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Sergey Balmasov

Senior Analyst of the Centre for Crisis Society Studies, Expert of the Middle East Institute, RIAC

The reason behind the 2015 scandal was related to the collection of intelligence data by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service for the USA which increased competition between the great powers of the world to gain control over this region of strategic importance. This situation benefits Russia directly. It's in Moscow's interests to support in this struggle China that strengthens its position within the territories remote from Russia.

The reason behind the 2015 scandal was related to the collection of intelligence data by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service for the USA which increased competition between the great powers of the world to gain control over this region of strategic importance. This situation benefits Russia directly.

Recent revelations of the American defector E. Snowden regarding New Zealand's espionage in US interests have caused widespread uproar, with increased tensions in relations between this country and other states of the region during the spring of 2015.

Officially, Wellington explains its actions by forced defence against terrorism. In fact, such threat does exist and is being demonstrated by intensified Wahabi activities noticed in 2013 in French Polynesia. However, the severity of this threat is greatly exaggerated and New Zealand's attempts to justify its actions are simply to mask the operations for the Five Eyes global espionage programme being undertaken together with USA, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Chinese Offensive

Washington's concerns are, in fact, quite justified. China has been trying to establish itself in Oceania since early 2000s. Its success is due to the effective use of so called "chequebook diplomacy", usually in the form of financial aid or providing assistance for infrastructure and utilities projects (airports, ports, roads, hotels) for poor island nations. Such diplomacy has helped to solve unemployment problems in the region, something that the West could not achieve, and has strengthened the authority of the Celestial Empire.

China is turning such achievements into a political advantage by challenging the leading role of the West in Oceania's regional organisations. Moreover, the Chinese not only use "chequebook diplomacy", but also actively lobby the interests of Oceania states in international bodies which strengthens the authority of the Celestial Empire even further.

China's position in the economy of Oceania countries is increasingly strengthened. For example, between 16% and 32% of their GNP or up to a third of their budget (Tonga, Samoa and Cook Islands) are provided by China. To a great extent, this can be attributed to the use by China of such instruments of soft power as Chinese communities living in Oceania countries who have gained control over the most profitable industries. The degree of their influence is manifested by the fact that ethnic Chinese have already came into power in Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

Representatives of Chinese communities in governmental bodies of Oceania territories and states are actively lobbying Beijing's interests, securing a simplified visa regime for "mainland" Chinese, under the pretext that it's needed to attract tourists and labour from China, and a noticeable expansion of economic relations.

From 2006, China is turning such achievements into a political advantage by challenging the leading role of the West in Oceania's regional organisations. Moreover, the Chinese not only use "chequebook diplomacy", but also actively lobby the interests of Oceania states in international bodies which strengthens the authority of the Celestial Empire even further. This is a serious geopolitical claim for leadership in the region.

Canadian International Council
The Five Eyes Program

Also, China has managed to win Oceania countries to its side due to loyalty to local "nondemocratic regimes" (for example, Fiji, after its military coup). The USA have tried to blockade the new government, but to no avail as China has offered this country financial support and assistance in safeguarding its naval borders.

Geostrategic Importance of Oceania

There are a number of factors behind the increased attention to Oceania. This is a region with habitats of valuable commercial fish, large mineral deposits, oil and gas fields, deposits of non-ferrous and rare metals. French New Caledonia alone holds a quarter of the world's nickel reserves. Of particular importance are navigable waterways connecting North and South America on one side and East Asia with Australia on the other. In the long-term perspective, port infrastructure of the region can be used for the development of Antarctica and nearby territories. In other words, massive bioresources, raw materials and navigation routes are at stake.

Worthy of note is the military aspect of China's growing power. With strengthening of economic and political positions, Chinese military facilities are appearing at the same time in Kiribati, Fiji and other Oceania countries.

