and control” state security response. It contradicts the calls for dialogue and makes little room for civil society participation of any sort. These approaches put a lid on grievances, but they do not resolve them. Women leaders observing the current situation are anguished and heartbroken for their country and its people. They say if the crisis is to be resolved sustainably, the solutions cannot be imposed and the words cannot be empty. Instead, they call for the space to be heard and to contribute to a resolution. Until that time they live with anxiety and uncertainty, waiting for the fires to subside, and the smoke currently hanging over a wounded Noumea to clear.

Defense & Security
Solomon Islands

Russia and China co-ordinate on disinformation in Solomon Islands elections

by Albert Zhang , Adam Ziogas

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Moscow and Beijing likely worked together to sow disinformation globally that was propagated locally by political parties in the lead-up to Solomon Islands’ national and provincial elections on 17 April 2024. Both countries’ propaganda systems accused the United States, without evidence, of using its foreign aid and networks across the country to interfere in voting and of preparing to foment riots and orchestrate regime change in response to an unsatisfactory election result. This campaign adds to a growing body of evidence showing that China’s and Russia’s ‘no limits’ partnership extends to coordinating their disinformation campaigns in the Indo-Pacific. The narratives haven’t gained widespread attention or media coverage in Solomon Islands. Australia, the United States and other Pacific partners should nonetheless be concerned, as Russia and China can be expected to learn from this campaign and will likely use the lessons to further improve their influence operations in the region. Individually, China and Russia are adept and expert at pushing disinformation to disrupt other nations but, by coordinating their efforts, they have a force-multiplier effect. The campaign consisted of an alleged ‘leaked’ letter, articles published on authoritarian state-controlled media outlets and a fringe journal publication, which were then shared and amplified on social media platforms. A fortnight before election day, an unknown author by the name of Richard Anderson published an explosive article in CovertAction Magazine alleging that the US was seeking regime change in Solomon Islands. The US-based magazine was co-founded in 1978 by the late Philip Agee, a former CIA officer who after his retirement became a vocal critic of the agency and of US policy and had reported links with Soviet and Cuban intelligence. The magazine was set up ‘on the initiative of the KGB’, the Soviet Union’s main intelligence agency, according to a book by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin and British intelligence historian Christopher Andrew. Anderson had no previous history of writing for CovertAction Magazine. A week after that article was published, Russian state-controlled media agency Sputnik further fuelled the allegations, writing that the US was ‘plotting [an] electoral coup’. This article cited an anonymous source who had ‘intimate familiarity’ with the activities of USAID, the main United States foreign aid and international development agency. This mirrored how Anderson is described in his CovertAction Magazine bio, though Sputnik’s article did not explicitly mention him or his article. Sputnik’s claims were amplified four days later by the Chinese state-controlled tabloid newspaper the Global Times, which did directly reference Anderson’s article and has the potential to legitimise these narratives to an audience the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is actively targeting. During the same period, a poorly fabricated letter from an unconfirmed (and potentially non-existent) IFES project consultant was circulated among Solomon Islanders by an unknown source claiming that the US was seeking a ‘democratic transition by violent means in necessary circumstances.’ The text in this letter mirrored language used by Sputnik’s alleged anonymous source. Figure 1: Paragraph from Sputnik article (top) and a screenshot of the alleged IFES letter (bottom).     To be clear, there is no evidence that the US, or any other country, is supporting violent riots or interfering in Solomon Islands. Ann Marie Yastishock, US Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, has strongly refuted these allegations. This is not the first time the CCP-controlled media has spread disinformation in Solomon Islands or accused the US of seeking to instigate riots in the country. Following the 2021 Honiara riots, the CCP falsely accused Australia, the US and Taiwan of organising the riots, fomenting unrest and discrediting the relationship between Solomon Islands and China. In contrast, Russian media outlets also covered the 2021 Honiara riots but didn’t promote any explicit accusations of US or foreign interference. This time, China and Russia have been in lockstep. In the lead-up to the April elections, Russian state media was more direct and damning in its reporting with the release of Sputnik’s original article and in the subsequent coordination and dissemination of false narratives alongside Chinese state media. While Sputnik published only one follow-up article to the initial investigation, China’s Global Times was more prolific and varied, with six articles alleging US meddling in Solomon Islands. Of these six articles, four explicitly referenced Sputnik’s claims and two referenced US influence operations in more general terms. The indications of Russia-China propaganda coordination in this campaign were further supported by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) post on 19 April 2024 titled ‘The Hypocrisy and Facts of the United States Foreign Aid’. The post on their website claims the US is giving aid to Solomon Islands, among other countries, only because it sees it as a political threat. This was the first article ever published by the MFA to smear USAID. Moscow, however, has consistently campaigned