Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

New U.S.-Led Coalition to Track Illicit Fuel Shipments to North Korea

September 14, 2018

Surveillance efforts until now have been a hodgepodge of intelligence-sharing, U.S. officials said

The USS Blue Ridge, here visiting Shanghai in 2016, will host more than 50 personnel from allied countries as part of the expanded surveillance effort.
The USS Blue Ridge, here visiting Shanghai in 2016, will host more than 50 personnel from allied countries as part of the expanded surveillance effort. PHOTO: CHEN FEI/ZUMA PRESS

WASHINGTON—The U.S. is putting together a multinational coalition to significantly expand surveillance operations seeking ships smuggling fuel to North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions, American military officials said.

The coalition is the first international effort to monitor the ship traffic in the year since the Trump administration launched its “maximum-pressure” sanctions campaign, aimed at strong-arming North Korea into abandoning its nuclear and missile programs. Surveillance efforts until now have been a hodgepodge of intelligence-sharing, U.S. officials said.

More than 50 personnel from allied countries will be hosted aboard the USS Blue Ridge, an American command ship stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. Special quarters, called the Enforcement Coordination Center, have been created on the ship for the operations.

The coalition will include the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada—the U.S.’s partners in the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance—as well as Japan and South Korea. France is also contributing a small number of personnel, officials said.

Coalition countries are also contributing warships and military surveillance aircraft to better spot illicit shipments.

The expanded surveillance will allow for more “bridge-to-bridge” communications between allied ships and suspected smuggling ships—known jokingly inside the military as having “scarlet letters” for their alleged misdeeds. Sanctions violators will no longer be able to plead ignorance, another military official said: “‘I didn’t know’ is no longer an excuse.”

Ships confirmed to be smuggling goods to North Korea are blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council, denying them access to ports of any U.N.-member country.

While most sanctions-busting surveillance focuses on Pyongyang’s revenue-generating exports of coalweapons and labor and its illicit cyber activities, imports of refined petroleum are among Washington’s biggest North Korea worries. A critical lubricant for the North Korean economy, they also drive its military.

The Security Council, led by the U.S., late last year capped annual imports at 500,000 barrels. But North Korea exceeded the cap within the first five months of 2018, according to U.S. intelligence.

The sanctions evasion was aided by Russian and Chinese ships that transferred black-market fuel into North Korean vessels on the high seas to avoid detection, according to U.S. intelligence. Between January and May, two dozen North Korean ships made 89 deliveries of refined petroleum into North Korean ports, according to U.S. intelligence provided to the U.N. and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The deliveries were from high-seas transfers, most from either Russian or Chinese ships, U.S. officials said.

The route of the North Korean ship Chon Myong 1 from Vladivostok to Nampo port, North Korea, shown on an Eikon ship-tracking screen last year. The ship delivered up to 190,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea’s Wonsan port in May, two months after being sanctioned by the U.N.
The route of the North Korean ship Chon Myong 1 from Vladivostok to Nampo port, North Korea, shown on an Eikon ship-tracking screen last year. The ship delivered up to 190,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea’s Wonsan port in May, two months after being sanctioned by the U.N. PHOTO: THOMAS WHITE/REUTERS

Some of those deliveries may have carried volumes allowed under the U.N. sanctions. But many of the ships, according to the Journal’s review of U.S. intelligence and public information, loaded their fuel on the high seas in violation of international bans, had been blacklisted by the Security Council before the deliveries were made, and would be violating the sanctions by carrying volumes that put North Korea over its quota.

The North Korean ship Chon Myong 1, for example, delivered up to 190,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea’s Wonsan port in May, two months after being sanctioned by the U.N. The blacklisted Nam San 8 delivered up to 218,000 barrels of fuel into the Nampo port in May. That vessel was later caught by Japan’s Ministry of Defense conducting a midnight fuel transfer in the East China Sea in July 31.

The new coalition isn’t necessarily a precursor to more aggressive interdictions, such as boarding suspected ships or forcing vessels into allied ports, officials said. Some critics have lobbied for more-assertive enforcement as denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled.

Sharing intelligence data will be a challenge, given that the countries’ goals align on North Korea but may differ widely otherwise. Japan and South Korea, for example, share a mutual distrust, and the U.S. has sometimes struggled to get the two to coordinate. And South Korea is subject to the competing tugs of the U.S., which stations thousands of troops there, and China, whose economic might holds sway.

To help coordinate sensitive intelligence sharing, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence created a new agreement—the Pacific Security Monitoring Exchange—to define what can and can’t be shared with each of the coalition countries, officials said.

