Are Pacific nations setting themselves up as US ‘pawn sacrifices’?

May 10, 2023
Symbols of the flags of the world on the chessboard. The concept of political game.

Being led by the nose by warmed-over former colonies like the US, Australia and India to fight a country thousands of miles away is neither smart diplomacy nor smart foreign policy.

In war games, Beijing’s missiles and rockets cascade down on Taiwan and on U.S. forces as far away as Japan and Guam. Initial casualties include hundreds, possibly thousands, of  US troops. Taiwan’s and China’s losses are even higher.

It is obvious that the US strategy in the maintenance of its global hegemony is the resort to proxies to fight its wars.

In Europe, the US proxy against its enemy Russia is Nato. In Asia Pacific, it is Australia, Japan, South Korea, and now the Philippines recently conscripted against China which Biden sees as the biggest threat to US hegemony and in a position to “eat our lunch”.

Are the Pacific island countries the newest proxies being recruited for the US anticipated war with China?

Recent news of the coming ‘historic future-oriented’ meeting supposedly of the world’s foremost superpowers with Pacific Island leaders in Port Moresby announced by PNG prime minister, James Marape, points to this development.

China, prominently missing from the meeting, is clearly the target for Biden and Modi, the two non-Pacific Island special guests.

At the meeting, Biden will be the principal snake oil salesman arriving in a bulletproof limousine after emerging from the belly of a winged, shiny monster from the sky – the Melanesian cargo cult dream come true. At Biden’s side, Modi, envious of India’s inability to match China’s progress, will be keen to show how much he values the US relationship in countering China whilst touting India as the democratic role model for the island nations.

Besides assurance of the US ‘defence’ of peace and security in the Pacific, Biden is expected to ink a ‘defence’ cooperation agreement between the US and PNG that lays the groundwork for closer military ties between the two nations.

Proxies Galore

The attending island leaders are a mixed bag. There is Marape, host-in-chief, hardly a great foreign policy mind, a lightweight who considers himself a heavyweight. Fiame Mata’afa, of distinguished Samoan lineage. with wide experience in government over many years, maybe likely to buy into Biden’s sales pitch. Sogavare, PM of the Solomons, is smart and known to be smart. He is not likely to be mesmerised by Biden or Modi. He is likely to be measured and calculating – the interests of Solomon islanders honed by formal education and wide experience in the trench warfare of domestic affairs will come into play.

There is pro-independence Louis Mapou, President of New Caledonia, sharp and time-tested. Kalsakau, PM of Vanuatu, is not likely to be easily carried away by Biden’s banter or Modi’s sweet talk. He is likely to listen politely and seek wiser counsel from his colleagues at home.

Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji, just elected with a razor-thin margin, is the proverbial man for all seasons, with a face for every occasion. Like his host, Rabuka is no foreign policy heavyweight. His is not a polished mind sharpened by wide reading. Coup leader extraordinaire: he’s that and not much else.

Will he be bought by the promises of ‘small gifts and silly privileges’ that Biden will be bringing? There is room for him to manoeuvre and be all things to all people. It is not as if the people of Fiji have much of an inkling about foreign policy issues. Fiji, like most of the islands of the Pacific, is not a nation-state in which foreign policy issues loom large in domestic politics.

As for the rest – Kun (Nauru), Fritch (French Polynesia), Nakano (Tuvalu), Brown (Cook Islands), Kabua (Marshalls), Panuelo (FSM), Maamau (Kiribati), Tagelagi (Niue), Whipps (Palau), Sovaleni (Tonga) – will they be looking for their share of the billions in foreign aid that Biden committed to Marshall Islands, Palau, and Micronesia in March.

Australia with its recent bilateral security treaty with PNG will be more than just an interested party. It may already be playing a backroom role in the meeting preparation. Australian PM, Albanese, and Penny Wong will undoubtedly be briefed by ASIO on the ‘historic’ event, as also Hipkins, PM of New Zealand

What will the world see over Pacific and Australian TV?

Monday, May 22 will be a big day for the island leaders decked out in jackets and ties, a few in colourful island shirts. There will be some who are likely to be dressed in traditional feathers, fully plumed with face paint. What this colourful gathering do in the meeting will not be readily visible. As is customary there will be diplomatic communiques garbed in layers of ambiguity but there is no mistaking that Biden and Modi have China as the enemy in mind for the Pacific community. Of one thing we can be certain: the gullibility of island leaders is on trial here.

If Pacific nations are setting themselves up as US and Australian pawn sacrifices, they need to be fully aware of their position in the US and Australian war chessboard.

Where Does the Pacific Stand in Any US Precipitated War

Pacific island states and their leaders have in all likelihood NOT done any independent analysis of the repercussions of a US war with China. Island states do not have the intelligence capability to do independent assessments. They rely for the most part on what ‘intelligence’ that Australia and its regional five eyes partners – now including QUAD and India – selectively feed them. Information/Intelligence asymmetry is a cornerstone of the relationship between the islands and their metropolitan counterparts.

In any US-instigated war with China, all bets are off for all parties within a very large geographic area pretty much without boundaries. This includes the islands of the Pacific with their vast maritime jurisdictions under UNCLOS III. Island leaders and their people must wake up to the reality of intended and unintended consequences that will not just imperil their security but is also likely to eviscerate their present life already ravaged by global climate change.

In the calculus of the US and its allies, when push comes to shove, the islands and islanders are dispensable. A nuclear war with China engineered by the US and supported by supine nations like Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, and the Philippines will have horrific consequences for the Pacific islands.

This huge matter of war and peace is not a time for island leaders to be thinking of making friends or creating enemies. This is a time to do some brutal thinking about protecting the vital life and death interests of island states and their people. Time to think and act on protecting the long-term, intergenerational interests of their people. The Public Trust Doctrine provides useful guidelines for island leaders to focus on in Port Moresby.

Being led by the nose by warmed-over former colonies like Australia and India to fight a country thousands of miles away is neither smart diplomacy nor smart foreign policy.

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