against USAID since it ejected the US agency from Russia in 2012 for ‘meddling in politics’. Russian media has pushed a consistent narrative that the organisation is a US imperialist tool of regime change, accusing it of fomenting civil unrest and coup attempts as far afield as Belarus, Cuba, Georgia and Mexico. However, this latest attack against USAID appears to be the first where Russia’s narratives are working to the benefit of CCP interests. It’s been clear since at least 2018 that Russian and Chinese state media are converging on media narratives that serve their governments’ strategic and political interests. According to leaked documents from Russian state broadcaster VGTRK, Russian and Chinese propaganda entities also signed an agreement to ‘further cooperate in the field of information exchange, promoting objective, comprehensive and accurate coverage of the most important world events’. While previous ASPI research has demonstrated Russian and Chinese state-coordinated narratives on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the repeated re-airing of Sputnik’s conspiratorial claims of interference in Solomon Islands’ elections in Global Times articles indicates this propaganda cooperation is now a global initiative. There was also some evidence of amplification by inauthentic accounts on social media of these narratives, but they were limited and it is unclear whether they were state linked. For example, one X account with the handle @jv79628 shared the original Sputnik investigation. The account posts links almost exclusively from Sputnik, Global Times, Australian website Pearls and Irritations and videos with artificial intelligence-generated voices from the pro-CCP YouTube channel Chinese Revival, which may be linked to the Shadow Play network previously uncovered by ASPI. Other accounts sharing the original Sputnik report, such as @de22580171, pose as pro-Russian US citizens. They share articles mostly from Sputnik or Russia Today. At the time of publication of this report, Russia’s and China’s state media articles, and the accusations contained in them, have had minimal reach into online Pacific communities. In the public Solomon Islands Facebook groups ASPI viewed, online discourse remains more focussed on the emergence of new coalitions and the election of a new Prime Minister than on discussion of foreign influence or interference. According to Meta’s social monitoring tool, CrowdTangle, none of the articles from the Global Times have been shared in open and public Solomon Islands Facebook groups. However, Sputnik’s first article may have been more successful in reinforcing anti-Western sentiments in outgoing Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s O.U.R. Party, who are strong contenders to be part of the coalition that forms the next government. That article was posted on the O.U.R. Party Solomon Islands Facebook page, which is run by the party, on 10 April. It was reshared to several public Facebook groups in Solomon Islands, including news aggregation sites and local island forum pages. This is significant because it is the first time a news article has been posted on the O.U.R. Party Solomon Islands Facebook page, which typically shares positive images of the party’s activities and political campaigns. As of 1 May 2024, the post (below) has had over 180 interactions, which is higher than the average number of interactions a typical post has on this page. Figure 2: Screenshot of Sputnik article posted in O.U.R Party Solomon Islands Facebook page.     Sogavare, a founding member of the O.U.R. Party, has made similar remarks about ‘foreign forces’ previously. According to an article published in the Solomon Star, when US Ambassador Yastishock visited Solomon Islands in late March to present her letter of credentials to Governor-General John Oti, Sogavare claimed foreign forces were ‘intervening in the national general election’ and ‘may fund some political parties and plan to stage another riot during the election to disrupt the electoral process and undermine social stability’. Despite the low online interaction so far, the barrage of US regime change allegations lays the foundation for future narratives that may resurface if Solomon Islands experiences future unrest. Beijing and Moscow can be expected to learn from these disinformation efforts, leaving the US, Australia and their Pacific partners no room for complacency about the threat the regimes pose, nor the need for effective strategic communication. The Russian and Chinese governments are seeking to destabilise the Pacific’s information environment by using disinformation campaigns and influence operations to undermine traditional partnerships. In this digital age, leaders of governments and civil society across the region need to consistently confront and counter baseless lies pushed by authoritarian state media, such as accusations that the governments of Australia and the US are instigating riots. If they fail to do so, partnerships with, and trust in, democratic countries are at risk of deteriorating, which can reduce the development benefits provided to Pacific Island Countries by Western partners. Australia, the US, and other close Pacific partners, such as Japan, New Zealand and the European Union, must take a stronger stance against false and misleading information that is starting to circulate in the region as a result of authoritarian state-backed disinformation campaigns. These nations must also better support and encourage local media and governments to take further steps to identify and combat false information online. This includes providing more training packages and opportunities for dialogue on media-government communication procedures to tackle disinformation and misinformation. Countering the effects of disinformation requires ongoing efforts to call out false statements, educate the public, and build country-wide resilience in the information environment. Greater transparency and public awareness campaigns from the region’s partners can also help to ‘prebunk’—or anticipate and delegitimise—disinformation and alleviate concerns about malign activity.