Another challenge is that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has relatively little experience maintaining multilateral relationships, unlike U.S. Central Command, which has hosted coalitions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and in other conflicts.

“Those challenges exist inherently in all multinational exercises and events,” said one military official. “The good thing is that you can work on those challenges and you can learn from them. There are always obstacles to overcome.”

Write to Gordon Lubold at and Ian Talley at


China engages in Australia’s largest maritime drill for first time

September 9, 2018

China is participating for the first time in Australia’s largest maritime exercise as more than 3,000 personnel from 27 countries engage in joint training off the strategic northern port of Darwin.

Exercise Kakadu is hosting 23 ships and submarines from across the Indo-Pacific region, enabling them to establish familiarity which helps to prevent conflict on the high seas and to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Commander Anita Sellick of the Australian frigate HMAS Newcastle said two Royal Australian Navy sailors were accepted onto China’s naval frigate Huangshan during the drill.

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China guided missile destroyer Huangshan

“Two of our Australian navy sailors are across actually, right now in the Chinese ship. So they’ve both been able to integrate within each other’s navy and learn a little bit of what life is like for them today in Exercise Kakadu,” Sellick told Reuters on Saturday.

Commander of the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead, told reporters in Darwin in a televised interview on Friday that there were mutual benefits in building understanding and trust during the exercise.

The joint military practice, which will continue until Sept. 15, is supported by the Royal Australian Air Force and involves 21 aircraft.

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Royal Australian Navy sailors stand with officers from the Chinese Navy aboard the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Newcastle during Australia’s largest maritime exercise ‘Exercise Kakadu’ being conducted off the coast of Darwin in northern Australia, September 8, 2018. Picture taken September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jill Gralow

Darwin, on the doorstep of Asia, is Australia’s most strategically important city and has been home to a contingent of U.S. Marines since 2011 making it the logical place for the exercise.

Integrating the People’s Liberation Army Navy into the biennial training with American, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian forces for the first time has given China an opportunity to improve its working relationship with those countries, which has been tense at times.

In April, three Australian warships had a challenging encounter with China as they passed through the South China Sea. Then in May, the United States disinvited China from joint naval exercises off Hawaii in response to what it called China’s militarization of disputed areas of the South China Sea, an allegation Beijing rejects.

The participating countries in Exercise Kakadu are: China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Cook Islands, Fiji, France, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, U.S., Australia, and Vietnam.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; editing by Grant McCool)

Nauru blasts ‘insolent’ China for speaking out of turn at meeting — “He was from a big country he wanted to bully us”

September 5, 2018

China’s envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum was “very insolent” and a “bully” for speaking out of turn during a leaders’ meeting, the president of host-nation Nauru said, after an angry exchange made for a tense start to the annual gathering.

Nauru is hosting leaders of 18 Pacific nations, plus delegations from non-member countries including the United States and China, at a time of growing tension and rivalry in a strategically important region with access to swathes of resource-rich ocean.

“The Chinese demanded to be heard when (Tuvalu’s) prime minister was about to speak,” Nauru President Baron Waqa said at a news conference late on Tuesday, after media reported a heated start to the leaders’ closed-door meeting.

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Baron Waqa, President of Nauru

“He insisted and was very insolent about it, and created a big fuss and held up the meeting of leaders for a good number of minutes when he was only an official. So maybe because he was from a big country he wanted to bully us,” Waqa said.

Nauru and Tuvalu are two of six Pacific countries to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, another major source of tension with China, which regards Taiwan as a wayward province, to be taken back by force if necessary.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s delegation was led by Du Qiwen, its ambassador to Fiji.

Waqa said protocol dictated speaking priority was given to ministers over diplomats.

China has become one of the dominant economic players in the Pacific, spending billions of dollars in trade, investment, aid and tourism in a region that staunch U.S. ally Australia has long regarded as its “back yard”.

Chinese lending to the region has surged from nearly zero to $1.3 billion over the last decade, stoking concern that tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt.

It is also the second-largest bilateral donor in the region, behind Australia. Nauru has no diplomatic relations with China.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters attended the leaders’ meeting, and had told reporters on Tuesday there was no walk-out by China’s delegation, contrary to some reports.

The dispute echoes an incident in 2017 when Chinese delegates were reported to have disrupted the opening remarks at a conference in Australia about conflict diamonds, because a Taiwan delegation was invited.

Separately, Nauru on Wednesday also reinstated the press credentials of a New Zealand journalist who had been briefly held by police for failing to seek permission to meet a refugee sent to Nauru under Australia’s hardline immigration policy.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY. Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel





Pacific Islands Forum masking human rights abuse – advocate

Behind the scenes of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru human rights abuses are continuing, a refugee advocate says.