In their turn, the USA is trying to eliminate such centres which normally serve as stations for tracking missile launches and the operations of marine ships and aircraft. In particular, Washington indicates "the importance of some Oceania territories, for example, the Marshall Islands, for the development of an antimissile defence system".

France in between USA and China

Washington and Beijing's competition for Oceania is even more complicated due to the presence of one more regional leadership contender.

Washington and Beijing's competition for Oceania is even more complicated due to the presence of one more regional leadership contender. As France controls the vast area of French Polynesia and New Caledonia, it claims a right to keep the status of a world power. France's intention is to remain in control of these territories conflicts with USA and China efforts to "decolonise" this region.

Active attempts to force France out of Oceania were started in 1980s. At that time, the USA was using the protests of Aboriginals opposed to the French nuclear testing programme which was described by Washington as a threat to "regional security and an infringement of the indigenous people rights".

New Zealand, which became a logistics and transit centre for Greenpeace activities, has played a special role in the realisation of the USA anti-France plans. Countries seeking to drive France out of the region have used this organisation as a supra-national instrument. Greenpeace have managed to "stir up" and set the local population against the French authorities. At that time, Paris was challenged by a dangerous exacerbation in international relations.

France was forced to retaliate and its reaction was used against it. In 1985, the French secret service sunk the Rainbow Warrior I, being the flagship of environmentalists' fleet setting off to Mururoa Atoll with the aim to set up anti-French protests in the world. DGSE secret service agents who were on the liquidation mission could not keep the operation in secret and they were discovered. After this event, anti-French protests in the world reached their peak. Starting from the 1980s, there were numerous attempts to destabilise the political situation in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, with the encouragement of separatist movements among Kanaka Maoli and Polynesians.

Together with the USA, Australia was particularly active in its efforts to drive the French out of the region. The reason is obvious: France has always been in competition with the Anglo-Saxon World both in geopolitics (for example, in South-East Asia and Africa) and culture/ideology spheres.

Actions aimed at the erosion of France's influence in Oceania were successful. Due to the increased ethnic and political conflicts in French overseas territories, Paris was forced to grant independence to Vanuatu and agree to decolonisation of New Caledonia by 2023. American sources emphasised that should French authorities fail to meet their obligations, they could face destabilisation again.

China's advances were even more destructive for France's influence in the region. One of the indicators of France's fiasco is redirection to China of the export of black pearls, the most profitable industry of the local economy. The same picture can be also observed in the agriculture of Oceania countries as being a target for active Chinese investment.

In 2013, by China's request, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to support of inalienable right of the people of French Polynesia to self-determination in accordance with Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter. This decision was adopted without voting, on the basis of consensus, which prevented the West from contradicting Beijing by default regardless of the showcase negative reaction to its actions.

However, rivals of Paris are facing a challenge: not only do they need to force out from the region the fast degrading French authorities, but also prevent China from gaining control over French territories.

Although not obligatory, UN GA decision has forced Paris to face the necessity of facilitating and expediting the self-determination process and making it fair and effective. However, France is trying to resist the external pressure stating that, a few days before the General Assembly Resolution was adopted, supporters of independence idea have lost local elections.

Nevertheless, separatists supported by China have refused to accept the defeat by arguing that the elections held "cannot be regarded as equal to a referendum" on the future of the territory in question (1, 2).

This position, although in a concealed form, was backed by the USA as well as those who didn't view the separatists' defeat as grounds for refusal of further support to them. In the opinion of many US experts, results achieved at the elections by independence supporters can be "a consequence of fraud and pressure on the local population by the French".

www.greenpeace.org
In 1985, the French secret service sunk the
Rainbow Warrior I, being the flagship of
environmentalists' fleet setting off to Mururoa
Atoll with the aim to set up anti-French protests
in the world.

In the meantime, after voting in the UN GA, the fight for "French heritage" has moved into a new phase. How fierce this was is demonstrated by the information war raged against France just as in the 1980s–1990s, with speculations on the subject of the actual scale of Oceania radioactive contamination as a result of nuclear tests. It was aimed to raise the general discontent and toughen requirements regarding compensation for "destruction of the unique environment of the region".