Defense & Security
Australian flag and South Korean flag

Press Conference, Melbourne. Australia-Republic of Korea 2+2 Foreign And Defence Ministers’ Meeting

by Richard Marles , Cho Tae-Yul , Penny Wong

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Joint transcript with: The Hon Richard Marles MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Subjects: Australia-Republic of Korea 2+2 Foreign And Defence Ministers’ Meeting; AUKUS Pillar Two; Hanwha bid for Austal; foreign interference; Korean peninsula security. 01 May 2024 Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles: Well, welcome everyone. Today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have had the pleasure of being able to welcome Minister Cho and Minister Shin, the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister of South Korea to a 2+2 with Australia. In December of 2022, the Republic of Korea released its Indo-Pacific Strategy. And it described an assessment of the region and a response to it, which represented Korea looking to take its place in the region and the world. That is remarkably similar to the assessment that we made a few months later in the Defence Strategic Review. And it speaks to the fact that both Korea and Australia have a close strategic alignment and a shared vision about our place in the region and the world. And what was immediately obvious from that moment was the opportunity to take the relationship between our two countries to the next level. And today's 2+2 is very much an expression of that. We are seeing increased engagement between our two countries across the board. We are certainly seeing that in the realm of defence. Last year, Korea had its largest participation in Exercise Talisman Sabre, which is our major bilateral defence exercise. This year, we will see more Korean engagement in Exercise Pitch Black, Exercise Kakadu, Exercise Southern Jackaroo and we are very appreciative of Korea’s participation in those exercises, as we are in the way in which Korea and Australia are working together to uphold the rules-based order within our region and in fact, within the world. Both countries, as we've discussed today, are playing our part in supporting Ukraine in its resistance of the appalling aggression that is being forced upon it by Russia. We are working very closely together within our region to uphold the global rules-based order here as well, and that's seen in a greater engagement that both of us are doing with the countries of the Pacific and the countries of southeast Asia. We are particularly aware of the efforts that have been put in place for Korea to build its relationship with Japan and we see this as a very, very positive step forward in the strategic landscape of the region, and represents a huge opportunity for Australia to engage with both Korea and Japan. Finally, in respect of defence industry, we are seeing a blossoming of the relationship between our two countries in respect of defence industry. Yesterday, Minister Shin and I visited Hanwha's facility in Geelong, which is building for the Australian Army both the Huntsman and the Redback, which will be very central to our capabilities for the Army. But we're also very hopeful that these platforms represent an opportunity for greater industrial activity there, where we can see export to the world. Across the board, this is a relationship which is going to a new place, a place which is much deeper and much closer and we are very, very grateful for the presence of Minister Cho and Minister Shin in Australia today and we've really enjoyed the meeting that we've had this morning. Republic of Korea Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cho Tae-Yul: [spoken in Korean] Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. I am Cho Tae-Yul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea. I am grateful for the successful organisation of the sixth Republic of Korea-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Minister’s Meeting and I extend my deepest thanks to Mr Richard Marles and Ms Penny Wong for the warm welcome toward our delegations. It is with great pleasure that I make my first visit as Minister of Foreign Affairs to Australia to, our esteemed regional partner. Together with Mr Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense. During the first day of our visit on the 29th of April we paid tribute to the enduring legacy of 17,000 Australian veterans at the Australian National Museum Korean War Memorial in Canberra, commemorating their profound sacrifices for peace. The sacrifices of Australian veterans have laid a solid foundation for the prosperity of our relationship and on behalf of the Korean Government and people, I’d like to express heartfelt gratidude to the Australian veterans for their unwavering dedication. Today’s meeting holds significant importance as it is the first gathering of its kind following the installation of our current governments and Korea’s announcement of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. This occasion is further distinguished by its location in Melbourne, a symbol of our robust cooperation in defence industry. The Ministers of the two countries engaged in extensive discussions aimed at deepening strategic cooperation and communication, reinforcing our shared vision at both regional and global levels. Both parties recognise each other as pivotal partners in the realisation of our respective Indo-Pacific strategies, and as likeminded nations agreed to enhance our cooperation at bilateral, unilateral and multilateral levels. We acknowledge the remarkable progress in our bilateral cooperation with national defence and defence industries, highlighted by the signing of a contract for the delivery of Redback IFVs and the participation of Korean military personnel in Exercise Talisman Sabre and we said that we will be strengthening our cooperation into the future. In the realms of cyber and maritime security, we agreed to collaborate in blocking North Korea’s access to funding for illicit nuclear and missile developments, and to thwart illegal activities such as arms trading between Russia and North Korea. Our Australian counterparts have expressed their steadfast support for enhancing the human rights of North Koreans and for our policies aimed at reunification. Furthermore, we resolved to continue our close collaboration with ASEAN and the Pacific regions which hold great significance for both our countries. We will also expand our cooperative efforts for comprehensive security in cyber and maritime security, as well as economic security and climate change. I am confident today’s meeting will mark a significant milestone in strengthening our partnership built on the shared foundations of liberal democracy and mutual trust, and will further our commitment to a rules-based regional and global order. Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong: Thank you very much. Can I first express my deep appreciation to Minister Cho and Defense Minister Shin for their travel to Australia for this Foreign and Defence Ministers’ 2+2 meeting. We appreciate you coming to Australia and we have deeply enjoyed the dialogue this morning. This is the first 2+2 for us Ministers. We recognise that this dialogue is a cornerstone of our comprehensive strategic partnership with Korea. Can I start by appreciating the Minister's acknowledgement of the role that Australia and Australian veterans have played in this bilateral relationship. We thank you for honouring those Australians who have served. It is a testament to the historic strength of our relationship. But more importantly, today, what we focus on is the increasing strategic and economic convergence that exists between our two nations. And the focus of our meeting was how to translate that convergence that the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Cho have articulated, how we translate that convergence into tangible and practical actions in southeast Asia, in the Pacific and more broadly in terms of our cooperation in in the Indo-Pacific. We are very interested not only in increasing our cooperation and our engagement in defence industries, but also in increasing our collaboration diplomatically and economically. I make note, as Foreign Minister Cho did, of our collective condemnation of North Korea's continue provocative, destabilising activities and we will continue to work together to ensure that this risk and threat to our collective security continues to be met in solidarity between our countries and other countries of the world. As you will see from the joint statement when it is released, discussed a range of other matters, including the Middle East, where we shared our perspectives. I thank, again, my counterpart, the Foreign Minister for his engagement. We were an early call for him and we appreciate it. And we appreciate the efforts that the Ministers have made in coming to Australia for this very important 2+2. Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense, Shin Won-Sik: [spoken in Korean] Good afternoon, I am Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea. First of all, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Mr Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister and Ms Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the warm reception of our delegations. We are externally grateful for the noble sacrifices made by the 17,000 Australians during the Korean War who fought for freedom and peace in our country. On behalf of our people, thank you. During the ROK-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting we engaged in extensive discussions on a range of issues concerning the Korean peninsula, Indo-Pacific region and boarder global foreign affairs and defence matters and reaffirmed our commitment to further develop our bilateral future oriented relationships. Firstly, we agreed to continue enhancing our mutual and beneficial partnership in defence industry. It is with great pleasure that I know a Korean company was selected in Australia’s next generation Infantry Fighting Vehicle project, valued at $250 million USD. This follows the successful collaboration on the self-propelled artillery project in 2021. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Marles, and I visited the construction site of a Korean company in Geelong where we witnessed firsthand our flourishing bilateral cooperation in the defence industry. This collaboration is set to not only modernise Australia’s military capabilities, but also stimulate the local economy and strengthen the strategic solidarity between our nations. Secondly, we agreed to enhance our joint military training to improve interoperability and foster conditions for regional peace and stability. Last year, a significant contingent of Korean armed forces participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre, yielding fruitful outcomes. This year, the Australian military took part in Korea’s Freedom Shield exercises, as a member of United Nations command, enhancing its capabilities for joint operations. We are committed to continuing these joint exercises in various forms and further elevating the level of cooperation between our armed forces. Thirdly, recognising the importance of building trust in our national defence and defence industry partnership, we agreed to expand human exchanges among defence related organisations. Republic of Korea and Australia, as key strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific region, share profound strategic views and interests. We will build on the achievements of today’s meeting and collaborate earnestly for the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, Indo-Pacific region and the international community as a whole. Speaker: Questions? Journalist: South Korean Minister for National Defence, Shin Won-sik, there's been speculation about countries like South Korea joining the AUKUS Defence technology. Did you discuss this today? And does South Korea believe that it could engage in useful cooperation under Pillar Two of AUKUS? And Minister Marles, Hanwha has made a bid for Austal. Was this big discussion discussed in your meetings over recent days? And would such a bid likely be permitted under the new foreign investment framework being unveiled by the government today? Defence Minister Shin: [spoken in Korean] The Korean government, to enhance the regional peace, we support the AUKUS Pillar Two activities, and we do welcome that AUKUS members are considering Korea as the AUKUS Pillar Two partner. Korea's defence science and technology capabilities will contribute to the peace and stability of the development of AUKUS Pillar Two and the regional peace. And during today's meeting, we also discussed the possibility of partnering with AUKUS Pillar Two. Thank you. Deputy Prime Minister Marles: So, perhaps I might address both issues in relation to AUKUS Pillar Two. And we did discuss this both yesterday and today. AUKUS, as you know, is a technology-sharing agreement. It's not a security alliance. And Korea is obviously a country with deeply impressive technology, where we do have shared values, where we have strategic alignment, where we engage closely together. We already engage closely together in relation to technology. So, as AUKUS Pillar Two develops, I think there will be opportunities in the future, and we're seeing that play out in relation to Japan as well and we talked about that. In respect of Austal. Look, ultimately, this is a matter for Austal. They are a private company. From the government's perspective, we don't have any concern about Hanwha moving in this direction. We have identified Austal as a strategic shipbuilder for Australia in WA. Wherever Austal goes, whatever it does, there will obviously need to be security arrangements put in place in respect of sensitive technologies and intellectual property that would have to be managed no matter what the future of Austal. And were there anything that were to transpire in relation to Hanwa that would need to be managed in that context as well. But fundamentally, this is a matter for Austal as a private company. Journalist: And to Foreign Minister Wong. Australian officials have confirmed that India’s government was behind the nest of spies the Director General of Security described in 2021. Should Australians in the diaspora community be concerned about Indian government surveillance? And what message does the Australian government have to the Indian government about the acceptability of these activities and to Foreign Affairs Minister Cho Tae-Yul, the ABC has today reported South Korea is one of the friendly countries with a good relationship with Australia, which nonetheless engages in espionage here. Has there ever been a point of tension between the two countries, or are there clear shared understandings about the operation of intelligence agents in both countries? Foreign Minister Wong: Well, you would be unsurprised to hear me respond that we don't comment on intelligence matters. But at a level of principle about the democracy, I think you would have heard me and other Ministers on many occasions assert the importance of our democratic principles, assert the importance of ensuring that we maintain the resilience of our democracy, including in the face of any suggestion of foreign interference, and we have laws to deal with that. And to continue to say that we deeply value the multicultural fabric of the Australian community. It is a strength and we welcome people's continued engagement in our democracy. Foreign Minister Cho: [spoken in Korean] In regards to your question, I haven't heard anything and I am not sure against which context you are asking this question, so I have nothing to answer to that question. Journalist: Thank you. Minister Cho, you've both spoken today about the tensions across the Korean peninsula. These aren't always discussed when we're talking about issues like defence arrangements in the Pacific and the AUKUS deal as such. Why do you believe that close-knit ties with Australia in defence and these types of engagement is something that does have an impact on that relationship? Foreign Minister Cho: [spoken in Korean] Korea's security focuses on the North Korea's threat, but it's not the only focus. But as you can see, there's huge geopolitical changes taking place and the security in the Indo-Pacific region is closely linked to the security of other regions of the globe. So, we live in such a geopolitical era and Russia and North Korea are cooperating in the Ukraine war. And it shows that the Indo-Pacific region’s security is closely linked to the security of Europe as well. So, Korea's security is closely linked with Australia's security, and that's the world we live in. So, against the context of Indo-Pacific region and from the regional point of view, Australia and Korea share a lot of values and it's very good, not only in terms of economy, but also in security for our two countries to cooperate. So, in that context, we discussed the security partnerships between our two countries. Foreign Minister Wong: I might just add to that, if I may, Richard, that I think history shows us that what happens in the Korean peninsula matters to the security and stability of our region. We have no doubt that North Korea's destabilising, provocative, escalatory actions are contrary, are a threat to international peace and security, as well as to the peace and security of the ROK. We see it as very important that the international community exert and assert as much pressure as possible on the DPRK, including in relation to the regime of sanctions. And as Foreign Minister Cho has said, the actions of Russia in undermining that - those sanctions, in undermining the isolation of the DPRK, in participating in the provision of materiel, in contravention of UN resolutions and sanctions, is destabilising and undermines peace and security for the whole of the globe. And so I think it is important for us to continue not only to express solidarity with the Republic of Korea in the face of this aggression but also to call out Russia's behaviour as irresponsible and destabilising. Journalist: And Minister Wong, you touched on the reports of espionage before - Foreign Minister Wong: No, I was asked about them and I said we don't comment on intelligence matters. Journalist: Sure, I understand that that's the general principle on these matters, but given Australia's close-knit ties with India in the situation of the Quad, as a general principle, could I ask you, do you believe Australia would feel empowered enough to be forthright in raising concerns of these nations with the Indian government if they did it right? Foreign Minister Wong: Well, again, say we don't comment on intelligence matters, but as a matter of general principles, Australia remains consistent to our interests and to our values in all of our engagements. Speaker: Great. Thank you very much.