A ward at the RON Hospital on Nauru

A ward at the RON Hospital on Nauru Photo: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said journalists attending the forum needed to look at the bigger picture.

Mr Rintoul said to avoid scutiny, staff working at Australia’s refugee detention centres on the island had been told not to speak to the media.

He said despite the Nauru president’s denial of a mental health crisis among about 900 refugees on the island, they were still committing acts of self harm.

“There’s a woman on Nauru at the moment who’s swallowed a razor blade,” Mr Rintoul said.

“There have been recomendations from doctors on Nauru and in Australia that she can’t be treated on Nauru.

“She needs to be taken off Nauru for that treatment. She was sent home from the RON (Republic of Nauru) hospital last night [and was told] ‘come back when you start vomiting blood’.”

Nauru’s hospital was inadequate and in a poor state compared to facilities prepared for the forum, Mr Rintoul said.

“It’s one of the things the Australian government boasts about, how much money has been spent on the RON hospital. But when you look at photos of the hospital compared to facilities built for the forum you will see where the money has gone,” he said.

The Nauru Civic Centre.

The Nauru Civic Centre. Photo: Refugee Action Coalition

“It’s not just refugees, Nauruan people can’t get the treatment they need at the hospital. We’ve got hundreds of people (refugees) who’ve had to be sent off Nauru to Australia and other countries for medical treatment they can’t get on Nauru.”

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government said it would close the “backdoor route” to Australia – should the government there ever take up its offer of resettling 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island, in New Zealand.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters met with his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum yesterday.

Currently New Zealanders can travel freely to, and live in Australia, and the Australian government is concerned this will allow refugees to ultimately settle there.

Mr Peters said he was certain changes could be made in New Zealand to shut that door and ease those concerns.


US trade war and Japan push raise prospects for China-backed Asia free-trade deal

September 3, 2018

Beijing urgently needs to get an agreement to help weather Washington’s tariffs, analyst says

South China Morning Post
Monday, 03 September, 2018, 3:21pm
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan’s relationship with China has returned to a “normal track”. Photo: Kyodo

The US trade war and a thaw in ties between China and Japan are raising prospects for the world’s biggest regional free-trade deal, analysts said on Sunday after trade negotiators voiced high hopes of reaching a broad agreement in November.

Singaporean Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said trade negotiators from 16 likely signatories of the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, agreed on key elements of the deal at a meeting in Singapore last week, and a broad agreement was likely when leaders of the countries met in the city state in November.

“We are looking for that broad agreement, that milestone to be achieved, or what we call substantial conclusion, when the leaders meet at the end of the year,” Chan said on Saturday.

Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing says a braod agreement on the RCEP could be reached in November. Photo: Xinhua

The 16-nation pact, involving 10 Asean members as well as China, Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Korea, would cover about half the world’s population and a third of its GDP.

It has been under negotiation for years but a deal has yet to be reached.

Expectations of an agreement rose on Sunday when the Sankei newspaper quoted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as saying Japan’s relationship with China had returned to a “normal track”.

“Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan in May and the Japan-China relationship has completely returned to a normal track,” Abe told the Sankei newspaper.

Huo Jianguo, a former director of a research institute under China’s Ministry of Commerce, said China urgently needed a breakthrough in the RCEP as it looked to the region for economic opportunities to help it weather its tit-for-tat trade war with Washington.

“China has to take the initiative in the forming a new international trade order,” Huo said. “The RCEP negotiations have dragged on for too long and China can’t afford another year of delay.”

Negotiations have stumbled over just how much each country should be prepared to open up its markets to outside goods, services and investment. Some countries like Japan are demanding a high level of opening up but others like are India resistant.

But Huo said interim arrangements could allow for gradual opening and the priority now was to reach a deal.

Analysts said any progress on a deal would depend on cooperation between China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-biggest economies.

“Japan used to be passive but now it has become much more proactive about the RCEP,” said Jiang Ruiping, a Japanese studies expert at China Foreign Affairs University.

Jiang said the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the completion of the Japan-European Union trade agreement and Japan’s own need for a regional free trade accord had pushed Tokyo to shift its attention to the China-backed plan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a swift agreement on the RCEP. Photo: Kyodo

Japan is a member of the TPP, a US-led trade pact that Washington withdrew from in 2017.

In July, Abe pushed for a swift agreement on the RCEP.

“As we are faced with concerns of the rise of protectionism in the world, all of us in Asia must unite,” he said.

Meanwhile, new life has been breathed into the China-Japan relationship, with Japan more willing to work with China on Beijing’s agenda.

“One area the better China-Japan relationship can work together in is regional trade cooperation,” Jiang said.