With background strengthening of China's position, loss of French influence in Oceania became increasingly obvious. New pro-China orientation of the former leader of the pro-French "party" Gaston Flosse can be viewed as an evidence. It's not coincidental that, in September 2014, he was under corruption investigation for receiving bribes from the Chinese and signing "destructive debt agreements". This emphasises the Pacific Ocean crisis of the French authorities being undermined by the Americans at the same time.

USA remind France that "self-determination of indigenous people is still seen by regional and international communities as a desired result" and warn of an increase of international pressure in this direction.

To undermine France's status in Oceania, rivals of Paris continue to use environmental issues as an instrument. In particular, they indicate that prior to abandonment, on Mururoa and Fangataufa sites, there were serious accidents [1] and information on them was made secret by the French.

Confrontation in Perspective

Further clashes of the two superpowers in Oceania will unavoidably force out from the region weak competitors interests of which will serve as token money in the dispute of more powerful states.

It can be justifiably foreseen that, in the future, rivals of France will intensify their undermining actions having the ultimate aim of complete exclusion of France from Oceania.

Presence of French armed forces was so far a stronghold in the struggle for preserving France's influence. Blaming France for militarising the Pacific Ocean, the United States demanded that France should reduce its military presence in the region.

French Army/Pierre J.
Ядерные испытания во Французской
French ‘Canopus’ nuclear weapons test at
Fangataufa atoll. August 24, 1968

This way, Washington threatens Paris in a disguised form. American sources indicate that France's future actions will affect its relations with Australia directly. They also warn that the situation in French Polynesia may develop in accordance with the New Caledonia scenario.

However, rivals of Paris are facing a challenge: not only do they need to force out from the region the fast degrading French authorities, but also prevent China from gaining control over French territories.

In general, France prospects of keeping its Pacific Ocean dominion seem to be very bleak. Objective factors have their role to play in this as well, including geographical remoteness of the territories in question from Paris that is unable to take swift action in accordance with situation changes and also cannot compete with China when it comes to influence.

It is obvious that further clashes of the two superpowers in Oceania will unavoidably force out from the region weak competitors interests of which will serve as token money in the dispute of more powerful states. This was the case in 1954 when the battle between the USA and China for Indochina was the main reason for France losing its stake. But, anyway, even if French colonies will gain independence, it is unlikely that such independence will be true. In perspective, under US patronage, French territories and other islands can be entrusted to Australia and New Zealand, American "governors" in the region, while other states and territories of Oceania will gradually be absorbed by China's responsibility zone.

Spheres of influence could attain their final shape in the next few years. However, this does not mean that Beijing will be ready to follow these fairly notional agreements unconditionally.

China demonstrates its commitment to participate in Antarctica research, therefore it will be under the increasing pressure to obtain an appropriate permanent base. It is quite possible that French Polynesia, where the infrastructure is being actively developed by China at this moment, will be chosen as such intermediate base.

V. Zveg, Second Battle of the Virginia Capes,
1962
Prokhor Tebin:
Emerging trends in naval pluralism

Increased Competition in Oceania - What It Means for Russia

The prospect of increased clashes of interests of the leading superpowers in the South Pacific will bring Russia direct benefits. Shifting of the place of competition to the remote South Pacific will definitely divert attention and resources of large states which are Russia's competitors in one way or another, or, quite possibly, it will activate confrontation in the future.

Reshaping of the spheres of influence in Oceania will not be fatal for Russia. In addition, it's in Moscow's interests to support in this struggle China that strengthens its position within the territories remote from Russia. A positive reaction of China to increased Russian presence in other regions of the world can also be expected in return.

1. Stanley D. South Pacific Handbook. Ottawa, 2004. P. 262.

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