Chinese plan for a military base in Vanuatu dangerous for region


On Stuff yesterday, there was a report about China reportedly seeking to build or otherwise have a military installation in the Republic of Vanuatu. The purported move comes as concern grows about the militarisation of the Pacific by various nations.

To be fair Britain, France, the United States have all had military testing grounds for nuclear weapons in the Pacific. France and Britain, whilst no longer testing nuclear weapons in accordance with the Nuclear Test Ban treaty, have a number of non-nuclear military installations around the world. The United States operates a large number of military bases around the world – thought to be 900 in all. China has military bases outside of its sovereign territory, including the naval air station built on a man-made island in the South Pacific.

However this is a first for China, or any other military power to be establishing a military base in a south Pacific nation other than New Zealand or Australia. The location suggests a desire to expand its influence around the world. China, in much the same way America did when a neo-conservative think tank called “Project for a New American Century” formed in 1997, has a road map for global influence. The P.N.A.C. has a road map for achieving total global domination, and largely through military strength and using it as a force of influence.

Politicians in both National and Labour are expressing concern about the militarization of the Pacific. So is New Zealand First, whose leader and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters has acknowledged that the news is creating strategic unease. It will be interesting to see what happens because New Zealand needs to tread carefully between the interests of America, but also the growing influence and reach of China.

Position’s on international influence in the South Pacific vary and can be split into several groups:

  1. The first is staunchly pro-American/A.N.Z.U.S. and perhaps harks for the bygone era of a three nation A.N.Z.U.S. alliance – the people in this group generally have no problem with the U.S. nuclear umbrella, are reluctant to criticize American foreign policy mistakes and support increased defence spending.
  2. The second group is more likely to be Labour/Green supporters who find much wrong – and there is – with American foreign policy, but don’t always acknowledge the mistakes of others. They are not supporters of A.N.Z.U.S., do not believe in the need for more defence spending.
  3. The pro-China lobby. This no doubt exists somewhere. Mainly in political circles and trade – it might or might not be directed by Beijing or it could be Chinese New Zealanders who believe they are acting in Beijing’s interests. They oppose American influence for different reasons, but would be reluctant to criticize Beijing, despite the latter having scant regard for international law, committing appalling human rights abuses and suppressing its own citizenry.
  4. The third way – I think this group is a bit bigger than a figment of my imagination. It has little time for foreign power geopolitics, and believes most of New Zealand’s foreign policy and aid effort should be focussed on the South Pacific. Their view is that New Zealand Defence Force should be built around an understanding it might need to deploy in the South Pacific on its own with no back up from Australia, either to protect these nations from a foreign power or to stop local conflicts from spilling over.

I think I identify best with the fourth stance. Australia appears to not be thinking much about the influence of China around the world. More and more it has disassociated itself from South Pacific affairs. In the past it would have lead international efforts at disaster relief in the region. Their response to disasters in Tonga, Papua New Guinea and other places; denial of the humanitarian situation on Nauru and Manus Islands suggest a lack of empathy.

Will brave little New Zealand make a stand like we did on Rainbow Warrior, or will, like Australia, we meekly roll over?

Pacific Island neighbours vulnerability showing


With the announcement that another Tropical Cyclone has formed in the South Pacific, I have been wondering about the vulnerability of our Pacific Island neighbours to storms. Since the start of March four Tropical Cyclones have formed in the South Pacific, in the warm tropical waters around the Coral Sea and east towards Fiji.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie went south towards Australia, caused massive flooding and wind damage before veering southeast towards New Zealand. It caused further damage and made the Rangitaiki River break its banks at Edgecumbe. Barely had it gone when Tropical Cyclone Cook formed. Cook took a path straight towards New Zealand, striking the North Island on Good Friday and going out to sea past Banks Peninsula.

At that point one might have thought in mid-April that the cyclone season would have finished and that the seas would be too cold to host the formation of any more. Apparently not. Tropical Cyclone Donna, which formed last week reached Category 5 on Monday, with wind gusts near its centre topping 300km/h. And just as I was going to type this article, it has come to my attention that Tropical Cyclone Ella has formed and is tracking westwards towards Fiji.