Singapore says agreement on world’s biggest trade deal in November

September 2, 2018

Singapore’s trade minister said on Saturday that broad agreement on the world’s biggest trade deal should be reached at a summit of leaders from participating nations in the city-state in November, six years since talks began.
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File image of Singapore minister Chan Chun Sing. Reuters

Called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the trade accord includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the world’s no 2 economy, China.

The deal does not include the United States, which is locked in a trade spat with China and pulled out of another broad, international trade agreement in 2017 called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The White House said on Friday that US president Donald Trump would skip the November gathering of leaders in Singapore.

Asked by Reuters after a meeting of regional economic ministers if participating countries were working towards a deal in time for the mid-November summit, trade minister Chan Chun Sing said:

“Yes. We are looking for that broad agreement, that milestone, to be achieved… when the leaders meet at the end of the year.”

However, he said it was not clear when a final deal would be signed.

“As to the next phase of the work, once we have crossed that milestone we will have a clearer idea… It’s a bit too early to say at this point in time,” Sing said.

China-backed trade pact talks at ‘critical stage’: Singapore PM

August 29, 2018

Talks on a China-backed free-trade pact have reached a “critical stage”, Singapore’s leader said Wednesday as he urged regional economic ministers to seal the deal by the end of the year.

The 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will be the world’s biggest free-trade accord if it is agreed, has taken centre stage as Washington embarks on a unilateral, protectionist agenda.

Covering about half the world’s population, the RCEP notably excludes the US, which had been leading another regional pact — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — until President Donald Trump abandoned it on coming to office early last year.

“The RCEP negotiations have continued for some time, and have now reached a critical stage,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as he opened a five-day meeting of economy ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

© AFP | Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opened the meeting of ASEAN economy ministers by warnings about escalating trade tensions between major economies

The Singapore meeting will be joined later in the week by top trade officials from ASEAN’s main trading partners, including China, Japan, Australia and the US.

“After a great deal of work, the possibility of substantively concluding the RCEP negotiations is finally in sight,” he said.

Lee also warned about escalating tensions between the US and China — who have been locked in a spiralling trade row — and other major economies including the eurozone and Canada.

“The RCEP will be an important signal to the world that ASEAN members and our partners place high value on free trade, regional integration and international cooperation,” he said.

The pact will group the 10 ASEAN members plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and will cover a third of the world’s gross domestic product.

A diplomatic source said Singapore, this year’s ASEAN chair, is pushing for an agreement on the RCEP before handing over the chairmanship to Thailand in 2019.

Another source involved in the talks said ASEAN leaders hope to announce the “substantial conclusion” of negotiations during a summit in November with their main trading partners, and they expect the pact to be implemented in 2020.

Beijing is keen to use Washington’s rejection of the TPP to build enthusiasm for its own deal and increase influence in the region.

RCEP is a more modest deal that prescribes lower and more limited regulatory standards.

The 11 remaining TPP members signed a slimmed down version of the agreement in March.


Arms Race in Asia Heats Up

August 26, 2018

Battle stations: Asia’s arms race hots up
China’s military expansion and an unpredictable White House are sparking increased defence spending in the region

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© Reuters

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

At Canberra airport, a sleek modern building on the edge of Australia’s sleepy capital, evidence of Australia’s military build-up is everywhere. Almost every advertising hoarding is plastered with the name of an international defence company, such as Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and ThyssenKrupp. The promotional blitz has even prompted a “No Airport Arms Ads” campaign to ask the airport to replace them with a “friendlier greeting to the nation’s capital”.

The world’s biggest defence contractors have been lured by a government plan to spend A$200bn ($147bn) on military hardware over the next decade — the largest build-up of military capabilities in peacetime in the country’s history. Companies are scrambling to catch the eye of the visiting politicians and generals who oversee procurement decisions.

The blitz of defence adverts has prompted a ‘No Airport Arms Ads’ campaign to try to persuade Canberra airport to replace them with a ‘friendlier greeting to the nation’s capital’
They are also hiring thousands of staff and establishing new manufacturing operations to help deliver Canberra’s strategy to create one of the most capable armed forces in Asia Pacific and transform Australia into one of the world’s top 10 arms exporters. It is currently ranked 19.

“I make zero apologies for wanting to ensure the nation’s security and to protect our servicemen and women,” says Christopher Pyne, Australia’s defence industry minister. “We live in a more unsettled region than we have in several decades . . . One of the developments in our region in the last few years is the militarisation of islands in the South China Sea by the People’s Republic of China and of course the Korean peninsula has been unstable for decades.”

A decade-long push by Beijing to modernise its military forces and advance its territorial claims in contested waters in Asia is prompting a response from neighbours, which some commentators argue risks spawning a regional “arms race” that increases the threat of conflict.

