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Admiral Dennis Blair On Threats To Reunify Taiwan

(CINCPAC: Beijing white paper a step in the wrong direction) (5560)

China's threat to reunify Taiwan by force is "a step in the wrong direction," according to Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific (CINCPAC).

Such tactics, Blair warned, create their own pressure for aggressive actions.

Blair spoke at a March 16 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace conference in Washington, D.C. on non-proliferation and security in the Pacific.

A worrisome trend in the region, he said, is the development of weapon systems that could inflict massive damage on opponents instead of balanced conventional forces that could deter or win a war.

Blair cited "China's modernization of its strategic nuclear forces and the buildup of missiles across the Taiwan Strait," adding "some of these weapons systems are intended to have capabilities to damage U.S. forces and discourage U.S. military action."

North Korea, Blair said, was the main culprit in trying to develop weapon systems aimed more at "brinksmanship" than deterrence.

"Overall, the pattern of development in Asia is troubling," Blair told his audience, "North Korea's missile deployments, sales, technology proliferation are triggering responses from Tel Aviv to Tokyo.

"Taiwan is increasingly concerned about China's missile buildup and is pressing for defenses," Blair said, while China "apparently believes its only option is to build more missiles."

India's desire to play a greater international role, he added, "has it building more nuclear weapons and missiles, triggering both Pakistan and China to increase their inventories further."

Blair urged the creation of "security communities" in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia as a way to bring about a peaceful and cooperative region.

But such efforts, he emphasized, in the Asia-Pacific region "should actively involve China."

Although China's leaders seem focused on Taiwan, Blair said, they "expressed an interest in the subject and a willingness to study the concept."

"We need defense against missiles," Blair said in arguing the case for theater missile defense.

"Defense is needed both for deployed American forces, and to ensure access to bases that support our operations," Blair said, "for this fundamental reason, we're developing theater missile defense systems."

Chinese officials, Blair said, "have expressed some confusion over the meaning of the term 'theater' in theater missile defenses, implying that this is the capability to defend an entire theater, an entire military theater of operations."

In fact, Blair asserted, "theater ballistic missile defenses defend relatively small areas against specific classes of ballistic missiles."

In response to a question after his talk, Blair expanded on that point, "I think the important thing to keep in mind from the military point of view is that theater missile defenses are not 100 percent effective. You're not talking about a glass shield that goes across a country and nothing goes through."

Following is an unofficial transcript of Blair's speech from the Federal News Service (FNS):

(begin transcript)






MARCH 16, 2000


ADM. BLAIR: Joe, friends don't take friends' speeches off the podium when they -- (laughter). Joe's been doing that for at least 10 years. (Laughter.) I didn't think he was going to pull it this afternoon, but there you are.

But no, thanks very much, Joe, for that personal introduction. And I promise not to tell any stories about you up here today. (Soft laughter.)

But I would like to talk about three topics: one are the overall security trends in the Asia Pacific region, where I live; second, about the military capabilities and the concerns that I have as the Pacific Command commander; and then I'd like to talk a little bit about the future of security arrangements.

I understand that I'm talking here to a critical mass of intellect and activism in the arms control area, and I do believe that those of us who operate American military forces and those of you who work in the arms control area have the same objective. We're trying to ensure the security of our country within a framework of security of other nations.

But arms control efforts are scarce in the Asia Pacific region compared to, for example, Europe. Many Asia Pacific nations are signatories of the worldwide conventions -- the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Nonproliferation Treaty. However, the list of arms control arrangements that address regional security issues is relatively short. The agreed framework in Korea is probably the most significant. The Missile Technology Control Regime is another. And it's a pretty short list beyond that that have a day-to-day effect.

So I'm very much looking forward to the results of this conference, and we were talking about it at my table before a few minutes ago. I'm very much looking forward to this conference, as really the premier gathering of those who are worrying about these issues, to bring a renewed emphasis and new ideas to arms control in support of Asia Pacific security.

Let me go through the current list of trends in the region -- good, bad, and mixed.

Let me start on the good side. The region's recovery from the Asian economic crisis is visible as I travel through the region. And I'm sure many of you all travel and most of you know more about it than I do, but nations like Korea and Thailand, other nations in the region have taken the initial steps to rebuild prosperous economies in a competitive world environment.

