In the 1970s and 80s, as various South Pacific colonial entities were achieving independence, the arcane Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) military alliance infrastructure was fond of squawking like an Australian kookaburra during mating season that “the Soviets are coming!” It was a reference to a few fisheries agreements signed between the Soviet Union and a few newly-independent South Pacific states. For good measure, the ANZUS trough feeders tossed in the “threats” posed by Libya and Iran, both of which sent a few diplomats to the South Pacific region to establish diplomatic ties.
During the 1970s and 80s, the “threat” from outside the South Pacific region was hyped by Canberra and Wellington, acting at the behest of their masters in Washington, to keep the small island states in line, politically, economically, and militarily.
Today, the ANZUS powers are warning that China is posing a significant “threat” to the nations of the South Pacific. It is as if China were still a 1970s medium-size power confined to East Asia and not the global economic and political force that exists today.
Over the past few months, Australia has been circling the wagons against what it perceives as a Chinese “invasion” of the South Pacific. Canberra put pressure on the Solomon Islands to freeze out from an undersea high-speed Internet cable project the Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Company. Instead, Australia said it will foot the bill for the project to connect the Solomon Islands by a submarine cable to Papua New Guinea via Australia. Of course, the Australian Signals Directorate, under the direction of its U.S. National Security Agency bosses, will ensure that the cable is fully compliant with “FIVE EYES” (Australia, United Kingdom, United States, New Zealand, and Canada) signals intelligence technical capabilities.
A $90 million wharf project, financed by China and planned for Vanuatu’s port of Luganville, also has the military-intelligence cadres in Canberra taking time off from swilling beer to complain about Vanuatu becoming a future Chinese “military base.” The Australian political think tank denizens, along with their compatriots in Wellington and Honolulu, are pointing to the large debts being racked up by Vanuatu, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea for Chinese infrastructure improvement projects as some sort of proof of a long-term Chinese goal of controlling the South Pacific. These “experts” fail to mention that Japan, which has a much more onerous military history in the region, has also engaged in major infrastructure projects in the island-states, driving these micro-economies into huge debts to Tokyo.
China-bashing is now the vogue in Australia and New Zealand, with U.S. President Donald Trump leading the way with his trade war against China. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull used the occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London to pull aside Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai to warn him about allowing China to build a naval base in Luganville.
Salwai and Beijing had previously vehemently denied an unsourced report by Australia’s Fairfax Media Group that China planned to establish a base in the island nation. That dubious report led to high-level discussions between Canberra, Wellington, and Washington about standing firm against any Chinese military forays into the region. Fairfax Media Group -- which publishes “The Sydney Morning Herald,” “The Australian Financial Review,” “The Dominion Post” of New Zealand, and maintains the “Huffpo Australia” joint venture with the sensationalist “Huffington Post” -- is well known for its close ties to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), Australia’s version of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In London, following his meeting with Salwai, Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “the Prime Minister of Vanuatu has made it very clear, quite unequivocally, that the media reports about Chinese interest in establishing a military base in Vanuatu have no basis in fact, so he said those reports are absolutely untrue.” Turnbull also assured Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela that Australia was committed to building the undersea cable link with Papua New Guinea, following the freezing out of Huawei.
Before the CHOGM summit in London, Turnbull has fanned the anti-China flames by warning Vanuatu against allowing China to build a base in the island nation. Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu had rejected the allegations made in the Fairfax Media Group report as false and questioned the standards of Australian journalism. The denial did little to calm the reactionaries in Canberra. Canberra had its own agent of influence peddling the China scare in the Vanuatu capital of Port-Vila. Opposition leader Ishmael Kalsakau stoked the China scare fervor by pointing to a Chinese naval visit to the islands last year and Vanuatu’s diplomatic support for China in the South China Sea standoff.
New Zealand Labor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who comes from a New Zealand colonialist family, owing to her father having been the most recent Administrator of the New Zealand territory of Tokelau, weighed in with her own anti-China scare tactics, stressing that her government is opposed to the militarization of the Pacific. Ardern does not seem to care that the United States is currently building up its military presence in Darwin and Queensland in Australia, American Samoa, and Guam.
Ardern, who governs in coalition with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters -- an outspoken opponent of Asian immigration to New Zealand -- has, like her recent Labor Party Prime Minister predecessors, moved the New Zealand Labor Party to the right. This shift began in the 1980s following the ouster of Labor Prime Minister David Lange, an opponent of the arcane ANZUS relationship with Washington and Canberra and an opponent of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific.
After Vanuatu, which had been a colonial joint Anglo-French “condominium” known as the New Hebrides, became independent in 1980, the saber-rattlers in the Ronald Reagan administration, bolstered by their right-wing allies in Australia and New Zealand, began warning that Vanuatu was destined to become the “Cuba of the Pacific.” This was primarily due to the non-alignment pursued by Vanuatu’s first prime minister, Father Walter Lini, who found an enthusiastic ally in Prime Minister Lange.
Fairfax Media was not the only Western media outlet to pounce on Vanuatu and the “fake news” Chinese military base story. The Associated Press, in a report datelined April 10, 2018 from Canberra, not only echoed the Fairfax Media story but claimed the Chinese were looking to establish a “permanent military presence” in Vanuatu, which the AP cited as a “former French colony.” This was factually incorrect. Vanuatu was an Anglo-French condominium. But, by calling Vanuatu a former French colony, the AP, which is nothing more than a consortium of wealthy newspaper owners, a subliminal finger was being pointed at the French territory of New Caledonia, which lies to the southwest of Vanuatu.
China bashing has also led to the outbreak of violence against ethnic Chinese in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Timor-Leste, all of which have been accused of entertaining proposals for Chinese naval installations. There is a belief that Israel, which ensures that the South Pacific island states support it in the United Nations General Assembly, has convinced the islanders to adopt Jerusalem’s policy of setting off violence by Jewish settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians to encourage the evacuation of the Palestinians. Riots against ethnic Chinese in the Solomons, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste, as well as growing native resentment being stirred against ethnic Chinese in Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and the Cook Islands, may be the result of encouragement by Israeli “agents provocateur,” egged on by the intelligence services of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Israeli agents have been deported for certain dubious intelligence-related activities from the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand.
On November 4, 2018, an independence referendum will be held in New Caledonia. Right-wing parties, representing the French colonial interests, have warned an independent New Caledonia – or Kanaky, as it is known by the indigenous population – may go the way of Vanuatu, the implication being that the Chinese may be welcomed to the new nation. This is nothing more than the same fear-mongering being pursued in Canberra, Wellington, Washington, and by the opposition in Vanuatu. When the Chinese send a few navy, satellite tracking, and fishing ships; a trade delegation; or an economic development team to the impoverished islands of the South Pacific, the neo-colonial powers shout “the Chinese are coming.” The knee-jerk reaction in Canberra, Wellington, and Washington about the Chinese is as wrong-headed in 2018 as it was with the Soviets, Libyans, and Iranians in the 1980s.