“Fear and uncertainty caused by China’s rapidly-increasing economic, military, and strategic might has been a key driving force behind the regions’ renewed interest in the recent military build-up,” says James Johnson, a visiting fellow at the UK’s University of Leicester and author of The US-China Military & Defense Relationship during the Obama Presidency. “The scale and momentum risks a new and destabilising arms race.”

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Annual defence spending in Asia Pacific has more than doubled since the turn of the century to $450bn — more than $200bn of that by China — and by 2035 half the world’s submarines will patrol Indo Pacific waters, according to Australia’s recent defence white paper. The region is forecast to surpass North America as the world’s biggest spender on weapons by 2029, according to Jane’s Defence Budgets by IHS Markit.

Meanwhile, the “wrecking ball” diplomacy of President Donald Trump, who has threatened to pull the US out of international agreements and savaged allies for not spending enough on defence, while courting North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, is creating anxiety in the region.

The military build-up is running in parallel with a recalibration of traditional alliances. Australia is deepening its political and military relationships with regional powers Japan and India, as well as Asean countries such as Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia, to act as a bulwark against China’s growing economic and military power.

“Allies in the region had already concluded President Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy was all talk and no action and now under Trump their anxieties about US commitment to defend them have redoubled,” says Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at Australian National University. 

“It is probably too soon to pick up this trend in defence spending, but there is a huge re-evaluation of defence capabilities under way and even previously unthinkable actions, such as countries developing their own sovereign nuclear deterrents, may now be reconsidered,” he adds.

Asian Pacific military spending

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HMAS Sydney, an air warfare destroyer, under construction in Adelaide © Bloomberg

The estimate for global defence spending this year, up 3.3%

Australia’s budget for military hardware over the next decade

The year when Asia Pacific weapons spending is set to pass that of North America

The financial crisis led many western and Asian countries to cut back on military expenditure, while China continued to expand its defence budget. But this year Jane’s is forecasting that global defence spending will rise 3.3 per cent to $1.7tn — the fastest rate of growth in a decade and a post-cold war high.

The extra spend reflects an upswing in the global economy, instability in eastern Europe and Asia Pacific and the election of Mr Trump, who has ordered a big increase in US spending and is pressing Nato allies to follow suit.

The US is budgeting to spend $717bn on defence in 2019, an almost 8 per cent year-on-year increase and its highest spending since 2011. Beijing’s spending is scheduled to rise to $207bn this year, consolidating its position as the world’s second-largest spender on defence and boosting investment in high-tech weapons ranging from artificial intelligence to aircraft carrier killer missiles to drone swarms.

Across Asia Pacific countries have been reacting to China’s growing power and Pyongyang’s nuclear threat for some years. But the unpredictability of the Trump White House has added a potency that is prompting even previously reluctant spenders, such as Japan, to modernise their armed forces.

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A missile launches in North Korea. Across Asia Pacific countries have been reacting to China’s growing power and Pyongyang’s nuclear threat

In December Tokyo approved a ¥5.19tn defence budget under prime minister Shinzo Abe, who is pushing to revise the nation’s pacifist constitution . Although it has yet to go beyond 1 per cent of GDP the Japanese budget includes money to buy cruise missiles for its F-35 stealth fighter jets, which would provide Tokyo — for the first time — with the capability to strike land or sea targets in North Korea and China.

In South Korea a public debate erupted last year over whether the country should develop its own nuclear deterrent to counter Pyongyang. A Gallup Korea poll in September 2017 showed three in five South Koreans favoured building nuclear weapons, while a poll by YTN, a TV news channel, showed 68 per cent favoured redeploying US tactical nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn in the early 1990s.

For the moment there seems little prospect that a nuclear deterrent will be embraced due to opposition from Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president. But a breakdown in talks between Washington and Pyongyang could reignite the nuclear debate.

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Chinese warships and aircraft during an exercise in the South China Sea. Annual defence spending in Asia Pacific has more than doubled since the turn of the century to $450bn — more than $200bn of that by China © Reuters

“There is a general global perception of increased instability and threats that ‘demand’ keeping military options open and more needed than five to 10 years ago,” says Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research institute. “Everyone is reacting to what others do, arguing about who started it and unable or unwilling not to follow the trend. Better safe than sorry, or the old saying, ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’.”

However, he says the increase in military spending has not yet become a real “arms race”, which is characterised by an out-of-control spiral of action and reaction by nations. In most countries spending is following growth rates, which means the proportion of military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has not changed substantially or reached the high levels seen during the cold war, says Mr Wezeman.

