Posts Tagged ‘Papua New Guinea’

New Zealand Buys Boeing Surveillance Jets to Counter Chinese Buildup

July 9, 2018

U.S. ally approves $1.5 billion purchase of four Boeing P-8A Poseidons

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft sits on the tarmac in Lossiemouth, U.K.
A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft sits on the tarmac in Lossiemouth, U.K. PHOTO: JANE BARLOW/ZUMA PRESS

New Zealand said it would buy four submarine-hunting surveillance jets, the country’s biggest military purchase in decades, as it seeks to counter a Chinese buildup in the Pacific that has worried the U.S. and its allies.

New Zealand’s government on Monday approved the $1.5 billion purchase of Boeing Co. P-8A Poseidons used by the U.S. and its military allies including the U.K., Australia and South Korea.

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“We are stepping up and being responsible in the Pacific,” said Winston Peters, who is acting prime minister while Jacinda Ardern is on parental leave. Beijing has previously accused Mr. Peters, the populist leader of New Zealand First, which is a minor party in Ms. Ardern’s center-left government, of being “anti-Chinese.”

The deal announcement comes just days after the small island nation unveiled a new defense blueprint warning that an “increasingly confident” Beijing was testing international rules and stability in “newly potent ways.”

New Zealand scrapped its combat air force about 15 years ago to save money. The P-8 deal comes as a more assertive China expands its military, diplomatic and economic reach across an arc stretching from Africa through the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.

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The deal increases New Zealand’s patrol and intelligence gathering abilities in a region expected to be home to half of the world’s submarines in a few decades, as China’s naval expansion accelerates an Asian arms race. The Poseidon can track ships and submarines across vast areas of ocean, deploying missiles, depth charges and torpedoes from a rotary launcher to sink them if necessary. The four aircraft will begin operations in 2023.

Mr. Peters, who is also New Zealand’s foreign minister, said recently the country needed to use “all the levers at its disposal to advance our national interests and protect our sovereignty” against a backdrop of rising U.S.-China tensions, the militarization of South China Sea atolls, and Beijing’s growing Pacific sway.

Australia and New Zealand are negotiating a security pact with small South Pacific island nations as a counter to the growing influence of China and Russia over regional economies including Fiji and resource-rich Papua New Guinea. China in particular has been courting island governments through a mix of aid and infrastructure loans.

“Great Power competition is back,” Mr. Peters said last month. “This government is determined to have the tools to defend and advance New Zealand’s interests.”

Robert Ayson, an expert from New Zealand’s Centre for Strategic Studies, said the choice of submarine hunting P-8s to replace a fleet of six 50-year-old Lockheed Martin Corp. P-3 Orions, signals a fresh willingness to help maintain maritime security in the Pacific.

“New Zealand’s position had firmed up. It’s more willing to say things about China that are a bit critical,” Prof. Ayson said. “If New Zealand, like Australia, feels that the maritime and strategic environment is deteriorating…then you need the P-8 to show New Zealand is willing to deploy [its military] in and beyond the Pacific.”

Write to Rob Taylor at rob.taylor@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-zealand-buys-boeing-surveillance-jets-to-counter-chinese-buildup-1531114948

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New Zealand warns of security risk from China’s influence in Pacific — Warns of “Unwanted Chinese meddling”

July 6, 2018

New Zealand warned in a defense report on Friday that China’s rising influence in the South Pacific could undermine regional stability, in comments likely to stoke bilateral tension.

New Zealand and Australia have traditionally held the most influence in the South Pacific, but the New Zealand government said in the report it was now losing its sway over small island nations to China.

“New Zealand’s national security remains directly tied to the stability of the Pacific. As Pacific Island countries develop … traditional partners such as New Zealand and Australia will be challenged to maintain influence,” the government read.

“China holds views on human rights and freedom of information that stand in contrast to those that prevail in New Zealand.”

New Zealand has announced it would increase foreign aid by nearly a third, in part to counter China’s rising influence in the South Pacific.

“We live in turbulent times, the world is changing and there has been a re-emergence of great power competition,” New Zealand Defense Minister Ron Mark told reporters in Wellington.