This is unprecedented. There has never been a Category 5 Tropical Cyclone in May in the South Pacific. And coming so soon after a flurry of other storms at the tail end of what had been a quite average season until the start of March.

Before Donna took aim at Vanuatu it was struck by another powerful cyclone a few years ago, causing widespread damage and numerous deaths. The repairing and rebuilding of basic infrastructure, such as bridges, power, water and the reconstruction of homes and businesses takes time in a modern, nation. It is slowed down even further in a small island nation where many basics are imported from New Zealand or Australia.

As one of the wealthier nations in the South Pacific, New Zealand has a responsibility to assist with disaster relief. Its foreign aid needs to be more distributed in the South Pacific than in other emergencies around the world where it cannot have such a big impact. The actual portion of our G.D.P. that we dish out as foreign aid is also comparatively low compared to countries in Europe, some of which hand out over 0.5% of their G.D.P. in aid (ours is about 0.27%).

Does a continually evolving climate mean that in the future we might have more big cyclonic storms forming later in the known period of cyclone activity? The climate has been continually evolving since it formed around 2.2 billion years ago. It has undergone warming and cooling phases where ocean levels and temperatures have risen with the warming phase and receded with the cooling phase.

The very sustainability of small atoll nations such as Kiribati is in question. These are island atoll nations where the highest points above sea level in many cases are not much higher than a house roof, where even a king tide can cause substantial damage. This means the day that one of them is struck full on by a large cyclonic storm could be the one that finishes them off.

Is New Zealand prepared to help them on this count? Or are we not the big friendly regional power they think we are?

 

The necessity of helping our island neighbours in times of crisis


No doubt you will have seen the footage, or heard people talking about Cyclone Pam and the destruction it has caused in Vanuatu. Whilst the full scale of the damage and the death toll is by no means yet clear, it is now known that Pam was a Category 5 system when it slammed into Vanuatu. As the Category 4 system it was at the time of typing this it is still a hefty system. It packed winds well in excess of 200km/h, torrential rain and a major storm surge. Despite being downgraded it still poses a significant threat to New Zealand. Now as the clean up begins, it is worthwhile looking at why New Zealand needs to look after its island neighbours, especially in times like this.

Some of the reasons are obvious and some not so. Some are political, and some are simply looking out for the well being of islands that have not got the resources to repair themselves after major disasters.

I try to keep politics out of disasters. It is not proper although many nations do, to insert national interests into the recovery of neighbouring countries, but every country, big and small would like to know that the day they have a major disaster where international assistance is not only welcome but necessary, it will come. New Zealand found this out first hand on 22 February 2011. Nations as big as the U.S., China and Japan sent rescue teams with specialist equipment for searching in urban environments, whilst small nations such as Samoa and Tonga fundraised. We got the help we did because New Zealand enjoys a good reputation on the world stage as a responsible nation that is fair minded and generous.

But there are perhaps also more controversial reasons for helping these nations. In part New Zealand is as much reliant on these nations being secure as they are reliant on us being able to intervene if there is a dispute or other event that needs outside intervention. And because we are too small to really affect how issues in places like the Middle East turn out, it seems silly to waste a huge amount of time, money and resources trying to shape the region to something we know it will not be. The Pacific island nations are vulnerable to interference from global powers, including China and the United States. Whilst we have some rapport with the United States, it is hard to know how China would react to small Pacific island nations making a stand – would China slam them with sanctions and make threats about diplomatic relations? Would it raise the issue with Pacific powers such as Australia and New Zealand?

But for the time being the priorities are clear:

  • Establish what assistance Vanuatu needs
  • How bad the damage is
  • What New Zealand can offer in support/can we ¬†work with other nations or co-ordinate it via aid agencies

If you want to contribute to the Red Cross aid appeal for this emergency, go here.