Again, good. The overall trends in Indonesia and East Timor are generally positive. Popular support for the democratically-elected government of President Wahid are making it possible for him to pursue both military and economic reforms.

When you get to some other areas, the trends are more mixed, and I'm thinking about Korea, the Taiwan Strait, India and Pakistan, and these are areas which have the potential to flare unless there is very careful and mature management.

North Korea continues to observe that agreed framework that I talked about, and observes a moratorium on missile launches as it negotiates with the United States, with South Korea and with Japan. On the other hand, North Korea continues to develop missiles, short of test-launching them. It sells them and technology to all buyers. And without comprehensive inspection procedures, the other countries in the region cannot be sure, cannot be confident, that North Korea is not pursuing chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, biological weapons.

If we move to the Taiwan Strait, the recent Chinese white paper which links the use of force against Taiwan with a time table, however indefinite, is a step in the wrong direction. It creates self- pressure for aggressive actions, inhibits peaceful resolution of the differences between authorities on both sides of the Strait, and I told Chinese leaders as much when I visited there a couple of weeks ago.

Trends in Southern Asia are definitely in the wrong direction. Recently, the violence in and around Kashmir has increased. Continuing intense efforts to develop missile delivery systems and warheads by both India and Pakistan substantially raise the stakes of further confrontations and conflict.

Another negative trend affects the region; the increasingly radical Muslim fighters and terrorists. (Remarks aside. Laughter.) The increasingly radical Muslim fighters and terrorists, geographically centered in Afghanistan but extending well beyond Afghanistan's borders, they certainly represent a threat to all surrounding countries. Camps in this area are training fighters and terrorists for a broad range of conflicts -- those in Chechnya, Iran, India, China, Central Asian nations. They also target U.S. citizens. Radical elements in Pakistan represent a threat to its government as it seeks to retain ties with the West, and trafficking in illegal drugs increases the funds that are available for all these activities.

When you narrow it down to trends in military forces, you again see a mixed set of results. Countries in the region by and large have been emphasizing the development of their air forces and navies rather than their armies. Only Myanmar in the region has substantially increased its ground forces, and this is generally a positive trend. For the most part, air and naval forces are more suited to defending and disputing air and maritime sovereignty than they are to invasion of their neighbors.

There are also positive trends towards the development of more disciplined armed forces responsive to political control, whose missions are more focused on national defense and on peacekeeping operations rather than internal security. And governments seemed to have realized that it's better to pay your servicemen a decent wage, to give them centrally controlled operating budgets, than to force them to hold their own bake sales, which they often do in their own unique ways. That's on the positive side.

On the negative side, many states are placing a much greater reliance on building weapons systems, which can damage their opponents, rather than on balanced conventional forces. This is true of Russia's emphasis on nuclear over conventional forces; North Korea's efforts to develop missiles, which are capable of striking Japan and the United States, as well as South Korea; China's modernization of its strategic nuclear forces and the buildup of missiles across the Taiwan Strait, India's nascent buildup of missiles and nuclear weapons to exert greater influence within Asia, and Pakistan's corresponding buildup of missiles and nuclear weapons. And some of these weapons systems are intended to have capabilities to damage U.S. forces and discourage U.S. military action.

I find that such forces serve the purposes of brinksmanship -- they more serve the purposes of brinksmanship than of deterring or fighting war. North Korea is the most obvious example. And the nature of these weapons means that they can spiral into arms contests, which cause more distrust, more competition.

Let me turn then from a rundown of these security and military trends, to talking about my duties as commander in chief of the U.S. forces that are in the Asia Pacific region. My bedrock responsibility is to operate trained and ready forces in support of our interests in that part of the world. My job is to ensure that our American Armed Forces can carry out the full range of today's missions and that they are developing the capabilities and approaches for the challenges of tomorrow.

In the present, we prepare for a broad range of operations: deterrence of a North Korean attack on the South, and supporting the U.S. commitment to peaceful resolution of the issues between Taiwan and China; peacekeeping operations, such as those in East Timor recently; humanitarian assistance, such as we have recently given to the people of -- the Philippines this year and last year to Vietnam.