At Fleet Base East, a sprawling naval precinct at Garden Island on Sydney harbour, dozens of Australian sailors are performing drills on the deck of HMAS Anzac, a 25-year-old frigate in dock for some care and attention from BAE Systems.

“While the Anzac frigate remains one of the best capabilities and ships in the water, the Hunter Class represents a step change in the anti submarine warfare capability of the Royal Australian Navy,” says Peter Buchanan, general manager for maritime sustainment.

Australia’s 2016 defence white paper outlined a $200bn shopping list including the country’s first fleet of armed drones among a host of other military hardware. In July it ordered nine Type 26 frigates from BAE as part of a huge shipbuilding programme, which is costing almost A$100bn and will deliver 54 vessels to the Royal Australian Navy by the late 2040s.

The frigates, to be built in Australia under a new government-led industrial strategy designed to create jobs and boost self-sufficiency, will be crammed with the latest weapons systems and stealth technologies to hunt submarines — identified as one of the main strategic challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

The spending splurge is part of the ruling Liberal-National coalition’s plan — set to continue under Scott Morrison, who was appointed prime minister on Friday after the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull — to increase defence spending from an 80-year low of 1.6 per cent of GDP in 2012 to 2 per cent of GDP by 2020-21.

“I’ve never seen weakness as being a promoter of peace,” says Mr Pyne. “The history of the world tells us [that] to protect your national security, you have to be strong.”

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HMAS Hobart. In July Australia ordered nine new Type 26 frigates from BAE © Bloomberg

He says the US is right to ask its allies to do more.

Yet the election of Mr Trump has alarmed Canberra’s military and political elite, who have watched him calling into question the future of Nato and backtracking on commitments to allies. His erratic behaviour has bolstered Canberra’s resolve to re-arm and seek new alliances in Asia.

“Trump has poured an accelerant on to a more fundamental problem,” says Richard McGregor, an analyst at the Lowy Institute. “He is a symptom of the problem rather than its creator.”

The diplomatic uncertainty has also forced a rethink of traditional alliance structures in the region, some of which date back to world war two. India, the US, Japan and Australia have reinstituted the “quad”— a diplomatic initiative designed to counterbalance Chinese power and influence — while in 2016 the Obama administration lifted its arms embargo on Vietnam, reflecting Washington’s push to bolster ties with countries in the region to counter Beijing’s growing economic influence and strategic power. In return, Hanoi opened its ports to visiting US warships for the first time since the end of the Vietnam war.

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Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, fourth from left, on the submarine HMAS Waller © Getty

Separately, Australia and New Zealand are directing development aid to the South Pacific, where Beijing funnelled at least $1.7bn between 2006 and 2016.

“We are seeing a move away from the traditional defence alliances in Asia, whereby countries used to rely on one-on-one partnerships with the US. They are now running in parallel with a new race to build defence ties across the region, most notably between Japan, India and Australia, as a bulwark against China,” says Mr McGregor.

“[But] there is a paradox at play here — Australia and other Asian countries are only able to increase their defence spending and buy new weapons because they are benefiting from the growth of China’s economy. In other words, in order to defend themselves against China, they actually need China to succeed.”

Business: Defence sector sees opportunity to expand

Australia is using its A$200bn spending spree on weaponry as leverage to help it grow its defence industry.

It has a handful of local companies, such as CEA Technologies — which develops radar systems —and shipbuilder Austal, which export to the US, Middle East and elsewhere. But it is using its multibillion dollar contracts for submarines, tanks and frigates, to encourage foreign multinationals to expand their Australian operations and use them as a base to export defence equipment overseas.

Thales, a French multinational, is a big success story. Its Sydney-based subsidiary has exported about A$1.6bn worth of submarine sonars, air traffic control systems and Bushmaster armoured vehicles to Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

“We are creating jobs, investment, new infrastructure, research and a skilled workforce,” says Christopher Pyne, minister for defence industry. “A nation that takes its sovereignty seriously should be investing in this type of capability.”

Mr Pyne is hopeful his government’s A$35bn deal with BAE to build nine frigates in Australia could enable the country to export the T26 Hunter class design to other countries. Under the contract, ASC, a government owned business, will transfer temporarily to BAE to undertake the build programme and then revert back to Australian public ownership at the end of the project.

“At the end of this programme we will have our own sovereign design and build capability, which means we would definitely be able to export frigates,” says Mr Pyne, who has spent two years on the road around the Middle East, Asia, Europe and US showcasing Australia’s defence industry.

But many defence analysts doubt Australia can break into the world’s top 10 arms exporters list dominated by the US, Russia and increasingly China. Some go as far as warning that the government’s requirement for Australia’s Defence Forces to mainly buy locally built equipment is pork barrel politics, designed to create jobs and buy votes rather than get the best equipment.