Defense & Security
Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS or ANZUS Treaty)

Smooth sailing or choppy waters for Australia, NZ and the US in the Pacific?

by Anna Powles , Joanne Wallis

Last week’s announcement that US President Joe Biden would not travel to Papua New Guinea to meet with Pacific Islands Forum leaders was met with disappointment. Expectations were high: the White House had labelled the visit ‘historic’—it would have been the first time a sitting US president visited a Pacific island country—and claimed it would further reinforce the ‘critical partnership’ between the US and the Pacific islands. The meeting was a follow-up to the first-ever US–Pacific Island Country Summit held in Washington last September. But as far as sequels go, this one was a fizzer. Biden’s planned visit was looking shaky even before news of its cancellation, with controversary following leaks about the proposed US–PNG defence cooperation agreement. But the PIF leaders went ahead with their meeting, and the decision by New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to attend, despite neither Biden nor Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese going, sent a strong signal to the Pacific of New Zealand’s commitment to the region. The Australian government has missed an opportunity to send a clear message that Australia shows up in the Pacific even when its larger alliance partner, the US, doesn’t. This brings us to the challenges facing Australia and New Zealand. In response to geopolitical shifts in the region and more broadly, Australia, New Zealand and the US have individually, and in cooperation with each other, sought to enhance their relationships with Pacific island countries and deepen their involvement in the region. However, as we argue in our new ASPI report, released today, cooperation between the three partners faces several challenges—and raises questions for Australia and New Zealand. Despite the rhetoric—at times tokenistic—from the three partners about respecting Pacific agency, ambitions and activism, genuine change requires the kind of mindset shift that may prove challenging, particularly for the US. For example, the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative reflects outdated modes of thinking about the power dynamics underpinning the three nations’ activities in the Pacific. There are limits to the assumed leadership of Australia, New Zealand and the US, as the Solomon Islands – China security agreement highlighted. China, and others, are here to stay. Pacific island countries have options—and alternatives—to their status quo relationships. As unwelcome as Australia, New Zealand and the US may find China’s presence in the region, they need to plan for how they will work alongside a range of partners in the Pacific. This isn’t about accommodation, necessarily, but nor is it about constraint when Pacific island countries pursue their own interests. It’s becoming harder for the three partners to balance their interests and values while at the same time attempting to reconcile broader strategic interests with Pacific priorities. Australia, New Zealand and the US pride themselves on being liberal democratic nations committed to upholding human rights and the international rules-based order. But respect for those values is being tested by their perceived need to advance their strategic interests. Controversy over the AUKUS partnership raises questions about how closely the partners want to relate to each other in the Pacific islands region. Differences among Australia, New Zealand and the US mean that, in some instances, they may wish to carefully consider risks to their reputations and to their individual relationships with Pacific island countries. This includes New Zealand’s stance on nuclear issues, as well as Australia’s and New Zealand’s abilities, as members of the Pacific Islands Forum, to act as a constraining influence on US ambitions in the Pacific when they cut across collective Pacific interests. The US needs to appreciate that Australia and New Zealand are bound to the Pacific through geography, history, constitutional relationships and, increasingly, identity. The challenges we outline in our report are not insurmountable. But how Australia, New Zealand and the US partner with the Pacific—and with each other—matters deeply. These considerations take conventional responses to strategic competition in the region beyond the binary reaction to China as the destabilising actor, and demand that the three partners reflect on their own contributions to peace and security. We therefore recommend that, when seeking to enhance their engagement in the region and work together, Australia, New Zealand, and the US should ensure that Pacific priorities direct activity, not their own. It’s important for the partners to ensure that their initiatives don’t undermine or supplant existing regional frameworks but instead expand on established mechanisms. And, importantly, Australia, New Zealand and the US must avoid competing with one another and instead cooperate more closely, where appropriate, to pool their collective strengths. Biden’s reason for skipping both the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting in PNG and the Quad summit in Sydney are well understood: the US domestic debt crisis took priority. But it has reminded the Pacific island countries—and Australia and New Zealand—that, despite its protestations, the US has yet to prove that it is a reliable and consistent partner to the Pacific. It should also serve as a reminder to Australia, New Zealand and the US that the time and opportunities they have to build trust and demonstrate their reliability to their Pacific partners are not limitless.