Now, one controversial development in U.S. military capabilities that's of interest to this audience, and that affects the Asia Pacific region is missile defense, and it's important to talk clearly on this subject. Just as we defend our forces against armed aircraft, we need defense against missiles. Defense is needed both for deployed American forces, and to ensure access to bases that support our operations. And for this fundamental reason, we're developing theater missile defense systems.

Now, Chinese officials, for example, have expressed some confusion over the meaning of the term "theater" in theater missile defenses, implying that this is the capability to defend an entire theater, an entire military theater of operations. In fact, theater ballistic missile defenses defend relatively small areas against specific classes of ballistic missiles. As many in this audience know better than I do, the theater missile defense systems are limited by the protocols of the ABM Treaty, to be developed and tested only against shorter-range classes of missiles.

Current plans for the United States are to deploy theater missile defense systems to protect U.S. armed forces as soon as they have been developed. Following the North Korean launch of the Taepo Dong missile, Japan has chosen to join the United States in selected programs of research and development.

Now, in my area of responsibility, protecting U.S. forces and cities in Korea, is best done by a predominantly ground-based missile defense system. Protecting our forces in Japan and Japanese cities is best done by a predominantly sea-based system. And so we need both types of systems in order to get our job done.

Further south, satisfying the conditions of the Taiwan Relations Act requires that the United States provide Taiwan a "sufficient defense" -- those are the words of the Taiwan Relations Act. Currently, China has about 200 missiles, ballistic missiles, which can reach Taiwan, deployed against it, and is adding about 50 missiles per year. Although these missiles are now terror weapons, they are too inaccurate to hit military targets with any confidence. As the numbers increase and as their accuracy improves, they will pose a military threat to Taiwan.

By the way, I have seen some inaccurate press reporting on this issue on some things I said yesterday, and I need to make it clear that the U.S. government has not decided about specific arms sales to

Taiwan this year, nor have I made a recommendation on those issues. So I'm talking to you about the factors in the decisions on the military side of the equation, and the decisions have not been made this year.

Beyond the strict military value of these missile defenses, which is my immediate consideration, they have an important political relevance. Governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens from attack as best they can, even though, in the case of ballistic missiles, today's defenses and -- (clears throat) -- is there a glass of water down there? Oh, there's one here. Excuse me.

Excuse me. I'm getting over sore throat here.

As I say, governments have their responsibility to protect their citizens. Theater missile defenses provide some defense, although not a complete defense. And that's true for the systems that we are developing right now.

I go over these technical aspects of theater missile defense systems and from the military view in some detail because there's a great deal of inaccurate discussion in public, and I would hope that this group and others would provide more clarity to better inform discussion and decisions on them.

So with these -- where are these security developments, where are these military developments taking us?

Overall, the pattern of development in Asia is troubling. North Korea's missile deployments, sales, technology proliferation are triggering responses from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. Taiwan is increasingly concerned about China's missile buildup and is pressing for defenses. China apparently believes its only option is to build more missiles. India's desire to play a greater international role has it building more nuclear weapons and missiles, triggering both Pakistan and China to increase their inventories further. Russia is relying more on its nuclear forces.

These trends will persist until leaders realize in these countries that these policies increase both the cost of the armed forces and the consequences of strategic miscalculation, without providing greater clout or greater security.

Now as you take a step back and look at it, it's possible to think that individual national missile programs, offensive and defensive, combined with other military developments, may remain in balance. They may remain commensurate with conflicting interests and maintain security. They may not threaten regional peace. It's possible that arms control regimes can be devised that would help, although the record in this respect does not offer us a lot of reassurance, and we need new ideas.

However, I believe we do need to look for other forms of security besides just interactions of national interest and national power, particularly national military power. I believe that the concept for the way ahead is a development of security communities. Karl Deutsch coined this term to describe a community of nations that have dependable expectations of peaceful change. The attributes that I ascribe to security communities are nations that genuinely do not plan or intend to fight each other, are willing to put their collective efforts into resolving regional points of friction, are willing to contribute armed forces and other aid to United Nations-mandated operations to support diplomatic arrangements, are willing to contribute to humanitarian actions and are willing to plan, train, and exercise their armed forces together to build trust, confidence, and capabilities.