“It’s very unlikely that Australia can make major inroads into the global arms market, despite this push,” says Euan Graham, analyst at the Lowy Institute, a think tank. “This is more about creating local jobs and shoring up weak political constituencies.”

China’s militarisation of South China Sea done in self-defence: Foreign Minister Wang Yi

August 4, 2018

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday (Aug 4) defended China’s military build-up in the South China Sea, calling it actions taken in self-defence in response to security pressure from the United States and other non-regional countries.

“Certain non-regional countries, mainly the United States, have been sending massive strategic weaponry into this region, especially to the South China Sea, as a show of military might and putting pressure on regional countries, China included.”

Wang Yi

“I’m afraid that is the biggest force behind China’s push for militarisation in this region,” he said at a press conference on the sidelines of the Asean-related meetings hosted by Singapore this week.

Citing aircraft carrier fleets, strategic heavy duty bombers and other advanced weaponries, Mr Wang said: “In the face of such mounting military threat and pressure, regional countries, including China, have naturally resorted to self-preservation and self-defence, and have put in place defensive facilities.

“Yet such defensive acts have been labelled as acts of militarisation. That is confounding right and wrong, and I don’t think anyone aware of basic facts on the ground will come to such a conclusion.”

Asked if other countries were taking action because of China’s own militarisation in the South China Sea, Mr Wang said: “China is fully entitled to these measures because China needs to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. And because there is more pressure on China, it is only natural that China takes more measures to defend itself.”

But he emphasised that no matter how the situation evolves, China will continue to work with other countries to fulfil its international obligations, including upholding the freedom of navigation in international waters and upholding regional peace and stability.

“We believe these are the common duties and obligations for countries in this region,” he added.

Fresh from the back-to-back Asean Plus Three meeting between Asean, China, Japan and South Korea, and the East Asia Summit, Mr Wang drew a sharp line between “non-regional” countries and regional ones, saying there was a clear contrast in their attitudes.

He accused “non-regional countries” of trying to stir up trouble at the East Asia Summit, a meeting of Asean and eight non-member countries: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Speeches delivered by foreign ministers from regional countries, he said, were all about cooperation and friendship.

But non-regional countries at the East Asia Summit “pointed fingers and tried to stir up trouble”, he said without naming specific countries.

“This is deeply regrettable. We believe the main players in these regional countries are the best judges of what has been happening in this region.”

“We hope that these non-regional countries can change their mindset of believing they should be the only judge of the situation in this region. We hope they will show greater understanding and support for the positive efforts made by regional countries, China and Asean included, for peace and stability,” he said.

These efforts include the single draft negotiation text for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, announced on Thursday and agreed on by Asean and China in June.

These negotiations can be placed on the fast-track if there are no disturbances from outside, said Mr Wang, a stance he has taken repeatedly in his comments made over the week.

Commenting on Mr Pompeo’s policy statements made during his trip through South-east Asia this week, Mr Wang said: “What has impressed me the most from what I’ve heard is that the US believes no country’s sovereignty should be threatened and seeks no dominance in this region.”

He added: “But we hope the US truly means what it says and will back up what it says with concrete action.”

Pacific Islands Forum to Open at Nauru amid Media Blackout

August 2, 2018

The tiny Pacific island of Nauru — home to a Canberra-funded refugee detention camp dubbed “Australia’s Guantanamo” — is limiting media access to the region’s largest diplomatic summit, sparking claims it is trying to muzzle the press.

Reporters are usually warmly welcomed at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), an annual gathering that allows leaders from 18 nations to air concerns about a region often overlooked on the global stage.

There are no shortage of pressing stories to cover at the meeting, from the existential threat climate change poses for small island states to China’s growing influence.

© AFP/File | The Nauru camp, which currently holds more than 240 men, women and children, is an economic lifeline for the isolated nation of 11,000

But Nauru’s government, which Australia’s Lowy Institute think-tank says “has recently lurched towards authoritarianism”, harbours a deep mistrust of the media and is limiting reporting opportunities at this year’s summit, which it will host.

Australia’s national broadcaster ABC has been banned outright, accused by Nauru authorities of “harassment and lack of respect” in its coverage of the island.

“It (Nauru) can hardly claim it is ‘welcoming the media’ if it dictates who that media will be and bans Australia’s public broadcaster,” said ABC News director Gaven Morris.

AFP has also been denied accreditation.

Few foreign journalists have had access to Nauru over the past few years, with many hampered by the nation’s decision to charge Aus$8,000 (US$5,800) per visa application, non-refundable even if not granted.

