Pacific News Minute

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A new book out in Australia reports that 22 Australian nurses were raped by Japanese troops before they were machine gunned in February, 1942. The book also says that Australian officials gagged the sole survivor of the massacre.

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37 world leaders gather in Beijing this week for a Belt and Road Summit. Addressing concerns about China’s goals, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters last week that the huge infrastructure project is not a “geopolitical tool.” But China’s economic clout inevitably builds political influence.

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart / U.S. Navy

USS Fitzgerald has left dry dock at a shipyard in Mississippi, almost two years after the guided missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan. That was one of four accidents in the Pacific Fleet in 2017 that cost the lives of 17 sailors.

JJ Harrison / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The Guardian reports that Australia has been accused of siphoning as much as two million dollars a week in oil revenues from its impoverished neighbor Timor-Leste.

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Indonesia’s restive provinces in West Papua are not expected to factor heavily in this week’s national elections, but while most eyes will focus on results for President, vice president and the legislature, Papuan advocates are trying to get their issues into public view.

PAC Tom Sperduto / U.S. Coast Guard

On Monday, a U.S. Navy Destroyer and a Coast Guard Cutter made a transit of the Taiwan Strait. That’s the fifth time in the past six months that American warships have made the controversial passage between Taiwan and mainland China, but the first time that the Coast Guard has been involved.

Jd.girard / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

For years now, France and Vanuatu have been working to resolve a border dispute over two tiny uninhabited islands but what appeared to be quiet diplomacy has blown up over the last few weeks.

Open Clip Art

You may have heard that President Rodrigo Duterte has suggested a name change for the Philippines. In a speech last month, Duterte denounced his country’s name as a relic of colonization and proposed “Maharlika” instead. He may have to amend the constitution to do it, but another country in the Asia-Pacific appears closer to a name change.

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Australia and Papua New Guinea have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a joint naval base on Manus Island. The United States has also agreed to participate in what’s described as part of the effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Lencer / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Six weeks after a ship grounded on a reef in the southern Solomon Islands, salvers have finally managed to stop an oil leak that threatens a UNESCO World Heritage site. At least 60 tons of heavy fuel oil gushed into the water off Rennell Island in what is being described as the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history.

United Nations

The United Nations kicked off a series of public meetings in Bougainville this week to inform people about the upcoming referendum on independence. That vote, originally scheduled for June, has been postponed to October to allow more time to explain the procedure and what happens afterwards.

Kimdime / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Over the past few months, fighting has escalated in a remote part of West Papua. Last December, the West Papua Liberation Army massacred at least 16 construction workers; the Indonesian government sent in a strong force of troops and police, but violence continues.

Martin Falbisoner / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Australia’s ABC reports that two senior members of the National Security Council made a rare visit to the Pacific last week, with stops in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The trip is seen as the latest sign that the United States plans to challenge China’s growing influence.

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Scientists in Australia have dated a set of ancient tattoo chisels to the dawn of Polynesian culture, 2,700 years ago. The tools were found in Tonga Tapu, and the scientists say that suggests that tattooing began in Tonga and Samoa, and then spread to the rest of the Polynesian Triangle, including Hawaii.

Christian Haugen / Creative Commons / Flickr

Both Australia and New Zealand have revamped their Pacific policies this past year, partly to counteract China’s growing influence, and partly to address the inevitable effects of climate change. New Zealand’s foreign minister and a former Australian prime minister offered proposals for low-lying island countries recently.

Pacific Air Forces / Creative Commons / Flickr

The Australian International Air Show wrapped up on Sunday at Avalon Airport outside of Melbourne, and featured fly-bys of Australia’s newest military planes including the F-35A fighter, and one of its oldest.

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The governments of Fiji and Vanuatu are having second thoughts about projects funded by China. In Port Vila, the National Convention Center appears to be a white elephant, while Fiji is considering charges against a Chinese resort developer.

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Denny Tamaki, the governor of Okinawa, plans to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as soon as this Friday, to present him with the results of this past weekend’s referendum. 72-percent on Okinawa voted against a long-standing plan to relocate a U.S. Marine air base. The referendum is non-binding, but the decision to go ahead with construction may have repercussions.

cincomomo / Flickr

As you’ve probably heard, there are outbreaks of measles reported in several states and the World Health Organization reports cases up 30 percent worldwide since 2016. According to the WHO, measles killed 110,000 people in 2017, most of them children under five. Two countries in the Asia Pacific are struggling with outbreaks.

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A court in Sydney, Australia issued a decision this week in a notorious case that’s gripped Malaysia for more than a decade. A case that involves murder, allegations of espionage and corruption at the highest levels.

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Canada’s relations with China have sunk to a new low following the arrest of a senior executive of the telecom giant Huawei. Two Canadians have been arrested in China and another sentenced to death. Now, New Zealand is worried about its relations with China, though the signals are not entirely clear.

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Australia appears to be the latest target of politically motivated cyber attacks. Foreign governments have been identified in previous attacks on France, Britain, Germany and the United States; now Australia’s prime minister blamed a “sophisticated state actor” for attacks on the networks of the country’s major political parties.

U.S. Navy

In wide-ranging testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, Admiral Phil Davidson assessed the threats from North Korea and China. The head of Indo-Pacific Command also said the U.S. will maintain the pace of its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

U.S. Navy

The wreck of USS Hornet has been found in the Solomon Islands. A research vessel funded by the late billionaire Paul Allen located the famous ship under 17, 500 feet of water at the bottom of the South Pacific. 

NASA / Youtube

Two years ago, we reported on a new island in the South Pacific that reminded scientists at NASA of volcanoes on Mars. One of those scientists got an unexpected chance to visit in person and found the four-year-old island teeming with life.

Lachlan Fearnley / Wikimedia Commons

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.

TUBS / Wikimedia Commons

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.

DIAC Images / Flickr

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.

PCOO EDP / Wikimedia Commons

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.