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New Zealand Defense Minister Ron Mark

Australia is the largest donor of aid to the Pacific, committing A$166.4 million ($129 million) this year. But with a large budget deficit, its economic aid budget will fall, opening a door for China, analysts say.

Chinese economic aid to the region is growing significantly, according to Australian think-tank the Lowy Institute, with an estimated $1.78 billion spent in the decade to 2016.

China has denied that it is using its aid to exert influence in a region blessed with significant natural resources.

But Australia’s outgoing defense chief, Mark Binskin, cited “the influence of some nations starting to come down into the southwest Pacific” as among his concerns, in an interview with Fairfax Media published on Friday.

“I don’t think there is trust there,” he added, referring to China’s military building up on tiny islands and shoals in the South China Sea despite promises it would not.

In February, Taiwan accused China of pressuring Papua New Guinea, a large recipient of Chinese aid, to downgrade relations.

Australia, citing its suspicion of Chinese meddling in its politics, last month passed tough legislation seen as limiting China’s reach.

China has denied any such meddling.

Reuters

Australia plans to spend a significant portion of its Pacific aid budget building high-speed internet cables for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and will bolster cyber security for Vanuatu, to counter China’s growing influence.

Pacific Island leaders, including those from Australia and New Zealand, will meet in September on Nauru island for an annual summit, where a new agreement covering defense, law and order, humanitarian assistance is expected to be signed.

Reporting by Colin Packham. Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel

China’s Pacific Islands Push Has the U.S. Worried

June 18, 2018

In the gritty, steamy streets of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby, signs of China’s push into the Pacific island nation are inescapable.

A Chinese worker stencils a logo for China Railway Group outside the new national courthouse it’s building; China Harbor Engineering Group laborers tar roads under the searing midday sun.

“Little by little they are taking slices of our businesses,” said Martyn Namorong, who campaigns to protect local jobs and communities as China ramps up infrastructure spending in the resource-rich nation, often bringing its own workforce. “My people feel we can’t compete.”

The nation of 8 million people is the latest frontier in Beijing’s bid for global influence that’s included building artificial reefs in the South China Sea, a military base in Africa and an ambitious trade-and-infrastructure plan spanning three continents.

Advertisement for China Construction Bank outside the airport in Port Moresby.
Photographer: Jason Scott/Bloomberg

China’s thrust into the Pacific islands region, a collection of more than a dozen tiny nations including Fiji, Niue and Timor Leste scattered across thousands of miles of ocean, has the U.S. and its close ally Australia worried. The region played a key role in World War II and remains strategically important as Western powers seek to maintain open sea lines and stability. For Beijing, it offers raw materials, from gas to timber, and a clutch of countries who could voice support for its territorial claims.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in China’s state-directed economic investment and mobilization of an enormous amount of capital in the Pacific which clearly has a strategic intent,” said Eric B. Brown, a senior fellow in Asian affairs at Washington-based think tank the Hudson Institute. “The sovereignty of these nations could be compromised by these predatory economic methods. And that could create a military threat to countries such as Australia and effect the ability of the U.S. Navy and its allies to maintain freedom and order in the Pacific.”

Debt Trap

China’s lending practices related to the Belt and Road Initiative have raised concerns among the International Monetary Fund and the Trump administration that poorer countries wouldn’t be able to repay heavy debts. Sri Lanka is considered an example of what could go wrong for developing nations: China received a 99-year lease for a strategic port after the government in Colombo couldn’t repay loans.

Read more: Costly Lessons for Leaders Eyeing China’s Belt-and-Road Billions

Indeed China has overtaken Japan as Papua New Guinea’s largest bilateral creditor and by the end of the year PNG will owe it about $1.9 billion in concessional loans — almost a quarter of its total debt burden. Standard & Poor’s in April lowered the nation’s sovereign credit rating to B from B+, citing rising costs of servicing debt that’s climbed above 30 percent of gross domestic product and is expected to reach about 40 percent by 2021.

The IMF warns that other recipients of Chinese money in the region — tiny nations such as Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu — have moderate to high risks of debt distress.

While the largess flowing into the Pacific from Beijing is a fraction of the $350 billion of Chinese aid distributed globally since 2000, it’s still big money for the nations, most with populations under 1 million. In April, the French Polynesian government approved construction of a $320 million Chinese fish farm.