Under pressure to be more open after being named host of the 2018 PIF summit, Nauru has temporarily waived the fee for press seeking to attend the meeting, due to be held September 1-9.

But it has severely limited how many journalists can cover the summit, restricting the total number to just 30, including photographers and camera operators as well as reporters.

Nauru argues its small size means it can only accommodate a few journalists, and denies the measure amounts to “restriction of press freedom”.

“We are a small nation and have limited accommodation and facilities for the PIF, hence the well-publicised limitations,” the government said in reaction to ABC being barred.

“Media from across the world have respected this and have gone through the proper application process, however the ABC seems to believe it deserves special exemption from this process.”

But critics say Nauru’s explanation is also an attempt to minimise negative attention.

“While infrastructure constraints play a role in limited pooling numbers, we are appalled by this attempt to control media coverage,” the New Zealand Parliamentary Press Gallery said.

– ‘Inhuman and degrading’ –

Nauru’s aversion to media scrutiny stems from the asylum-seeker processing centre it hosts on Australia’s behalf, activists claim. With the island only 21 square kilometres (eight square miles) in size, it is close to the summit venue.

Under Canberra’s hardline immigration policy, asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are kept in offshore compounds — single men go to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island; families, children and women to Nauru.

The Nauru camp, which currently holds more than 240 men, women and children, is an economic lifeline for the isolated nation of 11,000, which has exhausted its previous source of wealth: phosphate deposits used as fertiliser.

Nauru’s government revenues ballooned from Aus$20 million in 2010-11 to Aus$115 million in 2015-16 largely due to fees paid by Canberra linked to the compound, official Australia data shows.

In return, Canberra avoids having asylum-seekers step on Australian soil, instead processing them 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) offshore, away from prying eyes.

However, that has not prevented rights groups and the United Nations from slamming conditions at a facility media has dubbed “Australia’s Guantanamo”.

The UN has consistently raised concerns that indefinite detention of people who have committed no crime is unlawful.

In a 2016 report, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child cited “inhuman and degrading treatment” of minors in the camp, “including physical, psychological and sexual abuse”.

It also noted that the government’s media restrictions were preventing journalists from properly researching children’s treatment.

Canberra argues its offshore detention centres save lives by discouraging people-smugglers from trying to ferry would-be refugees to Australia in dangerous vessels.

Australian artist and activist Arielle Gamble says the information blackout on Nauru is an attempt to prevent the media drawing attention to the plight of those in detention.

“It’s been a conscious effort from the start, and it’s worked because it’s been a case of out of sight out of mind for the Australian public,” she said.

In an attempt to give asylum-seekers a human face, an exhibition Gamble organised, “All We Can’t See”, opened in Melbourne this week, using images based on leaked official incident reports from the camp to illustrate their stories.

The confronting exhibition portrays mentally-distressed children who have maimed themselves by cutting their limbs or sewing their lips together.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: U.S. to ‘Deepen Engagement’ in Asia

July 30, 2018

In speech at Indo-Pacific Business Forum, Pompeo says U.S. seeks partnership, not dominance

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on Monday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on Monday. PHOTO: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the U.S. is committed to growing trade and investment in Asia, while assuring potential strategic and trade partners the U.S. wanted partnership, not domination.

In a speech at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Pompeo called for the region to remain “free and open,” an implicit challenge to China’s approach to its neighbors.

“The Trump administration is committed to expanding our economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” the secretary said. “We believe in strategic partnerships, not strategic dependency.”

The U.S. “will not seek dominance in the Indo-Pacific, and will oppose any country that does,” he said.

Addressing an audience of business leaders, diplomats and senior administration officials, Mr. Pompeo said that the U.S. “has played a foundational role in enabling the growth and wealth that we see across the entire Indo-Pacific today.”

That work will continue, he maintained, as “it is clearly in America’s strategic interest to deepen engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The references to the Indo-Pacific region reflect the U.S.’s ongoing symbolic nod toward India. In May, the U.S. military changed the name of the military headquarters covering Asia and the Pacific Ocean from Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command. The Trump administration began using the term “Indo-Pacific” last year for the region known for many years as the Asia-Pacific, though it also has previously been called “Indo-Pacific” as well.

Mr. Pompeo’s message Monday comes as the administration endeavors to reshape its global trade relationships.

Immediately after taking office, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a pact that would have governed commerce among the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The remaining 11 countries in the TPP subsequently formed the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, which incorporates much of the original agreement.

The secretary acknowledged that some may question the U.S. role in the region in light of the TPP withdrawal, but assured the audience the administration is committed to the Indo-Pacific and is working “to craft better, higher-standard bilateral trade agreements.”

Write to Courtney McBride at