Defense & Security
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar with Admiral John C Aquilino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command

India-Australia Defence Cooperation and Collaboration in the Indo-Pacific

by Dr Shubhamitra Das

The significant rise in defence and security ties between India and Australia has led to an ease in dealing with their responsibilities in multilateral regional forums. The institutionalisation of cooperation has also become more strategic.  The geostrategic positioning of India and Australia on the Indian and Pacific Oceans has helped with the convergence of interests, enabling relations to expand and steadily deepen. Unlike in earlier times when New Delhi and Canberra were searching for equal grounds for cooperation, the concept of the Indo-Pacific has made this easier, enhancing the conviction that greater engagement was an inevitability of their geographic circumstances. It made them partners to jointly take responsibility for maintaining a free, open, inclusive and peaceful Indo-Pacific, which demands a noticeable tilt towards defence and security cooperation. India has long aspired to be the key protagonist in the Indian Ocean; Australia has wanted to more naturally belong to the region. Moreover, Australia’s foreign policy over the years has emphasised playing a constructive role in the region with enhanced regional engagement. Though China looms large in each nation’s strategic calculation, the issues that unite both countries go beyond China and include the multifaceted challenges of maritime security, piracy, armed robbery, smuggling of small arms, protracted internal conflict, illegal, unprotected, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, cyber security, climate change, and ocean-born trade security. The India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (2020), upgraded from the bilateral strategic partnership of 2009, is an effort to broaden the scope of their defence and security relationship by finding new initiatives, methods, and mechanisms to sustain mutual security interests. These have been bolstered to-date through cooperation in the AUSINDEX, Kakadu, Pitch Black, Milan, and Malabar military exercises, and with further collaboration in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, 2+2 ministerial dialogues, Joint Working Group for research on enhancing defence industry, mutual logistics, and intelligence support and sharing agreements. These have included, for example, the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and officer exchange programs. In addition, Australia’s invitation to India to join Exercise Talisman Sabre, the most important military exercise between Australia and the United States, will set another milestone for cooperation. Both countries further engage in humanitarian matters, energy security, and marine and space research. Their commitment to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief in Afghanistan and within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in vaccine distribution, for example, highly has been successful. In energy security, both have agreed to focus on UN Sustainable Development Goals and work on new and renewable technology in solar and wind energy. One potential area for cooperation – being maritime powers – will be wave energy for sustainable and resilient energy sources. The Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, in which India and Australia are deeply involved, will work on a whole array of issues involving marine ecology; security of maritime borders; pollutants, like marine plastics; IUU fishing; and marine research for conservation purposes. In addition, India and Australia have updated the Memorandum of Understanding in space programs, technology advancement, and joint space programs. Australia will also be supporting India in tracking the Gaganyaan mission – India’s first space-manned mission – at Cocos Keeling Island. Currently, India and Australia are at a crucial juncture. The election of the new government in Australia in 2022 is likely to aid the strong relationship between the two nations. But the turn for India to head the G20 is also expected to facilitate greater cooperation, particularly in economic and trade liberalisation and potential reform of economic regimes such as the World Trade Organization. In April 2022, India and Australia signed their first Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement. The fast pace at which their trade took off – from US$13.6 billion in 2007 to US$24.3 billion in 2020 – shows the many benefits of diversifying their trade. In addition, the elimination of tariffs for nearly 90 percent of Indian exports will further boost the Indian economy. The question is whether India will continue to engage its economy regionally in multilateral economic bodies. While it declined to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, India has begun a process of seeking bilateral FTAs with most member countries. What Australia and India can achieve bilaterally to make the comprehensive strategic partnership effective is to engage in dialogue with regional littoral countries on defence and security. This engagement will help with confidence-building and familiarity among partners. However, the advantage of this type of institutionalisation of the Indo-Pacific depends upon the degree to which states seek interaction. The littoral states, in this sense, should be included within the Indo-Pacific complex as much as possible. The emerging paradigm of inclusivity and pluralism within a free, open, and peaceful Indo-Pacific will bring together the littoral and less powerful countries of the region and empower them to join and engage with others; that is, those who otherwise do not have a voice or clout in international political platforms. Along these lines, the Indian Security and Growth for all (SAGAR) initiative seeks to enhance cooperation through information sharing, capacity building, coastline surveillance, and infrastructure building. The India-Australia-Indonesia trilateral dialogue is another attempt to enhance cooperation in the same direction. Although it was presumed in India that the Labor government in Australia might be more inclined toward China, it was understood that this did not mean a policy and behavioral turnaround. Instead, Canberra’s focus will include a mix of continuity and change. Australia has come a long way in its institutionalisation of the Indo-Pacific, and its ability to diversify its interests by engaging with the littoral countries deserves special attention. To be sure, China’s increased aggression in the South China Sea and it’s diplomatic handling of Australia’s COVID-19 inquiry have been influential here. But the process has also been captive to such institutionalisation as mentioned above. Australia’s involvement with Quad and its participation in the military exercises with India and other Quad countries in the Indian Ocean will continue to strain its relations with China. In addition, the Russia-Ukraine war will likely continue to drive foreign policy activism and cooperation among like-minded countries, of which Australia figures prominently. The takeaway here is that regular interaction between the two countries on various defence-related activities has worked to enhance mutual respect and understanding of shared values. This interaction has broader implications. Both nations can support each other in addressing issues of mutual concern internationally. Their engagement in trilateral groupings like the India-Australia-Indonesia and India-Japan-Australia dialogues, as well as joint engagement in the Supply Chains Resilience Initiative and the Quad with the United States and Japan, represent successful examples of bilateral and multilateral trust and relationship-building. One significant outcome of these growing partnerships will be to revive and strengthen the Indian Ocean Rim Association in awareness generation, capacity-building, and consensus-building. Lastly, all the above initiatives are government efforts to enhance partnerships. The involvement and regular interaction of academia, think tanks, civil society, and the media have been equally important and will continue to play an important role in boosting these relationships.

