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Pence’s statement of US intent at APEC

Pence's statement of US intent at APEC

The annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit recently took place in Papua New Guinea. Controversy has shrouded the build-up to the event; the local government decided it was a good idea to purchase 40 Maseratis to chauffeur attending dignitaries, in a country where poverty is rampant, while two cruise ships were docked in the harbour because there wasn’t enough accommodation available in Port Moresby to house summit attendees.

The typical pomp was shown by delegates and world leaders, with one particular world leader conspicuous by his absence – the United States represented by Vice President Mike Pence, rather than President Trump. In the build-up to this event, a well-worn line being thrown out there by social commentators and current affairs observers was, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” But if Mike Pence’s address to the summit was anything to go by, the United States were making sure they did their utmost to maintain control within the Asia Pacific region, ensuring they’re very much “at the table”.

While watching the address, there were two main points with which one can draw conclusions from. Firstly, it was the warm nature in which Vice President Pence spoke of ExxonMobil’s presence in PNG, boasting about the American multinational oil and gas company investing over $16 billion into the country, while building 450 miles of pipeline and creating 2,600 jobs in the process.

Unfortunately, there were other facts that seemed to slip from the minds of Pence and his script writers. With an expected flood to tax revenues from the venture, PNG went on a debt-fuelled spending spree, with the country’s prime minister Peter O’Neill stating at a mining and petroleum conference in 2012, “we are borrowing now certain in the knowledge the revenue inflows from mining and LNG projects will make repayments manageable.” Somewhat unsurprisingly, ExxonMobil paid about one-thousandth of its expected share of 2016 LNG sales from the project in royalties to the country, resulting in sharp public debt, and undoubtedly a contributing factor in government expenditure falling. It seems the Trump Administration’s catch-cry of “America First” is being heard loud and clear, by ExxonMobil at least.

Secondly, the arguably more significant statement from Pence’s address was the joint agreement between PNG, the US and Australia of a military base being built on Manus Island, and there were a number of reasons that made this announcement noteworthy.

The most obvious motive behind another military installation being established in the Asia Pacific region is one of containment. Throughout his speech, there was a tangible element of pessimism towards China’s geopolitical influence, with Pence accusing Beijing of intellectual property theft, unprecedented subsidies for state businesses and “tremendous” barriers to foreign companies entering its giant market.

Additionally, the Vice President offered assurances to those countries with Chinese offers on the table – “know that the United States offers a better option. We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce, compromise you independence,” claimed Pence. He added, “we do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road,” a phrase not-so-subtly taking a diplomatic swipe China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The address showed that Washington does not appreciate Beijing’s intentions on gaining power within the region, whether it be in the sovereignty battles in the South China Sea, or its support for Pacific countries such as Vanuatu.

The site’s proposed location is also sure to have gained attention from Australian observers. Manus Island was home to a notorious detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers aiming to enter a country with some of the most strictest immigration policies of any developed nation. To date, some 600 individuals remain on the site due to the precarious nature of their lives, without any assistance. Allegations of rape, child abuse, and psychological and physical assault were not uncommon, and the PNG Supreme Court ruled the facility unconstitutional in 2016. Australia’s then-Immigration minister Peter Dutton initially rejected the ruling, but later agreed to a relocation plan. One can ascertain that if the ruling was not brought to Canberra in the first place, Manus Island could possibly have been both home to a facility that persecutes society’s less fortunate, and an installation that promotes tension between the world’s two great superpowers.

The main cause for concern however isn’t the fact that this base increases geopolitical tensions within the region, nor is it that Manus Island is becoming a magnet for negative aspects of our society. Pence’s announcement signalled yet another addition to the number of US military installations around the globe, increasing the 770 or so that currently exist. The effects of this vast network of US military sites include numerous cases of pollution and environmental degradation, cases of indigenous cultures being eliminated and, of course, the $150 billion it costs the US taxpayer.

There are many reasons to be wary of Mike Pence’s address at APEC, but they all seem to boil down to one motive – control. It can be described in different terms – an assertion of global hegemony, an overt display of hard power, or a further expansion of the Military Industrial Complex that US President Eisenhower warned of in the 1960s, it all signifies Washington’s unwavering intentions that will seemingly never cease.



Fred Johnston

With previous studies in politics and international relations, Fred is a social commentator who covers the social injustices carried out by those who have misplaced their moral compass – usually politicians and big business.
A Central Australian who works as a schoolteacher in Bogota, Colombia by day and aspiring social commentator by night, Fred´s work has been featured in a number of blogs including Centrethought, Young Diplomats Society and the Big Smoke.
He hopes his efforts to address the ails of society will lead to a career in diplomacy or social commentary.