Military Presence

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, says “there’s no doubt” China could seek to establish a military presence in the Pacific in the future, cashing in its influence with “one of these small, vulnerable states.”

“It intends to become the primary power in east Asia and the western Pacific,” White said.

Governments in the region have sought to strike a balance between accepting China’s cash and resisting moves that would raise concern among Western military powers. Vanuatu in April denied media reports that China had approached it to build a permanent military base in one of its harbors.

Peter O’Neill and Xi Jinping in July 2016.
Photographer: Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Getty Images

The office of PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who’s due to meet President Xi Jinping in China later this week, didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment. When O’Neill visited Beijing in 2016, he pledged support for China’s military build up in the South China Sea. In December, a month after China promised to construct $3.5 billion of roads, O’Neill said PNG will continue to be a “staunch partner.”

Beijing’s push into the Pacific islands risks further straining ties with key trading partner Australia — which views the region as its own diplomatic backyard and has been increasingly critical of China’s economic and military muscle-flexing.

During a visit to the region this month, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said “we want to continue to be the partner of choice for nations in the Pacific.” Her government on June 13 signed an agreement to build a new undersea telecommunications cable to the Solomon Islands, squeezing out a bid by China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd.

Papua New Guinea has traditionally looked to Australia — from which it won independence in 1975 — for a helping hand. Outside of the capital, the nation’s woeful roads network has helped push prices of food staples beyond what many can afford. It’s also struggling with an illiteracy rate of 35 percent, poor tax collection and endemic corruption.

Australia is still its largest donor, contributing more than three-quarters of total aid and loans compared to China’s 14 percent. Yet the majority is directed to improving corporate governance, while Beijing has focused on infrastructure and major works.

‘Red Carpet’

Nursing a cool drink at a sports club in Port Moresby, British-born business adviser Paul Barker said China was stepping into a vacuum left by the west.

“The government in Beijing has rolled out the red carpet and our leaders seem to be a bit intoxicated by the experience,” said Barker, who’s lived in his adopted nation for more than four decades.

Australia’s assistant trade minister Mark Coulton acknowledged the merits of China’s investment as he sat in one of Port Moresby’s few five-star hotels near the Beijing-gifted convention center where APEC leaders will meet in November.

“You can’t deny your neighbor if someone is looking to build something they really need,” he said. “Our role is to give the PNG government and people the ability” to “handle influxes of foreign aid like those that are now occurring.”

China’s foreign ministry, which didn’t respond to a request for comment, in April said Pacific island nations weren’t in the “sphere of influence of any country” and called on Australia not to interfere.

China Railway Group signage at the construction site of the new national courthouse.
Photographer: Jason Scott/Bloomberg

Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University, dismissed concerns that large concessional loans leave nations vulnerable to “debt-trap diplomacy” and said China’s expanded role in the Pacific is a natural consequence of its growing economic clout.

“It’s scaremongering to think this will lead to any military design or ambition in the Pacific,” Wang said in a phone interview from Beijing. “We will see China increase its presence there and it will keep helping these countries build their infrastructure.”

China is in the region to stay, said Jonathan Pryke of the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

“China has entered the Pacific in a significant way,” said Pryke. “It’s upended the status quo and caused anxiety, because no-one knows what its end-game is.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-17/china-s-pacific-islands-push-has-the-u-s-worried

Philippines among worst offender of press freedom in Asia Pacific — Corruption Perception Index 2017 predicts trouble for the Philippines

February 22, 2018
 
Members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines stage a rally criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila. The STAR/KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines, along with India and the Maldives, are the worst offenders of press freedom in the Asia Pacific region, according to an international organization against corruption.

In its Corruption Perception Index 2017, Berlin-based Transparency International noted that the three countries score high for corruption and have fewer press freedoms.

“In the last six years, 15 journalists working on corruption stories in these countries were murdered, as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists,” the report read.

The Philippines, with a score of 34, also dropped its ranking in the global corruption index from 101st in 2016 to 111th in 2017.

The survey further noted that the results of the 2017 index show that corruption in many countries in the region is still strong.