This concept of security communities, although developed with Europe in mind, is particularly apt for the Asia Pacific region, because the member nations need not be treaty alliance signatories, members of a treaty alliance organization. Security communities can be based on non-military organizations, like the ASEAN Regional Forum, or they can be groups of nations based simply on geography or common concerns, rather than on a multilateral security arrangement.

The key is that the members are committed to policy coordination, including combined military cooperation on particular regional security issues, or a series of regional security issues to advance peaceful development over time.

The path to building security communities is one of improving communications, developing habits of cooperation, particularly on security issues, and a shared sense of responsibility for security issues. From the U.S. perspective, our bilateral treaties, which are particularly strong in the Asia-Pacific region, are the framework for deterring aggression, for promoting peaceful development in the region. And that's the foundation on which our forward deployments of ready military forces are based. We now need to enrich those bilateral ties, consulting with security partners regarding third countries before setting policy and taking action.

>From this enriched bilateralism, it's a relatively small step towards bringing all parties together that have a stake in the policy, bring them together for consultation and coordination. And if you extend this process, you transform the U.S.-centered hub-and-spoke arrangement, which has been our traditional way of thinking about the Asia-Pacific region, into a web of security relations leading to the development of security communities.

Let me be a little more specific. The mainframe of Asia's security is a triangular arrangement with corners Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and Southern Asia. And each corner is a group of nations each with its own dynamic. I believe that at the northeast corner and at the southeast corner we have the ingredients to work gradually towards the security communities. In Southern Asia the prospects are more distant, but not impossible.

The United States has important interests at all three corners of this Asia security framework and is a natural participant in security communities. Also, by virtue of its geography, China is a natural participant in security communities at all of these corners.

Efforts to create security communities in the Asia-Pacific region should actively involve China. I discussed common interests and the concept along these lines with Chinese leaders during my recent visit. And although Taiwan and its bilateral relationship over that dominated the discussions, Chinese leaders expressed an interest in the subject and a willingness to study the concept. And I think we need to pursue it.

Though much of this business of developing security communities is the business of policy, diplomats, it has a military component. Military dialogue, basic exercises on common tasks such as search and rescue and peacekeeping skills, promote understanding, build trust and confidence among armed forces needed to foster security communities, and give leaders the confidence that when they turn to military forces to carry out tasks in the -- common tasks in the region, they can be performed efficiently and effectively.

The developments in East Timor have accentuated the need for the nations of the region -- of the Asia-Pacific region to develop capabilities for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in particular. As Australia -- who was the leader of the coalition which now has transitioned to a United Nations force led by the Philippines -- as Australia put that coalition together, including major contingents from Thailand, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, we all found that we faced a broad array of tasks regarding moving, sustaining our forces, questions of rules of engagement and operating procedures that we had previously not worked on together in the Asia-Pacific region. And we're taking advantage of the opportunity presented by East Timor to capture lessons learned, prepare standardized tactics, techniques and procedures for humanitarian and United Nations-mandated peace operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

We're also taking some other steps to improve this regional readiness for international operations. We're pursuing a proposal that came from a recent conference of senior military communications officers in the Asia-Pacific region, which is to create an Internet- based communication network in which the armed forces of all of the countries in the region can coordinate planning, operations and other routine activities. Such approaches build confidence that nations are working towards common goals and that no one is being left out of the efforts.

The fundamental security challenge in the Asia-Pacific region, I believe, is to transform the balance-of-power approach proposed by those who advocate multilateral global power structure into one that instead aims to produce security communities where there is a commitment, a dependable expectation of peaceful change, and that the thought of using military force to resolve disputes is kept at a distance. I'm not naive on this score. There's a great deal of historical distrust and antagonism in the region. There's a natural tendency to look for short-term unilateral gain. These days, in particular, there's a lot of talk about force in various parts of the region. Luckily, there's a lot more talk about it than there is actual force movement going on. However -- and finally, there's not a habit of regional cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, I'm more optimistic than most. I believe if we pursue it skillfully, we can go and create efforts to build security communities in Asia over time, that they will take hold, and that we can put together a durable security structure that will support prosperity and improvements in the standard of living for all. And I certainly believe that that's a worthy goal and it's something that all of us who live and care about that region and care about the issues there should strive for.

