Tensions in Asia-Pacific continue to stir up the region this week, from North Korea’s firing another “warning shots” over South Korean military drills to China’s persistence to get hold of Taiwan like its dominant control over Hong Kong. Japan is also beginning to operate its SeaGuardian Drones to bolster its maritime patrolling near the surrounding coast of the country, while Australia is setting aside million-dollar worth of funding to deploy policemen in the Solomon Islands in next week’s budget to expand its leverage in the region against the growing influence of Beijing. Here are our top four stories for this week.
North Korea Sends Another ‘Serious Warning’ To South
North Korea has been barraging the South, pestering its archnemesis neighbor with a series of alarming missile live-test firings since late September. The artillery launching on Wednesday was the latest in the saga, firing over the maritime buffer zones near the inter-Korean border overnight – stating that the move was yet another “serious warning” against Seoul’s ongoing military drills.
According to news reports, Pyongyang fired more than a hundred artillery rounds off its west coast just hours after shooting over its sea off its east and west coasts. It previously live-tested short-range ballistic missiles and hundreds of artillery rounds near the heavily armed inter-Korean border last week, to which South Korea responded by kicking off its annual Hoguk defense drills.
— Arirang News (@arirangtvnews) October 17, 2022
The drill, which aims to strengthen its deterrence versus North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, is one of the many exercises Seoul has conducted aside from its recent joint activities with the US and Japan. Last week’s military exercise has “angered” the North, to which the latter responded and called them “provocations and threatening countermeasures.” The spokesperson for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said that these “reckless provocations” must be stopped immediately before they would further escalate.
“Our Army strongly warns the enemy forces to immediately stop the highly irritating provocative act in the frontline areas,” the KPA official said.
On the other hand, South Korea clarified that the exercise was just plain, regular, and defense-oriented—conducted annually to maintain its troops’ readiness and enhance the strength and ability of the armed forces. The Hoguk field training began earlier this week and will run until October 28.
Following Wednesday’s firing, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said its counterpart in a statement to “halt acts” that threaten to disrupt peace and security in the region. Meanwhile, a US State Department spokesperson said it has already called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) against its provocative actions.
The following day, Seoul’s unification ministry urged Pyongyang to honor the 2018 inter-Korean agreement to de-escalate the alarming military tensions.
“When it comes to the 2018 accord, the government believes that inter-Korean agreements should be mutually respected and implemented,” a ministry official told reporters.
Moreover, the ministry added that the North’s latest artillery firing might have been caused by “various” reasons in which the recent consecutive military drills by the South may have been one of them.
The US reiterated that it remained committed to denuclearizing the entire Korean Peninsulas, including the North and South, in addition to the extended deterrence and security assistance the US armed forces have provided thus far to its Asian ally to ramp up its defense against any potential aggression from the former.
Currently, there are approximately 28,500 US Forces in Korea the peninsula.
China Claims To Gain Control Over Taiwan Just Like It Holds Hong Kong
In an opening speech at the commencement of the once-every-five-year Communist Party congress, incumbent President Jinping stated that China has achieved complete control of Hong Kong and is determined to do the same with Taiwan.
Xi also spoke on pressing on the party’s objectives, including ensuring the safety of national security and maintaining social stability across the country. He boasted how it successfully diffused the “chaotic” anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019 by Beijing stepping up to control the spiraling situation and reiterated its plans to cultivate the country’s economic development and continue to work on achieving its world-class military goal by 2027.
Addressing the issue with Taiwan, Xi said that the conflict should be resolved within the Chinese community. While China did not renounce a potential aggressive resolution, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader restated that the country would still prefer to settle tensions with peace talks.
BREAKING: Xi Jinping opens CCP summit by announcing full control of Hong Kong has been achieved, that Taiwan is next pic.twitter.com/Y5PGVXg9Sj
— ShapiroExposed.com (@JackPosobiec) October 16, 2022
The tension has been going on for quite a while now as Beijing keeps insisting that Taipei is part of its territory and has denied the sovereignty and democracy the island country has established. It then rose dramatically in August after China conducted war games off the coast of Taiwan just after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the latter. Since then, despite being kept to a minimum, Beijing has continued to mobilize its military activities near its claimed territory.
“Resolving the Taiwan issue is the Chinese people’s own business, and it [is] up to the Chinese people to decide,” he said, as reported by Reuters.
Moreover, he noted that Beijing has always “respected, cared for, and benefited” the people of Taiwan and is committed to promoting cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges.
“We insist on striving for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and best efforts, but we will never promise to give up the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures,” Xi added, “[t]he historical wheels of national reunification and national rejuvenation are rolling forward, and the complete reunification of the motherland must be achieved, and it must be achieved!”
As they have always done, Taiwan responded to Xi’s remarks by reiterating its firm position on the island’s independence and sovereignty from the Republic of China.
“Taiwan’s position is firm: no backing down on national sovereignty, no compromise on democracy and freedom, and meeting on the battlefield is absolutely not an option for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait,” the Taiwan Presidential Office said in a statement, adding that this is not only an opinion created by its government but a consensus according to what the majority of Taiwan citizens believed.
Though, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen clarified that her administration is willing to negotiate with Beijing as war is not a preferred option. But this might be impossible to happen, considering China sees Tsai as a separatist.
