Don’t Go ‘Pound for Pound’ Against Beijing in the Pacific, Win the Grassroots Battle: Former Special Ops

Australia, the United States, and democratic allies should avoid engaging in a “bidding war” with Beijing to win the battle for influence over Pacific leaders, instead, the focus should be on grassroots efforts to build stronger connections with generations of communities, according to a former special forces officer.Heston Russell, who also spent years working behind the scenes in the South Pacific region, said democratic nations could not compete with the Chinese Communist Party in winning over the “elites” of those countries. “There’s a separation between the political level and local population. Most of the population are too busy surviving and going about their everyday lives and are not actively engaged in politics or what’s going on,” he told The Epoch Times. “That allows the political elite to exploit the country, be influenced, be corrupted, and that plays right into the hands of countries with big resources, big regions, big power bases like the Chinese.” Russell said Australia and New Zealand needed to look at their own capabilities because going “pound for pound” against Beijing was unfeasible. Profile photo of Heston Russell, leader of the Australian Values Party, a veteran affairs advocate and former special forces operative. (Supplied) “What can we do to shape and influence the local population? We need to look at it over 10, 20, or 50 years,” he said. “We need the next generation of people growing up in Asia-Pacific to know about Australia.” He said democratic nations could work in tandem, with Washington D.C. providing the overarching “strategic, financial, and diplomatic” framework. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand provided the “actual boots on the ground” to develop human connections, play sports, build schools, assist with infrastructure, and help with disaster relief. These efforts would eventually galvanise the base and pressure leaders from the ground up while possibly reinvigorating the democratic process. “Our systems and infrastructure, even from an economic and commercial perspective, are more set up to better integrate with Pacific islands [than Beijing]. English is the primary language—these are the small nuances,” he said, noting as well the prevalence of Christianity in the region made Pacific communities incompatible with the atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP). “One thing that China is fantastic at doing is, they come in and set up their new ‘Smart City,’ and they bring the whole digital side with them,” he said. “That’s where the United States needs people like Elon Musk to throw in their Starlink [satellite internet network] and all this sort of stuff.” Read MoreCareer Politicians Putting Self-Interest Ahead of Confronting China: Veteran The CCP’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, embarked on an eight-nation tour of the South Pacific aimed at shoring up alliances with key leaders that have maintained ties with Beijing, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, and Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste. Leaked documents revealed, however, that the CCP has ambitions exceeding that of strong bilateral ties, with Beijing proposing a sweeping 10-nation economic and security bloc in the region. The China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision envisioned the CCP working even closer with Pacific leaders in the fields of free trade, fisheries, pandemic response, as well as sensitive areas such as security, cyber, and maritime mapping. The deal fell over on May 30 during a meeting between the Chinese foreign minister and leaders of the Pacific after a lack of consensus among the Pacific nations over the deal. David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, was vocal in his opposition to the pact, writing to 21 Pacific leaders warning it could trigger a new “Cold War.” “Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean territory and the resources within them, and our security space, aside from impacts on our sovereignty, is that it increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States, and New Zealand,” he said. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) speaks during a joint press conference with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Fiji’s capital city Suva on May 30, 2022. (Leon Lord/AFP via Getty Images) Australian and U.S. leaders have taken steps to counteract Beijing’s push into the region, including launching the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity to bolster trade and economic exchange between nations. Australia’s new foreign minister, Penny Wong, also visited Fiji just days after the Labor Party won the country’s federal election. Wong pledged a “new era” of engagement and more aid for climate change initiatives. While the regional pact had to be shelved, the Chinese foreign minister still managed to secure further diplomatic commitments from the governments of the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga. The CCP has also stated it was not givin

Don’t Go ‘Pound for Pound’ Against Beijing in the Pacific, Win the Grassroots Battle: Former Special Ops

Australia, the United States, and democratic allies should avoid engaging in a “bidding war” with Beijing to win the battle for influence over Pacific leaders, instead, the focus should be on grassroots efforts to build stronger connections with generations of communities, according to a former special forces officer.

Heston Russell, who also spent years working behind the scenes in the South Pacific region, said democratic nations could not compete with the Chinese Communist Party in winning over the “elites” of those countries.

“There’s a separation between the political level and local population. Most of the population are too busy surviving and going about their everyday lives and are not actively engaged in politics or what’s going on,” he told The Epoch Times. “That allows the political elite to exploit the country, be influenced, be corrupted, and that plays right into the hands of countries with big resources, big regions, big power bases like the Chinese.”

