Pacific News Minute

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When the APEC Summit failed to agree on what’s usually a routine final statement over the weekend, much of the blame was leveled at differences between the United States and China on trade. But the two great powers were competing on many levels.

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This year’s midterm elections justified pre-poll hype as the year of the woman. A record number of female candidates have been elected to the House of Representatives and at least nine won their races for governor.

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne is in Beijing on an official visit that appears to mark a thaw in relations between the Asia-Pacific powers.

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On Sunday, voters in New Caledonia rejected independence and the territory will remain part of France. At least for now. French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe has asked leaders from the South Pacific territory to gather in Paris next month to chart the way ahead.

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On Sunday, voters in New Caledonia will be asked if they want to assume full sovereignty and become independent; a “no” vote means they will remain part of France.

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A scathing analysis of this year’s general elections in Papua New Guinea found widespread fraud, intimidation and violence. 204 people died, and hundreds more were seriously injured or maimed.

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A court in France found irregularities in the finances of French Polynesia’s major pro-independence party and stripped its leader of his seat in the territorial assembly for a year. The party claims he’s been targeted because of his anti-nuclear activism.

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As you’ve heard on NPR, President Trump announced plans this week to withdraw from a nuclear weapons treaty that President Ronald Reagan signed with the Soviet Union in 1987. One argument is that China is not party to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Agreement, and, according to the New York Times, 95 percent of its rapidly growing arsenal of missiles falls into the intermediate range category. The U.S. may want to deploy equivalent missiles of its own to deter China, or to provide leverage for a new treaty, but it’s far from clear which, if any of the U.S. Allies in the western Pacific would agree to host them. In the meantime, there’s news of a previous effort to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific – in Vietnam in 1968.

U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program /

Yesterday, we reported that an election result in Australia over the weekend may have broken the deadlock on the transfer of at least some refugees held in notorious camps in Nauru, but now that compromise has run into snags. Meanwhile, a second set of migrants held on Manus Island lost a case in court.

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Over the weekend, voters in a parliamentary district outside Sydney handed the government a stinging defeat. The loss of the once safe seat will force some important changes in Canberra, including Australia’s controversial refugee policy.

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As you may have heard, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said this week that he’s considering moving Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The controversial proposal may be more about the suburbs of Sydney than the Middle East.

United Nations

Another referendum on independence will be held in the South Pacific, this one on the island of Bougainville, It’s tentatively scheduled for next June, when voters will be asked if they prefer more autonomy from the central government of Papua New Guinea, or full independence.

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40 custom- built Maseratis arrived in Port Moresby on two charted 747s late last week – the luxury cars were bought by the government of Papua New Guinea to serve as VIP transport during next month’s APEC summit and the splurge has attracted criticism.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Indonesia earlier today to attend the annual ASEAN summit. He left rumors of serious health problems swirling in Manila, but the controversial leader does have one serious problem for sure – the economy.

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With the referendum on independence less than a month away in New Caledonia, preparations are underway for the vote. Officially, the campaign begins on October 22, but it really started 40 years ago.

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As you’ve heard on NPR this week, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued dire warnings of extreme weather, rising sea levels, food shortages and climate migration unless urgent and unprecedented economic measures hold the average temperature rise under 1.5℃ – a goal many scientists believe is already out of reach. 

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RNZ Pacific has obtained documents that detail the run-up to the military coup in Fiji in 2006. Then Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power. Now Prime Minister, his Fiji First party is favored to win Fiji’s second post-coup election next month.

U.S. Navy

More details are emerging about the near collision between U.S. and Chinese destroyers last Sunday morning in the South China Sea. Images released by the U.S. Navy appear to show the Chinese warship pulling in front of USS Decatur, which veered off to avoid a crash.

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Late last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a statement that some interpret as an admission of extrajudicial killings under his administration.

Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michelle R. Hammond / U.S. Navy

Over the summer, Australia moved to block the development of potential Chinese military facilities in Fiji and Vanuatu; now media reports say that Australia will build a naval base of its own in a Pacific Island nation.

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“Tongasat” may never gain the renown of “Watergate” or “Iran-Contra,” but the scandal in the tiny Pacific kingdom involves 50 million dollars in Chinese funds, a princess and now the government wants to sue two former prime ministers.

Indonesian Consulate General Osaka / Facebook

We’re just learning this week about an Indonesian teenager who survived 49 days adrift in the Pacific. The 18-year-old returned home earlier this month after he was picked up by a passing ship near Guam, about 1,200 miles from home.

PO2 Nathan Burke / U.S. Navy

As the big Russian military exercise in its far east wraps up, the United States has started air and naval maneuvers off Guam and the Northern Marianas, and Japan conducted war games in the South China Sea.

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Australia is still recovering from last month’s political crisis, where the Liberal party ousted Malcolm Turnbull as its leader – which meant he also lost his job as Prime Minister. It turns out, that one of his last acts in office, was to outmaneuver China on a military base in Fiji.

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Last week, while Nauru hosted the annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum, the government suffered an important legal setback. A judge dismissed all charges in the long-running case of the so-called “Nauru 19” and issued a scathing condemnation of the government.

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Two women were publicly caned in a Sharia court in Malaysia this week, the latest in a series of homophobic incidents there.

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While on a diplomatic visit to the Middle East, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte moved against two prominent critics back home. Duterte ordered the arrest of an opposition Senator and the deportation of an Australian nun and human rights campaigner. 

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At a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Brazil today, Japan will propose a series of changes to effectively lift the worldwide ban on commercial whaling. The moratorium took effect in 1985.


Next week, leaders from around the Pacific will gather for the annual Pacific Islands Forum Summit, to be held this year in the tiny island nation of Nauru.

They’re scheduled to discuss security, economic co-operation and disaster response, among many other issues, but inevitably, considerable attention will be focused on the host nation. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

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The United States, Mexico, and Canada aren’t the only neighbors working on Free Trade Agreements. Just a few days after taking office, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will travel to Indonesia this week to announce what’s being described as an historic deal.