Thank you. And I'll be glad to take some questions or comments, Joe. (Applause.)

MR. CIRINCIONE: The admiral has to leave promptly at 1:45, so we have a few minutes for questions. If you could just keep your questions brief, we would appreciate it.

Mark Ipps (sp). We do have microphones, for those of you who are able to get near them. And Mark, maybe you could wind your way back. There's one right there. And others who want to use the mikes can queue up. There you go.

We also have a portable mike, so if you want to raise your hand, we'll get the mike to you. Let's see if that one works.

Q: Is this on?

MR. CIRINCIONE: We'll find out. There you go.

Q: Is it on?


Q: Yeah. Sir, as you're very well aware, in recent years, because of the problem of instability in the security region there, there has been some attention drawn, in these countries and outside, about the possibility that certain countries that are in the NPT or have NPT-type regimes -- Taiwan, ROK and Japan -- might, under a very grave set of conditions, leave the NPT. And I'd be interested in your comments as to whether you think that the development of missile defenses of the type you're talking about would be an added factor in preventing or dissuading these countries from leaving the NPT, or whether the absence of such development, because we know that ROK and Japan and Taiwan are very keen to move in this direction with the U.S., whether the absence of such development would perhaps increase the consideration in these countries by their leaders that they would leave the treaty. Thank you.

ADM. BLAIR: I'm not sure I followed the logic train completely on that one, and I'm not going to wing it up here -- (chuckles) -- with not having thought that one all the way through.

I think the important thing to keep in mind from the military point of view is that theater missile defenses are not 100 percent effective. You're not talking about a glass shield that goes across a country and nothing goes through. They can certainly knock down a lot of the missiles that are coming through, particularly as new generations come in. You cannot rely for complete protection against nuclear weapons with a defensive system, under current system of technology. So I think the countries concerned have to take that military reality in their mind as they weigh their balances of what their security options are.

Q: Sir, you suggested you haven't made a decision on what recommendation you'll give on arm sales to Taiwan, especially --

ADM. BLAIR: That's correct.

Q: -- the Aegis ships.

ADM. BLAIR: And the government itself has not made a decision.

Q: Could you tell us what are the factors in making that decision, the pros and cons?

ADM. BLAIR: I went over that for a long time with the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. And I can go through it again, if you want; basically, that the Taiwan Relations Act requires a sufficient defense of Taiwan. So you look at what China is doing on its side, you look at what Taiwan has available on its side; you make a military judgment on what's sufficient. And that's the process we are going through now.

Q: Admiral?


Q: I concur with your -- both attempt to the bringing arms- control idea across the Taiwan Strait. I think in the past, the arms race would be the only approach to that. I wonder whether you would like to contemplate an idea to develop Taiwan Strait as a nuclear-free zone, as a chemical-weapon-free zone, as well as a zero ballistic- missile zone?

ADM. BLAIR: That's an interesting idea. Let me think about it. (Laughter.)

Q: Admiral Blair, as a former naval officer, I was glad to hear again your talk. You discussed increased military involvement in confidence-building measures. And my question deals with an Incidents at Sea Agreement.

Two years ago, the United States and China signed a Military Maritime Agreement. And I was wondering if the Navy, or other elements of our military, have discussed with the Chinese, a more detailed more meaningful agreement along the similar lines of the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement we have with Russia. In particular, I am concerned about the prohibition on simulated attack. I think such agreement could be very helpful in a potential conflict or preventing a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

ADM. BLAIR: I agree with you. We had one meeting of the Maritime Consultative Agreement before March of last year, when China stopped the military-to-military relations with the United States. We have just resumed those relations. We decided about three weeks ago to do so. And my visit to China two weeks ago, was one of the first events. And we have scheduled a second session of the MMCA.

I think that all of us have in our minds the Preventing Incidents at Sea Agreement as an ancestor of this. But I think, as you point out, the application can be wider. We are not playing chicken of the sea with Chinese ships very much, although occasionally coming in and out of Hong Kong, somebody gets a little overzealous in their intelligence collection. (Laughter.) But I think that we can think a little bit more widely about it, and I think we should. And we intend to.

Q: Clay Moltzman (sp), Orient Institute.

Admiral, could you tell us if there are any ongoing negotiations currently between the United States and the members of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone regarding the issue of transit through the Straits of Malacca, on this question of the application of the zone to the 200-mile territorial limit of each state?

This has been a concern of the United States, so I'm wondering whether there are any ongoing negotiations in this area.

ADM. BLAIR: There's been -- there is ongoing dialogue going on on that treaty, and I just don't have, at the tips of my fingers, the latest, so I can't help you with that one. I don't -- I think I met some people in the audience who are probably more up on it. Bob, do you know where we stand? No, I think -- it's working, but I'm not up on the details right now.

Q: Admiral, can you tell us whether the report of North Korea having a more aggressive ground-testing program for its missile program in any way affects the question on -- or, actually, how it does affect the question of the U.S. missile defense shield plan? And secondly, do you have any reaction to the report yesterday concerning the discovery of -- or, the report by the two groups, FAS being one of them, about -- with the satellite, the satellite photos showing that Pakistan has heavy water capability?

ADM. BLAIR: I think that on North Korea, the working assumption has to be that North Korea is continuing to work on both weapons and warheads to the extent that they are not observed and discovered. And we had grave suspicions, as you know, about the Kumchang-ri site. Some inspectors went in there, it turned out nothing was going on inside the site, but I think we have to follow that approach of verifying very closely to have assurance that particular things aren't being done.

And the main thing that we're doing in case we're not able to verify it completely is go ahead with the nation missile defense system which is designed, among other things, specifically to be able to defend against a launch from North Korea.

I don't know the significance of the report you're referring to on Pakistan, and I just can't comment on that one.

STAFF: Any further questions?

Q: I have. Tom Grant. Admiral, I just wonder if you might be able to say a little bit more about what your estimate would be of Chinese reaction should the United States actually decide to deploy a theater missile defense system in Taiwan, based on your recent conversations?

ADM. BLAIR: Well, in my recent conversations, the message is pretty clear that the Chinese don't like it and don't want us to do anything like that, and I really don't think I'm going to speculate on what they might actually do about it. But it's pretty clear that they have a different of the military balance from our view, and have had for a good long time, and we've just got to work our way through it.

I think the main area of agreement by us, the Chinese and the Taiwanese, is on a peaceful resolution of this situation. And I think if we think it through clearly, a resolution at either extreme is not a durable solution.

We have got to go towards a solution that is politically driven and has an underlying military balance to it. So all of the near-term posturing and all, I think is not helping it because the near-term solutions don't look very good to me.

We have got to get our eyes up. We've got to get through these individual issues and be working towards an issue in which Taiwan will have security, China will have security, the United States will have security. And the military talk, much less the use of military force, doesn't get us there, and I told that to the Chinese. I think it's true, and we've just got to work on through that.

MR. CIRINCIONE: Let me take the final question that I have for the admiral.

How central, in your calculations, is the North Korean missile program? If there was a diplomatic resolution, a verifiable agreement to that particular program, what would that do to the timetable for deploying both national and theater defenses?

ADM. BLAIR: It would do -- it would have a big effect, a very big effect. On the theater defenses, which are my main concern, North Korea is not the only place that U.S. forces face theater missiles. So we'd have to think it through from the point of view of which fixed sites and allies are still threatened, and then we have to think of the mobile and deployable forces. But clearly, from my point of view, that would knock the main part out of the Northeast Asian problem.

On national missile defense, I'm not really the right one to answer the whole question. But the North Korean development and the Taepo Dong launch is clearly one of the key, if not the key factor in determining the parameters and the deployment schedule and the capabilities of that system. So the answer is it would make a big difference.

MR. CIRINCIONE: Thank you very much for answering part of that question -- (laughter) -- and thank you very much for joining us today. (Applause.) We're lucky to have you, Admiral, serving in this capacity. Thank you.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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