Progress in WESTPAC, Just in Time
we're not entitled to anything. we have to earn & maintain
While there are a lot of things demanding our attention in the national security arena - as there always is - for the USA and our closest allies in the southwest Pacific, Australian, and New Zealand, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the last two decades stole a march on us as we were distracted elsewhere as they moved to create a new international order in the Pacific with PRC characteristics.
The Washington Post has an extensive, and most welcome, expose by Michael E. Miller and Matthew Abbott on what is going on in Fiji specifically, but the area in general since 2011.
You need to read it all - but it starts off with a nice image of what that new order would look like;
When four Chinese detectives breezed into police headquarters here in the middle of 2017, it quickly became apparent they weren’t in Fiji’s capital merely to help with an inquiry. Instead, the officers planned to carry out the investigation — into Chinese nationals suspected of running internet scams from the South Pacific island — pretty much as if they were back in China.
“Everything was done by them,” said a former Fijian police officer who was in the Suva headquarters at the time, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly. “Fiji police was only there to assist in the arrest, nothing else. All the statements, recordings and the uplifting of all exhibits was done by the Chinese.”
The case was a harbinger of China’s ambitions in the wider Pacific as well as its willingness to conduct investigations and project its police powers overseas, sometimes with little regard for local authorities. But the case also became a catalyst for Fiji to stand up to Beijing and assert its sovereignty.
Weeks after the initial four landed in Fiji, scores more Chinese police officers arrived on the island, and 77 suspects, many of them young women, were marched in handcuffs and hoods across the tarmac at a local airport before being flown to China. None was given an extradition hearing. There was no proper documentation, no Interpol involvement, the former Fijian officer said.
“They just came in and did what they wanted,” added another, more senior former officer.
How did it get to this point?
The police cooperation between China and Fiji that began in 2011 with the six-page MOU would continue for more than a decade. More than 100 Fijian police officers would train or study in cities across China. Almost two dozen Chinese officers would make the opposite journey, embedding in the Fijian police force for months at a time.
The police agreement provided a blueprint for China to grow its security presence 5,600 miles away in Fiji — from the soft power of people-to-people exchanges to the hard power of arrests, extrajudicial deportations and the transfer of high-tech equipment such as closed-circuit cameras, surveillance gear and drones.
The MOU would also serve as a template for other Chinese efforts in the Pacific. Beijing last year tried — but failed — to forge a sweeping security pact with 10 Pacific island nations.
They like this template and setbacks or not, they will keep it up.
There is some good news - and a reminder why we should support as much as possible healthy democratic systems. More often than not healthy democratic systems are a bulwark against tyranny from within or from the outside - even if there is a coup now and then getting in the way.
Hey, humans are human.
“We were so weak, we wanted to befriend them so badly,” he said, “that we turned a blind eye to a lot of the bad things going on.”
When Fisi Nasario was offered the chance to study in China, the Fijian police officer felt he couldn’t refuse. Nasario normally couldn’t afford to do a master’s degree in Fiji, let alone abroad. But Beijing was offering to pay for his travel, tuition and expenses for two years. He would return home to a promotion and a raise. It was all the result of the policing agreement with China.
Fiji was an international outcast when it inked the MOU in April 2011. The United States, Australia and New Zealand had imposed sanctions after Bainimarama staged an armed takeover five years earlier.
Isolated by traditional allies, Bainimarama turned to a country that didn’t care about his coup: China. (Rabuka also seized power in a coup in 1987, for which he later apologized.)
Like it or not, the USA, Australia and New Zealand helped create these conditions through neglect born of entitlement and no small dose of arrogance. The collective “we” seem to be getting better, a bit.
The people on the receiving end of the PRC’s “friendship” seem to be getting smarter as well … at least some of their political parties are;
Inia Seruiratu, who was Fiji’s minister for defense, national security and policing from 2018 to 2022 and is now the opposition leader, denied that Chinese equipment had been used to spy on Fijians.
“Surveillance? They were providing us with musical instruments,” he scoffed, calling suggestions otherwise a “conspiracy theory.”
The specter of Chinese surveillance resurfaced last year when Beijing pushed a sweeping pact with 10 Pacific island nations that would have given China influence over policing, customs, cybersecurity, communications, deep-sea mining and more.
“It was what I would describe as a grand strategic proposal, seeking to integrate political, economic and security initiatives across a key group of Pacific islands,” said Connolly, the Australian analyst.
But the pact fell apart after David Panuelo, then the president of the Federated States of Micronesia, penned a letter to fellow Pacific leaders warning that the agreement was a “smokescreen” for China taking “control.”
“When you go into an agreement like that, you basically give up your sovereignty,” he told The Post in February, a month before losing reelection.
Panuelo later said he’d been followed around Suva by two men from the Chinese Embassy during a summit last year.
Rabuka said that showed he’d been right to stop the police agreement.
“Who else are they surveilling?” asked Pio Tikoduadua, Fiji’s home affairs minister, who oversees the nation’s police and army. “When I meet the Chinese ambassador, I’m going to tell him, ‘Are you looking at me, too?’”
Everyone is playing catch-up, but it’s not too late;
Australia has been shoring up its own security ties to Pacific island nations in recent months, striking a status-of-forces agreement with Fiji, a security deal with Vanuatu and closer ties to Kiribati. Negotiations continue on a security deal with Papua New Guinea, with which the United States recently struck a similar agreement.
The Australian Federal Police agency is reportedly expanding its presence in the region. New Zealand recently signed its own defense agreement with Fiji.
The contest shows little sign of easing. Two weeks after Rabuka’s announcement, officials from the U.S. Embassy visited the Fiji police force to offer training.
“There’s a whole lot of interest now in the Pacific,” said Tikoduadua. “It’s like the new space to conquer. We were all asleep, then all of a sudden these people are parked in our neighborhood.”
The game is afoot people.