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South Pacific: Military implications of telecommunications cables

Written by: (Contributed) on 24 December 2021


The announcement that Australia will join with the US and Japan to provide three strategically placed countries in a sensitive part of the Pacific with a telecommunications cable has little to do with the publicised connection of civilian populations to the internet. Effective communications is a basic requirement for other, more comprehensive considerations, which include strengthening neo-colonial relations between the US, two regional allies (Australia and Japan) and the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Nauru.

In mid-December the Australian government issued a joint diplomatic statement together with the US and Japan from the sidelines of the G7 foreign ministers meeting stating they would provide a new underwater telecommunications cable for the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati and Nauru. (1)

The US has, historically, relied upon Australia as a southern regional hub for operations with Japan as its northern counterpart. The three-way diplomatic relationship remains of central importance for all US regional military and security provision. There was, therefore, a great deal more to the G7 diplomatic statement than just a telephone cable. The decision was taken for two specific reasons: a new US-led military plan for the Pacific and fears that China would offer to provide a similar cable for the three countries.

While, ostensibly, the telephone cable was aimed at connecting about 100,000 civilian population to the internet, the diplomatic statement also noted 'this is more than an infrastructure investment … it represents an enduring partnership to deliver practical and meaningful solutions at a time of unprecedented economic and strategic challenges in our region'. (2) The telephone cable in question has the specific function of strengthening vital US-led diplomatic links with the three countries concerned whereby economic neo-colonial relations underpin miitary and security considerations.

An official statement from the Australian Defence Department recently specified a new US military planning update to provide 'a dramatic and comprehensive ramping-up of its defence presence in the Northern Territory … to provide ...a vital southern US defence anchor encompassing a vast area of the Pacific, linking Guam to the north and Hawaii to the east'. (3)

Guam is already a major US hub with extensive military facilities for regional operations swinging on the same arc as Pine Gap to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. If the line from military facilities in the Northern Territory to Guam is extended further north it reaches the sensitive Kuril Islands which mark the beginning of US Island Chain Theory on which western military and security provision is based. Reference to Hawaii is because of the US regional military command facilities, PACOM, located there.

Using an actual size regional map shows the two lines from military facilities in the Northern Territory also includes the FSM, Kiribati and Nauru. (4) In recent times the area concerned has become an obsession for the Pentagon with the rise of China which has been assessed as a credible threat to US traditional hegemonic positions. While the three Pacific countries are small, they each possess huge strategic significance for US-led regional military and security provision.

The FSM, for example, consists of 607 small islands, grouped into four states with a huge exclusive economic zone, while remaining largely dependent upon US aid. The US is responsible for all FSM defence and security. The country also has a centrally-placed regional position being about 3,000 kms north of eastern Australia, 2,133 kms south of Japan and 4,000 kms from Hawaii.

Nauru has no armed forces and remains dependent upon Australia for its defence and security. Its small economy is dominated by western interests and the official currency is the Australian dollar. It also has strong diplomatic links with Taiwan.

Kiribati, likewise, was also considered a long-time supporter of Taiwan although the decision to switch allegiance to China in September, 2019, caused a huge diplomatic headache for the Pentagon. The country is only 1,300 kms south of Honolulu, home of PACOM. The subsequent re-election of President Taneti Maamau last year has raised serious concern that port facilities built by China on Xmas Island, a 150 square miles part of the Kiribati landmass, could be 'capable of use by Chinese warships … which … is a concern for the US military'. (5)      

In recent years China has made a concerted diplomatic push toward the small countries of the Pacific with medium to long-term investment programs. There is little doubt the development has been viewed in a very dim light by the US. It has led to the findings of a US congressional committee in 2018 to conclude the US is no longer the dominant power in the Pacific and that they would have to pursue regional diplomacy by 'further relying on traditional allies, including Japan and Australia'. (6) And, as if by following an already established US-led regional military plan, the very limited publicity surrounding the telephone cable was accompanied by a statement from an anonymous 'senior Australian government source … that … Australia would be involved in a lot more of this kind of thing'. (7)

Using information already easily accessible in the public domain it is quite simple to see how Australia could be dragged into a limited regional war with China, probably sooner rather than later:

                                       We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Pacific cable heads off Beijing bid, Australian, 13 December 2021.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Security pact to boost US presence in the Top End, Northern Territory Defence Supplement, The Weekend Australian, 30-31 October 2021; and, Top End landing for Strike Fighters, Australian, 9 December 2021.
4.     See: Map of the World, Peters Projection, Actual Size.
5.     China could be in reach, FP., 19 June 2020.
6.     Study: US no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.
7.     Pacific cable, Australian, op.cit., 13 December 2021.


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