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7 September 2022

With Grant Wyeth

Penny Wong in PNG

Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, continued her neighbourhood outreach last week with a trip to Port Moresby, which had been delayed until after the election in Papua New Guinea (PNG). James Marape has been returned to the prime ministership, but Wong now has a new PNG counterpart, Justin Tkatchenko, who was raised in Australia and moved to PNG in his early twenties.

Tkatchenko used his meeting with Wong to enthusiastically proclaim that PNG hopes to sign a new security treaty with Australia by the end of the year. Although discussions have been ongoing since 2019, Wong was more restrained than Tkatchenko, stating that deliberations are still in their early stages.

Australia and PNG have close security ties – including the $175 million upgrade to the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island currently underway – but there has been no formal treaty between the two countries since PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975. However, the recent security agreement Solomon Islands signed with China has serious implications for Port Moresby given that Bougainville is geographically part of the Solomon Islands archipelago. Marape may see a quick formalisation of the security relationship with Australia as his safest move.

German step-up

This week will see the conclusion of Exercise Pitch Black, a three-week exercise conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in the Northern Territory that included 2500 personnel and 100 aircrafts from sixteen countries. The exercise has been a prominent display of international cooperation from a diverse range of countries, including Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exercise, which is usually biennial, has not been held since 2018.

This year, Japan, South Korea and Germany participated for the first time. While Australia’s security cooperation with Japan and South Korea has strengthened rapidly over the past decade, Germany’s participation is notable. It signals that Berlin is taking its role as a major security actor more seriously – after its understandable post–World War II reluctance to demonstrate force – and that, despite its geographic location, it sees the Indo-Pacific as the twenty-first century’s region of primary importance. Under its Indo-Pacific guidelines, the German government has made enhancing relations with Australia, India and the ASEAN states a strategic priority.

Part of Germany’s participation in Pitch Black was a demonstration of how quickly it could deploy to the region – their six fighter jets, four transport aircraft, three refuelling tankers and 250 soldiers were all in Singapore within twenty-four hours, before making the jump to Darwin. This cooperation with Australia is set to continue next year, when the German army will participate in land force exercises in Australia.

Philippines is pro-US again

Like much of South-East Asia, the Philippines takes a neutral position on the status of Taiwan. However, its ambassador to the US recently indicated that his country could allow US forces to use its military bases in any potential conflict. At a recent meeting with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken, new Philippines president Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr reaffirmed Manila’s commitment to its alliance with Washington. Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, held an instinctive distrust of the US and had threatened to end the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allowed US military personnel to operate in the Philippines – although this did not eventuate. 

The United States and the Philippines are currently in talks to increase the number of military bases in the Philippines that American forces can use. The 2014 bilateral Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries allowed the US to maintain a rotating presence at five Philippine bases.

The Philippines, whose northernmost point lies less than 200 kilometres from Taiwan, has obvious concerns that any conflict in Taiwan would threaten the free flow of goods by both sea and air into the country, but it could also play an active role in assisting any US defence of the island. An expanded US military presence in the Philippines would be a sign that Manila may no longer see neutrality over Taiwan’s status as a sustainable position.



From the current issue

A free extract from “The Ukraine War” by Sheila Fitzpatrick

“Every day we see President Zelenskyy personifying Ukrainian resistance and resilience in khaki fatigues. To almost universal surprise, his performance, and that of his country, has been brilliant since the start of the Russian invasion In the course of the war, his first name has morphed in the Western media from Russian Vladimir to Ukrainian Volodymyr, while his last name is making the same shift, from Zelensky to Zelenskyy. His attitude to the Russians has changed too. In mid-March, he indicated that he was prepared to drop Ukraine’s application to join NATO (Russia’s main demand during the lead-up to the invasion) and possibly make concessions on the breakaway regions of Eastern Ukraine. But that was when Ukraine’s speedy military defeat was regarded as inevitable. Later his rhetoric hardened, with promises to fight to the end and talk of Ukrainian victory.” continue reading


Weekly round-up

What Australia should do about Taiwan

“Canberra cannot be silent if US policy on Taiwanese independence changes. Quiet diplomacy is called for to warn against policies that recklessly risk war with China.” James Curran,australian financial review

The right tools for a coherent regional response to forced migration

“The time for reinvigoration of the Bali Process is now, before the next forced migration crisis, and, more importantly, before more people seeking asylum lose their lives.” Caitlin McCaffrie,the interpreter (lowy institute)

UN report on Xinjiang abuses leaves no room for plausible deniability

“The UN report calls on the Chinese government to release those who have been arbitrarily detained, and to investigate the allegations of human rights violations. This is like asking a fox to guard the hen house. What is needed is international action and pressure to force change.” Justine Nolan,the conversation


Sogavare is playing Australia for a sucker

“It’s time for the friends of Solomon Islands to engage with its people, its opposition figures in parliament and the provinces, its institutions and its leaders who believe in its constitution and its people’s freedoms. This list doesn’t include Sogavare and his set of purchased MPs.” Michael Shoebridge,the strategist (aspi)

Coup leader v coup leader – strongman election shows cracks in Fiji’s democracy

“If Fiji was on a path to democracy, one might accept this dominance of coup-turned-political leaders as a necessary transition, a price to be paid to return Fiji to liberal democratic ways. If only this were the case.” Sadhana Sen & Stephen Howes,the guardian australia

new from black inc books

Safety Net

Daniel Mulino

Economist and Labor MP Daniel Mulino explains how the Australian welfare state was created – and what we need to do to protect and extend it.

The welfare state is one of the crowning achievements of the twentieth century, giving citizens access to healthcare, pensions, disability and unemployment benefits. This unprecedented expansion of the state was a product of the postwar period of the late 1940s, when governments ramped up investment in this grand safety net. By the 1970s, half of all government spending went towards social-welfare programs, but today the welfare state stands at a crossroads, beset both by political opposition and funding pressures as the population ages.

Australian Labor Party MP Daniel Mulino provides a sweeping account of the history of welfare in Australia and abroad, from Bismarckian Germany to present-day Canberra. In this deeply researched and lucid account, Mulino looks to the challenges facing today’s welfare state and reflects on what steps must be taken to protect and extend more



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