Defense & Security
Oceania political map. Region, centered on central Pacific Ocean islands with Australia

Australia should not overstate the threat of China in the Pacific, and mend relationships in the region

by Melissa Conley Tyler

The signing of a security agreement between Solomon Islands and China in April 2022 brought geopolitical competition and militarisation in the Pacific to the fore of public discussion. Australian policymakers and the public are concerned about the potential for a Chinese military base in the Pacific region. They harbour wider concerns that China’s influence is becoming sharper and more destructive. At a time of intensifying geostrategic competition, Australia may feel pressure to take a short-term and transactional approach towards the Pacific. Such crisis thinking would be unnecessary and counterproductive. Australia should frame its relationship with the Pacific in terms of long-term, generational partnership. It should be responsive to the Pacific’s priorities for development with a clear eye on a shared, long-term future. The Pacific will always be of great strategic significance for Australia. Peace and stability in Pacific island countries goes to the heart of Australia’s security, prosperity and national interest. This means Australia’s interest in the region, and the attention it pays to it, should remain clear, consistent and coherent, irrespective of whether there are crises or not. Genuine, consistent Australian engagement should address each Pacific island country’s unique needs through both bilateral and regional Pacific-led initiatives. There is a danger that a focus on China could overtake other priorities. This would undermine trust and lead to Australia’s diplomatic intentions not always being well-received. If Australia privileges its own institutional requirements and solutions above local agency and solutions, it can feed negative perceptions about Australia’s intent. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has spent much time in the Pacific since Labor won office. AAP/AP/Department of Foreign AffairsWhen Pacific leaders look at regional security they have an expanded view, which includes climate change, human security, gender equality, environmental and resource security, transnational crime and cybersecurity. This reflects insecurity in the Pacific at multiple levels: - globally, as a warming planet presents ecological and civilisational threats- regionally, as players and relationships change- nationally, as countries respond to the effects of COVID-19, natural disasters, illegal fishing, transnational crime and other threats, compounded by gender inequality- locally, where community leaders and security agencies struggle to control violence and conflicts in several countries. In some areas, law and order challenges and the proliferation of firearms mean the risks to individual safety and tribal and political violence are extremely real. These shared challenges and mutual threats require the long-term attention of Australia and Pacific island countries. We need to move beyond paying lip service to each others’ security concerns and develop a common security framework that responds to the full set of peace and security challenges in the Pacific. This requires deepening relationships and making sure shared concerns are not lost along the way. The good news is there are strong foundations to work on in Australia-Pacific co-operation. Australia has security co-operation arrangements with most Pacific Island states. These include police-to-police co-operation, defence capacity-building and joint military exercises. There are development programs designed to address drivers of fragility such as inequality and inclusive economic growth. There has been co-operation on climate science, sustainable fisheries and preserving maritime boundaries in the face of sea-level rise. Australia has goodwill in the region to draw on. There is a risk that Australia’s concerns about geopolitical change lead it to overstate differences with Pacific island countries. There will always be areas where views and interests align, and others where they do not. Australia needs to envisage Pacific island countries as a network of interaction, trade, exchange, communication and influence reaching across much of the Pacific Ocean. Strong relationships are not made up only of defence and security ties, and do not come into play only in situations of threat. They are the product of long-term, consistent and multifaceted engagement, genuine partnership with and respect for countries that are equally sovereign, and exchange that takes seriously all parties’ priorities, concerns and values. The opportunity exists for a rhetorical reset framing Australia as a generational partner for Pacific societies. Faced with a challenge to its profile and influence, Australia should pursue a long-term approach. The focus should be on economic integration, reciprocity and sustained commitment to generational progress. Australians should accept that Pacific island countries will engage with other countries, and work towards bridging the gaps in our defence, development and diplomatic relationships with the region.