“In some countries across the region, journalists, activists, opposition leaders and even staff of law enforcement or watchdog agencies are threatened, and in the worst cases, even murdered,” Transparency International said.

The results of the survey indicate that countries with least protection for press and non-governmental organizations also have the worst rates of corruption.

“Every week at least one journalist is killed in a country that is highly corrupt,” the report read.

The results of the 2017 index also show the variance in public sector corruption in Asia Pacific as the region has an average score of 44 out of 100 despite top scorers like New Zealand and Singapore.

Among the worst scorers in the region are Afghanistan, North Korea, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.

“With a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 means very clean and 0 reflects a deep-rooted, systemic corruption problem, the Asia Pacific countries, on average, are failing,” the survey read.

The index ranked 180 countries and territories based on perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. Countries were scored from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

“This year, the index found that more than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of 43. Unfortunately, compared to recent years, this poor performance is nothing new,” Transparency International said.

http://old.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/22/1790300/philippines-among-worst-offender-press-freedom-asia-pacific

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 (No man is above the law…)

Manus Island: Police enter decommissioned Australian refugee detention camp

November 23, 2017

Papua New Guinea police have moved in on the shuttered Australian-run Manus detention camp in an attempt to force hundreds of asylum seekers occupying it to leave. The camp long symbolized Canberra’s strict asylum laws.

– Authorities in Papua New Guinea are removing more than 300 asylum seekers from a squalid immigration camp on Manus island to another location

– Australia has paid PNG and the nearby island of Nauru to hold refugees as part of its controversial immigration policy

– Rights groups and the UN have warned of violence and a humanitarian crisis

– Asylum seekers have refused to leave for three weeks

Papua New Guinea authorities moved to empty a decommissioned Australian-run immigration detention center, drawing criticism from rights groups and the UN over hardhanded tactics and a potential humanitarian crisis.

Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas said 50 police and immigration officials entered the camp on Thursday morning and persuaded 35 of the 378 men there to go to alterative accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.

But asylum seekers reported police were using force to remove them from the Manus island camp, where authorities stopped providing water, electricity and food supplies nearly three weeks ago.

Other detainees said that dozens of men have been arrested, including Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boocahni, who is one of the most vocal advocates for those inside the camp.

Tweeting before his reported arrest, Boocahni said police were destroying their belongings, beds, water supplies and stocks of food.

They are destroying everything. Shelters, tanks, beds and all of our belongings. They are very aggressive and put our belongings in the rubbish bins. The refugees still are silent are watching them so scared.

 

Other detainees reported similar hardlanded tactics.

PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki said earlier this week that no force would be used.

How did it come to this?

The detainees are held under Australia’s strict “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which the country refuses to allow asylum seekers attempting to enter by boat to reach its shores.

Last year, PNG’s Supreme Court ruled the Manus camp illegal and asked the Australian government to close it.

About 400 asylum-seekers, men mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, barricaded themselves into the camp on October 31 to protest their removal.

Many Manus occupants have said they fear for their safety if moved to other transit centers on the island amid opposition from locals.

Instead of being left in limbo at another detention facility, they want to be permanently settled in Australia or another country.

Items on the floor of the Manus Island detention centreConditions at the Manus Island detention center have been deteriorating rapidly

What is the situation in the center?

The inmates’ medicines ran out last week, their health is suffering in the hot and humid weather and they have started digging wells inside the center to get water.

“The situation on the ground is very serious and deteriorating day by day,” said Nai Jit Lam, a regional representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“Australia must continue to take responsibility and play an active role in achieving solutions,” Lam said.

The UN had long criticized the living conditions on Australia’s offshore migrant detention centers.

The detention center is on Manus Island north of the mainlandThe detention center is on Manus Island north of the mainland

What is the Australian government’s stance?

Australia’s refugee policy has prompted protests at home for better conditions and rights for asylum seekers. However, the government argues it deters people smugglers and prevents deaths at sea.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB that a police operation was under way to move the asylum seekers to a new $10 million (€8.7 million) in PNG.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shrugged off asylum seekers’ fears, accusing them of trying to pressure Australia to accept them.

“They think that … in some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured. We will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers,” Turnbull told reporters.