China has already offered Taiwan a “one country, two system” sovereign formula, similar to what Hong Kong is exercising. However, most mainstream Taiwanese political parties have rejected the proposed autonomy model, not to mention the big no it received zero public support.
On Wednesday, the US government announced its plans to produce weapons with Taiwan to help bolster speed jointly and its security and deterrence against China.
Applying lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, both allies significantly oversee potential supply trouble when faced with conflict since China can block import/export in Taipei.
Japan Inducts New MQ-9B SeaGuardians Boosting Its Maritime Patrol Capabilities
On the mission to boost its national security and deterrence against adversaries in Asia, Japan began operating its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ramping up the strength of its maritime patrol capability. In addition, according to news reports, the Japanese Coast Guard inducted its MQ-9B SeaGuardian, which would assist the service branch in monitoring and safeguarding the waters near the country.
Japan Coast Guard MQ-9B Sea Guardian UAS landing at JMSDF Hachinohe Airbase in northern Japan. Still carrying US civilian registration N467SG https://t.co/bDu0aVUvXP
— Mike Yeo 杨启铭 (@TheBaseLeg) October 19, 2022
Developed by the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) primarily for the United States Air Force (USAF), the SeaGuardian boasted highly sensitive cameras capable of hovering over the skies up to an altitude of approximately 9,843 feet even at night, thanks to its sophisticated infrared radiation feature. It also has detective devices that allow the UAV to avoid collisions, radars, and an artificial intelligence function that makes it more reliable in the field.
Like other operators, Japan employed the MQ-9B for long-endurance ocean surveillance and reconnaissance missions for at least 24 flight hours—enough to circle around the entire Japanese exclusive economic zone—and for search and rescue operations, disaster response, and strike functions against anti-submarine artilleries.
With the arrival of the Japanese Coast Guard's first MQ-9B N467SG (JCG reg. RA467) at Hachinohe Air Base yesterday, Japan has become the first foreign operator of MQ-9s in the Pacific. I have mapped out the possible mission range, half of the reported ranges. 1/2 https://t.co/fPS1vskrt2 pic.twitter.com/m2zn494L9U
— Amelia Smith (@ameliairheart) October 19, 2022
The initial acquisition cost spent by Japan was reported to be 4 billion yen (about $27 million). With the increasing tension surrounding its waters and the concerning growth of China’s military power, Tokyo’s maritime security service plans to increase its SeaGuardians by adding a budget of 8.6 billion yen ($56.7 million) for the 2023 fiscal year.
Aside from increasing its military arsenals, Japan is also in the process of renewing its security pact with Australia, which highlights “a free and open Indo-Pacific” against China’s growing influence in the region. The security cooperation includes joint training that both countries will conduct, where they would simulate emergencies and peacekeeping missions, as well as respond against terrorism.
Last month, Australia unveiled significant progress on its autonomous aircraft program, introducing its first MQ-4C Triton that would soon play an integral part for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the US Navy in safeguarding the Indo-Pacific region.
Australia Vows To Send Million-Dollar Worth of Police Deployment Funding
On Friday, Australia announced that it would be setting aside security funding assistance for the Solomon Islands worth A$46 million ($29 million) to boost the latter’s defense and the former to maintain its dominant influence over China.
Canberra and the United States have expressed concerns after the Solomon Islands entered a security pact with Beijing in April, threatening the former countries’ long-running regional dominance.
According to Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, the financial aid given to Honiara aims to provide the latter enough support to spend in boosting its economy and national security and lessen its need “to call on others.”
“Without these investments, others will continue to fill the vacuum,” Wong said, as reported by Reuters, adding that the million-dollar aid will also ensure that Australia will continue to provide direct budget support to reduce fiscal distress, ensuring critical government services” in the island country.
The funding came after the successful agreement between Canberra and Fiji to allow the presence and mobilization the military activities in each other’s countries.
Moreover, Reuters reported that the former is also working on entering a security pact with Papua New Guinea while creating a new Pacific engagement visa for over 3,000 Pacific Islander nationals who would like to migrate to Australia permanently.
Earlier this month, the foreign minister of the Solomon Islands said that the country had signed a historic 11-point Declaration Partnership between the US and its Pacific Island neighbors, which covers critical issues including sustainable development in the region, tackling climate change, security preservation, and safeguarding trade routes in the Pacific region. However, the declaration was made possible only after removing the indirect reference to China in the document, which some regional diplomats admit to being uncomfortable.
Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele admitted to reporters that the initial draft of the declaration cited some uncomfortable references that placed them in a position that compelled them to choose sides—something the island country does not want to be in.
When the Solomon Islands received a flock of concerns and warnings from the Western countries after announcing its intention to enter a pact with China in April, to which Honiara Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare assured that the partnership “will not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony” of the region as well as “it will not allow the creation of a Chinese military base.” Still, it will instead focus on providing domestic security.
Australia was particularly among the first ones to voice concern, followed by New Zealand, as the presence of the Chinese military on Solomon Island is like having unwanted guest trespassing in its backyard. Japan and the US also voiced concerns that it could seriously threaten the “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
A senior administration official said the US-Pacific partnership, hosted by US President Joe Biden at the White House, would include over $810 million in expanded programs to aid the region’s development. Biden was also named the first US envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum.