Pacific News Minute

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President Trump was among the first to congratulate Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison after his surprise re-election on Sunday. After what was described as an extensive conversation, the President added a tweet. China’s reaction was decidedly less enthusiastic.

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Leaders of three Pacific Island countries are in Washington today to meet with President Donald Trump. Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia operate under Compacts of Free Association with the U.S.

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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres is on a tour of Pacific nations ahead of the UN’s Climate Action Summit, which is set for September in New York. Yesterday, the Secretary General spoke to a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji.

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North Korea has demanded that the United States release a cargo ship seized for violation of United Nations sanctions. A statement from the North Korean foreign ministry described the seizure as a ‘blatant act of robbery” and a “gangster-like act.” The ship has been towed to American Samoa.

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On Sunday, pro-independence supporters made slight gains in provincial elections in New Caledonia, but loyalist parties will hold on to their majority in congress. The vote has important implications for the future of the French territory.

Sprent Dabwido, a former President of Nauru, died yesterday at the age of 46. While in office, he reached agreement with Australia to re-open Nauru’s controversial detention center. In a deathbed interview, he described that as “a deal with the devil.”

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Tensions with North Korea have stepped up following a missile test last week and a report that Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of four officials who participated at the failed Hanoi summit. But legal proceedings in another North Korean murder are apparently over.

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In San Francisco last week, the Goldman Environmental Prize recognized six activists from around the world, including Jacqui Evans of the Cook Islands.

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USNI News reports that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will unveil a new Indo-Pacific Strategy at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore later this month.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will face a motion of no confidence later this month in Papua New Guinea. Several members of parliament have switched to the opposition in the past week or so, complaining about a huge new natural gas project.

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Indonesia’s Navy reports that one of its patrol boats was rammed by a Vietnamese coast guard vessel in the South China Sea. The incident stemmed from a dispute over fishing rights.

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Members of parliament walked out to protest the election of a new Prime Minister in the Solomon Islands yesterday and afterwards, riots erupted in the capital, Honiara.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.