Protesters block the entrance to the Victorian Liberal party offices in Melbourne, AustraliaProtesters block the entrance to the Victorian Liberal party offices in Melbourne

“People on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all the facilities they need, they should do so peacefully and they should do so in accordance with the legal directions of Papua New Guinea,” he added.

Under a deal struck between the Obama administration and Australia, the United States agreed to take up to 1,250 of the several thousand refugees on Manus island and nearby Nauru. US President Donald Trump has decided to honor the US commitment despite his opposition to immigration.

But slow processing of asylum applications has meant that so far only 54 asylum seekers have been accepted by the United States.

New Zealand has also offered to take some of the men.

cw/rt (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

http://www.dw.com/en/manus-island-police-enter-decommissioned-australian-detention-camp/a-41493199

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PNG police order protesting asylum seekers out of Australian-run camp

November 23, 2017

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Papua New Guinea police sealed off an officially shuttered Australian-run detention camp on Thursday and ordered asylum seekers occupying it to leave as they confiscated food and water the men had stockpiled, asylum seekers told Reuters.

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Asylum seekers occupying the closed Australian-run immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island climb on top of buildings at the centre to avoid police, November 23, 2017. Thanus/via REUTERS.

About 380 asylum seekers have shut themselves inside the Manus Island Center for more than three weeks, defying attempts by Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to close it in a standoff the United Nations described as a “looming humanitarian crisis”.

“They destroyed our food and damaged our accommodation too, they destroyed our water tank,” one asylum-seeker said in a mobile telephone message from the camp.

Many of the men climbed onto rooftops and hid in toilets, he said. Three other asylum seekers gave similar accounts of the police action.

A video shot by Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz and posted on Facebook showed police using a megaphone to tell the asylum seekers to leave because their stay at the camp, located on land used by the PNG navy, was illegal.

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Police enter Australia’s Manus Island refugee camp — Australia’s Manus Island refugee camp was closed after a PNG Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional, and some 600 refugees were told to relocate to three nearby transition centres. (Photo: AFP)

Footage he later posted on Twitter showed men boarding mini buses and buses. Tim Costello, chief advocate at the World Vision Australia aid group, told Reuters by phone from outside the camp that he had seen buses leaving.

Calls to PNG immigration and police were not returned.

The Manus island camp in PNG, and another on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, have been the cornerstones of Australia’s controversial immigration policy, which has been strongly criticized by the United Nations and rights groups.

Australia opened the camps in a bid to stem a flow of asylum seekers making dangerous voyages by boat to its shores.

Under its “sovereign borders” immigration policy, Australia refuses to land asylum seekers arriving by sea, instead sending them to the offshore camps.

‘WE WON‘T BE PRESSURED’

Witnesses in the camp said officials in army fatigues led away Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, who has been at the camp for four years and regularly posts social media messages on conditions.

Boochani earlier told Reuters by text message that police and immigration officials removed water supplies and the men’s belongings.

Pictures sent via a messaging service showed upturned boxes of food and torn parcels of rice and instant noodles and smashed furniture including broken beds.

PNG’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the center, first opened in 2001, breached its laws and fundamental human rights, leading to the decision to close it.

But the asylum seekers say they fear for their safety if moved to a transit center also on the island, and risk being resettled in PNG or another developing nation permanently.

“We don’t want another prison. We want to leave this place, but they need to give a good solution for us,” the first asylum-seeker said.

“We don’t want another prison. We want a third country.”

Most of those in the camp are from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Thursday that the transit center facilities had food, water, security and medical services.

“They think this is some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured,” Turnbull said.

The United Nations has urged Australia to accept an offer by New Zealand to take some of the men.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Jonathan Barrett in Sydney. Additional reporting by Swati Pandey.; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Leslie Adler

Australia, New Zealand officials discuss screening for Manus refugees

November 20, 2017

By Charlotte Greenfield

Australia should accept New Zealand offer to resettle refugees: UNHCR

November 14, 2017

AFP

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency on Tuesday urged Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees from an abandoned Australian-run detention center in Papua New Guinea, as about 450 men remain barricaded inside without food or water.