Defense & Security
Government Buildings. Executive wing of Fiji Government offices. Prime Minister office

Fiji’s electoral crisis: when is a coup not a coup?

by Richard Herr

When is a coup not a coup? When it’s called a constitutional crisis. But make no mistake, there’s a coup attempt in progress in Fiji, even if its foot soldiers are in the bureaucracy and courts rather than the military. The political history of this Pacific archipelago has been so regularly punctuated by the non-peaceful transfer of power that the term ‘coup culture’ has been created to explain the cancer that has corrupted Fijian democracy for decades. Four recognised coups have occurred in Fiji since its independence in 1970. Three of them were staged by the Fijian military—April and September 1987, both led by Sitiveni Rabuka, and December 2006, led by Frank Bainimarama. The fourth, in May 2000, was a hybrid civilian–military coup led initially by George Speight. Less well appreciated is that there was an earlier, non-violent coup in March 1977. It was labelled a constitutional crisis but was nonetheless a coup to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Today, arguably, that event is serving as the template for a fresh attempt to hijack the electorate’s vote for change in government. When the National Federation Party (NFP) won 26 of the 52 seats in the 1977 general election, it expected to form government with the support of an independent member of parliament. However, the governor-general, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, claimed to be unpersuaded that NFP leader Siddiq Koya could form a stable majority. He reappointed the defeated Alliance Party leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, as prime minister. The Alliance Party moved a motion of confidence in Mara when parliament met to test his support. The motion was defeated and Cakobau dissolved the parliament and issued writs for new elections in September. The Alliance Party won handily after the NPF leadership broke into two factions—the flower and dove—that opposed each other in the election. In 1977, the head of state had the key institutional role. The same is true now. Just as Cakobau declined to call on Koya to form a ministry quickly after the election, President Wiliame Katonivere has been slow to issue a proclamation to call the parliament into session. His delay is constitutionality significant on two scores. The first is that the power of delay (up to 14 days after the return of the writs) gives the outgoing FijiFirst government time to destabilise or legally challenge the tripartite coalition—comprising the NFP, the People’s Alliance Party (PAP) and the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA)—by questioning whether it actually can muster the numbers to govern or, indeed, by breaking up the capacity of the coalition to hold together. The delay also plays into formal parliamentary processes. Since no party received more than 50% of the vote in this month’s general election, the constitution requires a vote in parliament to determine who the parliament will accept as prime minister. So long as the parliament isn’t called into session, that vote can’t be held. However, the fortnight window for the president to call the parliament into session is absolute. The second element of the 1977 playbook was to foment and amplify divisions within the NFP to sustain the line that an NFP government would be incapable of guaranteeing supply. This white-anting is occurring both within SODELPA and through bureaucratic pressure. SODELPA’s general-secretary, Lenaitasi Duru, resigned his post after claiming that the internal vote to join the PAP–NFP coalition was invalid due to unspecified anomies in the way it was conducted. Duru wrote to Katonivere to ask him not to call parliament into session as scheduled. He also approached the registrar of political parties, Mohammed Saneem. Saneem responded by requiring the SODELPA management board to revisit the vote to join the PAP and NFP in forming the governing coalition. SODELPA’s vice president, Anare Jale, expressed a belief that the board would reconfirm its original decision. This reaffirmation has now been given, with the management board repeating its original decision. Nonetheless, the delay caused by compelling the SODELPA board to recast the vote gave FijiFirst’s general-secretary and Fiji’s attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the opportunity to charge that Jale had failed to be completely honest with FijiFirst’s initial bid to SODELPA. The second pitch was allowed, but it didn’t change SODELPA’s decision. The risk to the formation of a Rabuka-led government now shifts to the three elected SODELPA members and the possibility that they won’t honour the party’s pledges of support to the PAP–NFP coalition. That risk has become greater or, at least, less uncertain because of an ambiguity in constitutional language. Depending on how that ambiguity is resolved, there may be no way of enforcing the constitutional controls over parliamentary party members. The 2013 constitution provides for an MP to be expelled from parliament for voting against the party’s direction when the ‘leader and the secretary of the political party’ notify the speaker of the parliament of the lapse. The precise definition of these officeholders isn’t clear, especially with regard to whether the party leader is the parliamentary leader or the machine wing leader. It appears from media reports that SODELPA party leader Viliame Gavoka’s position became vacant under the party constitution, and Duru claims it will remain vacant until the party holds its annual general meeting in 2024. Now that Duru has resigned, it appears that SODELPA is without an official secretary, though that depends on when his resignation becomes effective (he has argued that it doesn’t take effect for 30 days). The celebrators who believed that the way ahead for a new government was clear two days ago are now facing the reality that their expectations may be dashed on the rocks of political manipulation and obstruction. Despite the best efforts of FijiFirst to frustrate the transfer of power, it can’t be certain that its efforts will succeed. Nor can it be certain that it will be the recipient of a stable majority if the tripartite coalition collapses. It might be satisfied with the fallback of a second election à la the 1977 crisis, but it can’t count on winning in a new poll. The decision by Bainimarama’s allies in defence and national security to call on the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to assist the police with maintaining security and stability serves as a reminder that if 1977 proves not to be the right template to prevent a peaceful transfer of power, there are other models.