Pacific News Minute

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In the latest step in its campaign to limit Chinese influence, the Australian government barred a wealthy Chinese businessman and political donor from re-entering the country. Huang Xiangmo has given millions to all of Australia’s major parties as part of a campaign to build support for Beijing.

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Authorities in Papua New Guinea are hunting a notorious outlaw whose been leading attacks on police in Milne Bay province. Following a prison escape, Tommy Baker has been blamed for armed robberies, piracy and murder but some blame the local police.

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Two recent awards highlight Australia’s notorious off shore detention camps. A Kurdish journalist has won Australia’s richest literary prize for a book he wrote on his cell phone from Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and an Australian doctor won a freedom of speech award after blowing the whistle on the willful neglect of refugees at another camp in Nauru.

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The armed forces of the Philippines launched air strikes and artillery attacks after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered “all-out war” against an Islamic group blamed for last Sunday’s bombing of a cathedral. Now two people are reported killed in a grenade attack on a mosque.

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One of the most prominent of the so-called “Comfort Women” died in South Korea on Monday at the age of 92. Kim Bok-dong was forced to work as a sex slave for the Japanese military during the Second World War and spent the last 27 years of her life as a tireless campaigner for reparations and apologies.

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You may have heard on the news that the United States filed charges yesterday against the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and its Chief Financial Officer. Tomorrow, the two countries start high stakes negotiations on the on-going trade war. And both the U.S. and China continue military displays in the Western Pacific.

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Last year, Chinese media started to censor images of tattoos; now the Chinese version of Netflix has started to blur out earrings worn by men. It’s part of a campaign to make media images of masculinity conform to government standards.

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After three hours of talks in Moscow yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made no progress on the long running territorial dispute over four islands north of Hokkaido. While the two sides agreed to keep talking, a breakthrough looks as distant as ever.

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has just wrapped up an historic three day visit to Pacific neighbors Vanuatu and Fiji. Australia’s been pushing what it calls a Pacific “step up” to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

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Yesterday, the Catholic Church in Guam filed for bankruptcy. The assets of the archdiocese will go to pay off more than 200 victims in the child sex abuse and cover-up scandal that erupted three years ago.

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The U.S. Chief of Naval Operations has been in Beijing this week for meetings with his Chinese counterpart. After a near collision between U.S. and Chinese warships in the South China Sea last September, a Navy release said that Admiral John Richardson and Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong discussed ways to reduce the risks of interactions at sea. China has also deployed a new missile – known as the “carrier killer.”

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Sad news from Vanuatu, of the death last week of Mungau Dain. Two years ago, the young star of the film “Tanna” was headed to Hollywood to celebrate the film’s Oscar nomination.

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley / U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy tested a hyper velocity projectile in Hawaiian waters last summer. A report from USNI News says the destroyer USS Dewey fired 20 of the experimental rounds from the barrel of its deck gun during the RIMPAC naval exercises.

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You’ve probably heard warnings about box jellyfish that swarm off Hawaii beaches from time to time, but there’s a different species of box jellyfish now in the waters off Australia with venom 100 times more powerful than a cobra.

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Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with China. In response, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that was “impossible.”

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Indonesian officials report continued volcanic activity at Anak Krakatau, where an eruption triggered a deadly tsunami in December.  More than 400 people were reported killed on the neighboring islands of Sumatra and Java and aircraft are being rerouted around ash plumes as high as 35,000 feet. But that’s not the only volcano causing problems in the Pacific.

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Diplomatic tensions between Japan and South Korea are rising again, after South Korean courts allowed lawsuits to proceed against Japanese companies, seeking compensation for forced labor during the Second World War. Japan argues that these issues were resolved in the 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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Elections are scheduled in Australia and New Caledonia this year. The people of Bougainville will decide whether they want to remain part of Papua New Guinea. And the most prominent opposition politician in French Polynesia faces trial. Neal Conan takes a look at the year ahead in the Pacific.

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Japan’s decision to leave the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling drew swift criticism from conservation groups, and some said Japan is now a “pirate nation.”

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The volcano blamed for the tsunami that killed hundreds in Java and Sumatra this week is Anak Krakatau. The name translates as child of Krakatau - an island also known as Krakatoa, and the source of a titanic explosion in 1883.

Kimdime / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The government of Indonesia denounces a report that it used chemical weapons in West Papua as "baseless, not factual and totally misleading." A story in Australia's Saturday Paper said that Indonesian forces attacked villagers with white phosphorous weapons, and published a picture of a man with severe burns on his leg.

Airman Eugene Oliver / U.S. Air Force

This week, Vanuatu started a trial program that uses drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas. An estimated 20 percent of the country’s children go without vaccines because their homes are just too difficult to get to.

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As recently as last month, Japan and Russia appeared to be making progress on a long-standing dispute over four islands, with an outside chance of an agreement as soon as next month. On Monday, Moscow announced the construction of new military barracks on two of the islands and on Tuesday, Tokyo announced a protest.

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A Samoan man has been arrested in New Zealand on charges of slavery and people trafficking. While there have been a few prosecutions over the last few years for exploitation of migrant workers, an immigration official described this case as “A new low for New Zealand.”

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A long running corruption case in Papua New Guinea may have concluded this week, when all charges against the lawyer at the center of the scandal were dropped. The case also involved Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and other government officials.

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A C-130 named after General Douglas MacArthur carried a part of the Philippines’ history home this week. The United States returned three bells seized as war booty in 1901 in a ceremony broadcast live on Philippine television.

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The tiny South Pacific nation of Niue has filed suit in Stockholm, claiming that one of Sweden’s biggest internet companies took over its domain name without permission.

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The government of Vanuatu survived a motion of no confidence in parliament this week, but the vote revived some unhappy memories.

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At least 24 people have been killed in one of the worst outbreaks of violence in West Papua in many years. Indonesian officials described those killed as construction workers, the rebel group that took responsibility for the attack says they were Indonesian troops disguised as civilians.

Government of Kiribati / Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after a ferry disaster cost the lives of at least 80 people in Kiribati last January, the government appointed a commission of inquiry, but the government refuses to release the commission’s report.

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