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An undated image released November 13, 2017 shows detainees staging a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. Refugee Action Coalition/Handout via REUTERS

The asylum seekers have been holed up inside the center for the past two weeks defying attempts by Australia and Papua New Guinea to close the facility, saying they fear for their safety if moved to transit centers.

With many detainees complaining of illness bought about by the unsanitary conditions in the camp, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged Australia to allow 150 of them to resettle in New Zealand.

“We urge Australia to reconsider this and take up the offer,” Nai Jit Lam, deputy regional representative at the UNHCR told Reuters.

Most of the asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Australia’s “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, has been heavily criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups but has bipartisan political support in Australia.

Australia says allowing asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores would only encourage people smugglers in Asia and see more people risk their lives trying to sail to Australia.

Two motions introduced in Australia’s parliament by the Labor and Green parties, and passed in the upper house on Tuesday, call on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to approve the New Zealand proposal.

“This is a foul and bloody stain on Australia’s national conscience,” Greens senator Nick McKim told reporters.

Turnbull this month rejected the refugee resettlement offer from his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, preferring instead to work through an existing refugee swap deal he negotiated with former U.S. President Barack Obama last year.

Under the U.S. deal, up to 1,250 asylum seekers detained by Australia in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific could be resettled in the United States in return for Australia accepting refugees from Central America. So far, the United States has accepted only 54.

Despite Turnbull rejecting the offer, Ardern this week said it remained on the table and she would seek a second meeting with Turnbull to discuss the “unacceptable” situation inside the Manus island detention center.

Water and electricity to the center were disconnected two weeks ago after Australian security withdrew and the camp closed on Oct. 31. The camp gad been declared illegal by a Papua New Guinea Court.

Papua New Guinea has threatened to forcibly move the men if they remain inside the center. It has set three deadlines but all have passed largely without incident.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel

Stalemate as refugees dig in at closed Australia camp in PNG

November 14, 2017

AFP

© REFUGEE ACTION COALITION/AFP | Most of the 600 refugees detained at the camp refused to leave when Australia officially closed it on October 31 after the PNG Supreme Court ruled the site unconstitutional, citing fears for their safety outside

SYDNEY (AFP) – Some 400 refugees rebuffed continued efforts by Papua New Guinea authorities to convince them to move from a shuttered Australian detention camp Tuesday as the tense standoff over their future drags into a third week.

The confrontation has drawn global attention to Canberra’s tough immigration policy, under which asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are sent to remote Pacific camps on PNG’s Manus Island and the island nation of Nauru.

Most of the 600 refugees detained at the camp refused to leave when Australia officially closed it on October 31 after the PNG Supreme Court ruled the site unconstitutional, citing fears for their safety outside.

They are barred from resettling in Australia and Canberra has struggled to transfer them to third countries.

Kurdish-Iranian detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani told AFP on Tuesday that the detainees were going to dig another well, a day after police moved into the camp to puncture or remove tanks holding the refugees’ remaining supplies of drinking water.

“It’s the moment to accept failure & let us go to a 3rd country,” Boochani, who has acted as a spokesman for the refugees, added in a tweet Tuesday.

Police, who have so far complied with orders from higher authorities not to resort to force to remove the men, used loudspeakers to appeal to the detainees to move on Monday.

Chief Inspector David Yapu issued a statement late Monday indicating growing impatience at the stalemate, after the refugees ignored several deadlines for the camp to be cleared.

“Those refugees were sitting in their compounds and staring at us without any signs of moving out from the centre,” the Manus provincial police commander said in the statement.

“Apparently my message went through deaf ears and into the brick wall.”

Yapu added that he needed “some clear directives on our next course of action” to persuade the men to leave.

PNG police said they have managed to get about 180 men to voluntarily relocate to three nearby transition centres.

Boochani said those who agreed to move to those new sites have complained about the harsh conditions there.

Canberra has been hopeful that up to 1,250 refugees on Manus and Nauru could be transferred to the United States under a resettlement deal struck last year.

But so far, just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to America in September.

At the same time, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has snubbed an offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees, citing fears it would restart the people-smuggling trade.

His New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern has expressed concerns about Manus and said Saturday she would raise the issue with him at the East Asian Summit in Manila this week.

