Pacific News Minute

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Ahead of the resumption of  denuclearization talks between North Korea and The United States this weekend, North Korea test-fired a new submarine launched missile yesterday.

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Still under pressure from student demonstrators protesting Indonesia’s proposed new criminal code, President Joko Widodo dropped a political bombshell yesterday when he told reporters he would be willing to meet with pro-independence leaders in West Papua.

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Last month, two Pacific island nations switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The decisions squeezed Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic space, but they’ve also had repercussions in Kiribati and The Solomon Islands.

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At least 26 people have been killed after violence erupted again in restive West Papua. The worst incident came after rumors that a high school teacher from another part of Indonesia insulted an indigenous student with a racial slur.

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Last week, we reported that Solomon Islands had abandoned a 36-year diplomatic relationship with Taiwan to switch allegiance to Beijing. Now, Taiwan’s dwindling international space has been squeezed even tighter, as Kiribati has also recognized Beijing. 

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The Kingdom of Tonga is mourning the loss of Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva, who died of pneumonia in a hospital in New Zealand late last week. His body was returned to Tonga by a New Zealand Air Force plane and will be buried in a state funeral later this week.

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China’s unremitting diplomatic push to isolate Taiwan has convinced another country to switch sides. Solomon Islands announced its decision to sever a 36-year relationship with Taiwan yesterday.

Voice of America / Iris Tong

For many years, a tiny bookstore in Hong Kong sold dissident and sometimes gossipy biographies of Communist party leaders and un-official histories of events like the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Causeway Bay Books became a symbol of Hong Kong’s liberties, and, four years ago, the disappearance of five staff members set off alarm bells. Now, the shop’s founder has moved to Taiwan and vows to re-open his bookstore.

Aziz Abdul via AP

After more than six years, it looks like Australia’s notorious detention center on PNG’s Manus Island will be closed later this month. Almost all of the remaining 350 migrants have been relocated to Port Moresby, some awaiting resettlement to the United States.

AP Photo/Beawiharta

At least ten people are reported dead and dozens arrested as political unrest continues in West Papua. Indonesia blames pro-independence groups for the violence, and has banned further protests.


Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will contribute forces to the American-led effort to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. Skirmishes between U.S. and Iranian forces and the Iranian seizure of a British-flagged tanker have escalated tensions in the strategic waterway, which is used to transport about a third of the world’s oil supplies. The decision comes as an Australian think tank raised serious doubts about Australia’s reliance on the U.S. to guarantee its security.

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The Jakarta Post reports that Indonesian President Joko Widodo will visit restive West Papua next week after violent protests there on Monday. Demonstrations erupted on news that Papuan students in Java had been subjected to racial abuse and arrest over the weekend.

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After marathon negotiations late last week, Australia succeeded in watering down references to climate change in the final communique of the summit of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. But the victory came at a price.

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Radio New Zealand reports that Australia has persuaded members of the Pacific Islands Forum to water down references to climate change in the summit meetings final communique. The phrase “climate crisis” has been removed, along with a commitment to phase out coal. While climate change dominated the meeting, other issues came up as well.

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As expected, climate change has taken center stage as the annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum gets underway in Tuvalu. Ahead of the meeting, Australia pledged 340 million dollars to fund climate resistance projects but flatly rejected calls to phase out coal, reform its climate policies and resume payments to the UN’s Green Climate Fund.

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In the run-up to next week’s summit of the Pacific Islands Forum, small island states have made it clear that they intend to pressure Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on climate change.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are both visiting American allies in the Pacific. For Esper, it’s his first foreign trip since being confirmed as Secretary of Defense.

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Last week, a court in South Korea sentenced the leader of a religious cult to six years in prison for the barbaric treatment of 400 followers who relocated to Fiji. But so far, the case has had no effect on the cult’s operations in Fiji.

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Later this month, leaders from across the Pacific will gather in Tuvalu for the 50th annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum.

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Near Aukland airport, on the Northern Island of New Zealand, Maori protesters are blocking access to a construction site to protect what they regard as sacred land. The stand-off bears some similarities to the confrontation at Mauna Kea.

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The United States continues to conduct naval patrols in waters claimed by China. Last week, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam sailed through the Taiwan Strait: the sixth such transit this year. The operation came as China issued an important policy document.

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Australia and Papua New Guinea have agreed to close the notorious detention camp on Manus Island. At a joint news conference, PNG’s James Marape and Australia’s Scott Morrison said they would establish a mutually workable timetable.

Staff Sgt. Chelsea Browning / U.S. Air Force

Obesity is a major problem around the Asia Pacific, contributing to diseases like diabetes. In Fiji, diabetes related amputations account for 40% of all surgeries. On average, that’s three every day.

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You may have seen pictures of a long line of climbers on Mount Everest earlier this year; now a similar scene is unfolding at much lower altitude, in Central Australia, where tourists are crowding in to climb Uluru before the iconic monolith closes.

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This month, celebrations are underway in Tonga to mark the birthday of the King, including the 40th annual Heilala Festival. But this year’s ceremony erupted as the outgoing queen criticized organizers for tormenting and bullying her.

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A cycle of ambush and revenge is being blamed for the deaths of as many as 25 people in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea. The massacres occurred in the district represented in parliament by Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister, James Marape, who vowed to hunt down the killers.

Spc. Christen Best / U.S. Army

Already strained relations between Washington and Beijing are about to hit a rough patch, Amid the on-going trade war, the Pentagon announced a $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, and an even bigger weapons deal is expected later this summer.

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Richmond, Virginia, once the capital of the confederacy, recently renamed a street in honor of African-American tennis star, and Richmond native, Arthur Ashe. The gesture was a response to the movement to remove statues of Confederate generals and politicians. Statues are also controversial in another part of the world . . . Australia.

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This week, the political organization leading the fight for independence in West Papua announced that three rebel groups have agreed to join forces as a united West Papua Army. But one of those groups disputes the claim.

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The wave of protest in Hong Kong has made headlines around the world, but it may be followed most closely in Taiwan. As recently as January, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed reunification with Taiwan under the same “One Country, Two Systems” framework now unraveling in Hong Kong.