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Militarizing for Peace in the Pacific?

April 15, 2018
US forces bomb Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor in Papua New Guinea in Nov 1943

US forces bomb Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor in Papua New Guinea in Nov 1943

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published a story by their defense and national security correspondent, David Wroe, accusing China of approaching Vanuatu and “building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific.” He further wrote that citing unnamed sources, Fairfax Media (SMH parent company) revealed that there have been “preliminary discussions between the Chinese and Vanuatu governments about a military build-up in the island nation.”

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Salwai described Fairfax Media’s report as “rather speculative and seemingly malicious in intent,” saying that they had approached China to help build a wharf and help with an upgrade with an airport, and that, “it had not been imposed by China as the development partner,” an explanation that is consistent with the administration of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Unlike the Marshall Plan or other AID agencies, there are no political preconditions to access development infrastructure loans for energy, communication, transportation, information, and other sectors.

And now, Australia is urging Britain and the other Commonwealth nations to step up their engagement in the Pacific after China’s “construction of a mammoth port,” fuels concern about “extending its naval power in the region.”

The narrative of this story parrots the same fear-mongering approach Washington uses to paint China as possessing an aggressive and militarily expansive agenda, something that China repeatedly denies. Washington’s revised Indo-Pacific Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States, was established as a means to counter China’s much more benign Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to provide Pacific Islands with win-win-win opportunities in Asian and Latin American markets.

It would be an understatement to characterize these provocations as simply a misunderstanding, as it is part of a much wider campaign for containing China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Indeed, this wider campaign not only seeks to maintain US led military hegemony in the region, but is also same reason that the Trans Pacific Partnership countries organized around a trade agenda that sought to contain and obstruct China’s growth.

Ultimately the narrative continues to undermine the potential of the Pacific region. Attempts to regionalize Pacific Island Countries and Territories are continually thwarted by the old administering powers who benefit in either keeping our island nations isolated, small, and independent, or dictating the terms of our regionalization. Either way the continual tethering of Pacific small island states to our colonial pasts have done little to assist with us reaching our economic or political potential. The old administering power’s obligation of fulfilling the Sacred Trust mandated by the United Nations when tasked with adhering to our full-development has only capitalized off of our imposed needs and disparities.

As long as the old administering powers maintain their oversized military in the region, the only kind of peace that is possible is one that is beaten into submission by an oversized economic stick of neoliberal policy. The United States still treats the Pacific Island region as if they are all territorial possessions and continues to consider the Pacific as an American Lake.

Why should we allow the old colonial administrations to continue to obstruct our opportunities with fear mongering rhetoric about China or Russia, while they continue to suck up our resources and capitalize from our so-called isolation when our very history and existence only confirms our strength and capacity to be a viable and resilient region.

The Pacific should aspire to be the region representing peace and fair and equitable development. Yet it is home to the largest military in the world. U.S. Pacific Command continues to occupy, displace, pollute, degrade and suppress one of the most fragile and impacted regions. Our Pacific is a region that is rich in culture, resources, and sacred biodiversity. If, for example, our remote island networks were accounted for as regional assets, rather than as a least developed and fragile statistic, the Pacific would likely have a much higher GDP with which we could leverage for the kind infrastructure that is relevant to our Pacific Ways.

Many of our so-called deficits and disparities should only have been treated as assets, because as island stewards, the blue continent has been our economic life and strength.  If we were working at our global capacity, we would never have allowed our region to be a nuclear testing ground, a storage facility for radioactive waste, to be polluted, depleted, and degraded. If we were equitable partners in the global community, we would never have allowed the planet to have surpassed climate limits.

China’s Belt and Road development initiative might provide us with the kind or infrastructure and development tools that we can actually use to regionalize and finally fulfill our economic and political potential in the global community.

We should learn how to better negotiate, since clearly there is something that all the global powers want: access. Access is the route to pursue real peace while asserting recognition for attaining regional self-determination.

Perhaps Pacific Island Countries may need to consider the option of hosting other countries military outposts so that the region may finally move out from under the yoke of unipolar colonialism. Militarizing the Pacific for peace is a dubious point,one that I am generally opposed to because I strongly advocate for demilitarizing the Pacific and consider any aggression in the Pacific counter to the idea of a Pacific Way. Encircled between empires, I expect the US lust for containment will eventually wain and maybe those military resources could be retooled to provide for the kind of security that we need to combat climate impacts, piracy, illegal fishing and logging, and provide us with the resources to build a regional regulatory compliance and monitoring system with coherent enforcement mechanisms.

The opportunities that the Belt and Road Initiative presents cannot be fully quantified at this time because we do not know what kind of role we will play in ocean data, ocean governance and security, regional accounting, conservation, climate policy, information technology, communication, artificial intelligence, etc… but the loss of Pacific Island equity as a result of doing nothing is tangible and estimable.

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