3 Key Pacific Island Nations Under Duress From China’s Malign Influence Campaign

Commentary

In the deterrence geography of the Western Pacific, the “Second Island Chain” is crucial for American and Allied forces to stage, base, and generate capabilities to deter or defeat any Chinese overt invasion of Taiwan or seizure of Philippine territory.

This Second Island Chain starts at the bottom left with the Republic of Palau, followed by the Federated States of Micronesia and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Communist China seems to be attempting a Clausewitzian “Double Envelopment” of this chain of islands by applying malign campaigns against each end. On top of the Second Island Chain, Chinese nationals have exploited a visa-free entry process, as identified by Pacific Islands expert Cleo Paskal.
Perhaps even more concerning is the Chinese end around the bottom of the Second Island Chain. Starting with Palau, the Chinese regime seems to be attempting a “three-fer” by actively destabilizing the internal governance of the country. Drawing a line from Palau, almost perpendicular to the Second Island Chain, China has continued, much like Japan in the Second World War, and has now consolidated and isolated the Solomon Islands, and then where the Japanese weren’t able to seize in World War II, violent unrest has erupted in French New Caledonia.

Palau President Expresses Grave Concern, Seeks Help

Last month in Tokyo, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. told Reuters how the Chinese regime is destabilizing his country. Palau has remained steadfast in its recognition of Taiwan, which has drawn the ire of Chinese influence operations.
According to Mr. Whipps, the regime has broken into the networks of the Palau government and stolen 20,000 documents. He also expects that Beijing will focus on manipulating the national election that will be held later this year. Ambassador Nathaniel Fike is the cyber ambassador at the U.S. State Department and is the lead for rendering cyber Support in such situations.
Palau is one of the smallest countries in the world. At a population of only 18,000, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, has a larger population. Palau’s small area is nestled in the bottom right of the Philippines and just above the Indonesian archipelago. Palau has become a focus of the U.S. Pacific Deterrence Initiative with the construction of a powerful, Tactical Mobile Over-The-Horizon Radar, which can see deep into China. A local lawsuit was filed to challenge this radar last year. More recently, a larger American presence was announced last month with the building of an air base and expanding the U.S. naval base facilities.

Solomon Islands Teetering on Edge of Falling Behind Chinese Iron Curtain

The Solomon Islands has been experiencing a disturbing trend started under the previous administration of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who had signed a pact with Bejing for “police training” in the wake of violent protests by citizens against his government for his closeness with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The police training scenario was eerily similar to the Hong Kong strategy Beijing exercised by infiltrating heavily armed paramilitary police into Hong Kong, replacing the traditional Hong Kong Police forces.

Mr. Sogavare had also begun to block entry of naval and coast guard visits by the United States, appearing to close the gates of the Solomons to the outside world while the Chinese presence grew.
The United States has one-third of an ambassador in the Solomons but promises a full U.S. Embassy and ambassador by possibly 2025.
The new prime minister of the Solomons, Jeremiah Manele, is reportedly pro-CCP and has stated an intent to revisit the Chinese concessions made by Mr. Sogavare, who is now the finance minister—a key position that can influence the policy and spending of the new Solomons government.

French New Caledonia in Turmoil

Completing the “three-fer” flanking the bottom of the Second Island Chain is the obscure and rarely heard from French New Caledonia, a French possession from colonial days that has suddenly broken out in violent upheaval.

Russia and Azerbaijan have been connected to stoking the simmering tensions remotely via cyber methods. With similar violence occurring in Haiti (coincidentally one of the few countries that rejects the Chinese regime and maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan), the Bahamas, and other places, connecting the sudden flare-up of violence in French New Caledonia with the Chinese-led “no limits partnership” campaign to topple American leadership is not an unreasonable concern.
The Chinese sweep around the bottom or left flank of the Second Island Chain appears to be playing out. This campaign has the added feature of not only threatening U.S. efforts in the Second Island Chain but also cutting off Australia from the United States.

Noted China expert Bradley Thayer told this author the following: “In World War II, the Japanese attempted to cut the SLOC [sea line of communication] between the U.S. and Australia/New Zealand. Thankfully, they were stopped. Today, the People’s Republic of China is attempting to achieve the same strategic end through different means. So far, they have been successful at gaining influence with these governments and thus providing a foundation for triumphing where the Japanese failed. The PRC’s actions must be reversed immediately.”

All viewpoints are personal and do not reflect the viewpoints of any organization.

This article first appeared in Epoch Times and was reprinted with permission.

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COL (Ret) John Mills has significantly shaped U.S. national security policy over four decades, serving in roles from the Cold War through the era of Great Power Competition. His career includes multiple combat tours, senior civilian positions at the Department of Defense, and strategic duties with the National Security Council in two administrations. Additionally, he is associated with the Center for Security Policy, Committee on Present Danger China, and Spectrum Consulting Group, and is an adjunct professor and founder of the National Election Integrity Association.

You can email John Mills here, and read more of John Mills's articles here.

 

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