Russell said Australia and New Zealand needed to look at their own capabilities because going “pound for pound” against Beijing was unfeasible.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Profile photo of Heston Russell, leader of the Australian Values Party, a veteran affairs advocate and former special forces operative. (Supplied)

“What can we do to shape and influence the local population? We need to look at it over 10, 20, or 50 years,” he said. “We need the next generation of people growing up in Asia-Pacific to know about Australia.”

He said democratic nations could work in tandem, with Washington D.C. providing the overarching “strategic, financial, and diplomatic” framework. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand provided the “actual boots on the ground” to develop human connections, play sports, build schools, assist with infrastructure, and help with disaster relief.

These efforts would eventually galvanise the base and pressure leaders from the ground up while possibly reinvigorating the democratic process.

“Our systems and infrastructure, even from an economic and commercial perspective, are more set up to better integrate with Pacific islands [than Beijing]. English is the primary language—these are the small nuances,” he said, noting as well the prevalence of Christianity in the region made Pacific communities incompatible with the atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“One thing that China is fantastic at doing is, they come in and set up their new ‘Smart City,’ and they bring the whole digital side with them,” he said. “That’s where the United States needs people like Elon Musk to throw in their Starlink [satellite internet network] and all this sort of stuff.”

The CCP’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, embarked on an eight-nation tour of the South Pacific aimed at shoring up alliances with key leaders that have maintained ties with Beijing, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, and Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste.

Leaked documents revealed, however, that the CCP has ambitions exceeding that of strong bilateral ties, with Beijing proposing a sweeping 10-nation economic and security bloc in the region.

The China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision envisioned the CCP working even closer with Pacific leaders in the fields of free trade, fisheries, pandemic response, as well as sensitive areas such as security, cyber, and maritime mapping.

The deal fell over on May 30 during a meeting between the Chinese foreign minister and leaders of the Pacific after a lack of consensus among the Pacific nations over the deal.

David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, was vocal in his opposition to the pact, writing to 21 Pacific leaders warning it could trigger a new “Cold War.”

“Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean territory and the resources within them, and our security space, aside from impacts on our sovereignty, is that it increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States, and New Zealand,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) speaks during a joint press conference with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Fiji’s capital city Suva on May 30, 2022. (Leon Lord/AFP via Getty Images)

Australian and U.S. leaders have taken steps to counteract Beijing’s push into the region, including launching the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity to bolster trade and economic exchange between nations.

Australia’s new foreign minister, Penny Wong, also visited Fiji just days after the Labor Party won the country’s federal election. Wong pledged a “new era” of engagement and more aid for climate change initiatives.

While the regional pact had to be shelved, the Chinese foreign minister still managed to secure further diplomatic commitments from the governments of the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga. The CCP has also stated it was not giving up on the regional deal.

Russell said some Pacific leaders would likely be considering the pact.

“Pacific island nations, when money is on the table, will work together and talk to each other,” he said. “The issue is a lot of these governments are filled with corruption. They are filled with people preparing themselves for lives outside politics.”

Corruption has been an overt and ongoing problem. For example, in the Solomon Islands, 39 out of 50 lawmakers in the country’s Parliament—supporters of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare—received funds from the National Development Fund, which is operated in conjunction with the Chinese Embassy.

Further, experts have warned that local Chinese-backed casino developments could be hubs for Beijing’s influence and expansionist operations.

Meanwhile, Eric Louw, a retired professor of political communication and expert in affirmative action, warned that corrupt leaders in developing countries could exploit Western sentiments around climate change—and guilt around colonialism—to obtain funding.

“Unfortunately, the Left has so widely propagated this anticolonial mythology that it is becoming almost impossible to have a sensible discussion about the age of imperialism,” he wrote in The Epoch Times. “This socialist myth has been sold to many well-meaning but naïve liberals through journalists and celebrities, or by screening heart-wrenching and sensationalist television images.”

“During the Cold War days, corrupt politicians in weak, underdeveloped countries from the Pacific to Africa, and Latin America to Asia got rich playing the two sides off against each other,” he wrote in a separate piece. “Perhaps [leaders like Prime Minister Manasseh] Sogavare thinks the good times are back and that the ‘new Cold War’ means he can simultaneously get his snout into the troughs of Beijing, Canberra, and Washington.”

Daniel Y. Teng

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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]