“In terms of the people currently at the Manus Island centre, they should comply with the lawful requirements of the government of Papua New Guinea,” Turnbull told reporters in the Philippines on Tuesday, adding that the US deal “is progressing”.

Despite widespread criticism, Canberra has defended its offshore processing policy as stopping deaths at sea after a spate of drownings.

Pacific trade deal reached but leaders won’t endorse it yet

November 11, 2017

Tran Tuan Anh, Toshimitsu Motegi

DANANG, Vietnam (AP) — Trade ministers from 11 Pacific Rim countries announced an agreement Saturday on pushing ahead with a free-trade deal whose destiny was uncertain after President Donald Trump dropped it.

“We have reached an agreement on a number of fundamental parts,” Vietnam’s trade minister, Tran Tuan Anh, told reporters in the coastal resort city of Danang, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. But more work must be done before leaders of the countries involved can endorse the plan, said Anh and his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi.

The 11 counties remaining in the trade pact rejected by Trump in January have been working to revise the deal to allow them to proceed without U.S. involvement. That involved a difficult balance between maintaining high standards and pragmatism, Motegi said.

“Through a pragmatic response of the officials involved we could come to an agreement,” Motegi said. He said it was clear there would be a need for further changes but that differences had been narrowed down.

“The substance is something all the TPP countries can agree on,” said Motegi. “This will send a very strong message to the U.S. and the other countries in the region.”

The talks resulted in an even longer name for the trade pact than originally devised. It is now the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The announcement of a basic agreement was delayed by last-minute discord that prevented the TPP leaders from endorsing the plan when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not join other leaders who gathered Friday to endorse an agreement in principle on pressing ahead without the U.S.

In the end, Canada’s Minister for International Commerce Francois-P Champagne said in a tweet Saturday that “after lots of work, big progress on the ‘Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.’”

Trudeau had said days earlier that Canada would not be rushed into an agreement.

Despite enthusiasm for sticking with the plan following the U.S. withdrawal, criticism over various issues persists. Detractors of the TPP say it favors corporate interests over labor and other rights. Trudeau said days before arriving in Danang that he would not be rushed into signing an agreement that did not suit Canada’s interests.

Aspects of the trade pact have also raised hackles over a requirement that companies be allowed to sue governments for lack of enforcement of related laws.

The proposed basic agreement reached in Danang said that the ministers maintained “the high standards, overall balance and integrity of the TPP while ensuring the commercial and other interests of all participants and preserving our inherent right to regulate, including the flexibility of the parties to set legislative and regulatory priorities.”

The U.S., the biggest TPP economy, had been one of its most assertive supporters before Trump took office. Trump has said he prefers country-to-country deals and is seeking to renegotiate several major trade agreements to, as he says, “put America first.”

Trump reiterated his markedly different stance on trade before the 21-member APEC summit convened late Friday with a gala banquet.

“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he told an APEC business conference. He lambasted the World Trade Organization and other trade forums as unfair to the United States and reiterated his preference for bilateral trade deals, saying “I am always going to put America first.”

Trump said he would not enter into large trade agreements, alluding to U.S. involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP.

In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the same group that nations need to stay committed to economic openness or risk being left behind.

Xi drew loud applause when he urged support for the “multilateral trading regime” and progress toward a free-trade zone in the Asia-Pacific. China is not part of the TPP.

APEC operates by consensus and customarily issues nonbinding statements. TPP commitments are to be eventually be ratified and enforced by its members.

But even talks this week on a declaration to cap the APEC summit had to be extended for an extra half day as ministers haggled over wording. The release of a set of ministerial agreements early Saturday suggested the leaders would finesse any disagreements, as usual, to demonstrate unity and avoid embarrassing their hosts.

As a developing country with a fast-growing export sector, this year’s host country, Vietnam, has a strong interest in open trade and access for its exports to consumers in the West. The summit is an occasion for its leaders to showcase the progress its economy has made thanks largely to foreign investment and trade. Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, is in the midst of a construction boom as dozens of resorts and smaller hotels pop up along its scenic coastline.

APEC’s members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.S. and Vietnam.

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Associated Press writer Robert Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.