As democratic leaders continue working to shore up alliances with Pacific leaders, one expert has warned leaders that Beijing is already well advanced in fomenting corruption and eroding democratic institutions in the region.
Cleo Paskal, senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said foreign officials need to cast off well-worn bureaucratic procedures to counteract Beijing’s “entropic warfare.”
In 1999, two colonels from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force published a book called “Unrestricted Warfare,” which involves attacking an enemy through all means possible short of open conflict—geopolitical and defence experts classify this as hybrid or grey zone warfare.
For instigators like the Chinese Communist Party, unrestricted warfare has seen the regime exploit the cyber, economic, political, legal, and media realms in its effort to destabilise an enemy—in this case, the United States, democratic nations, and now the Pacific region.
“Those weapons are used to weaken the target country from the inside and to fragment and create disorder in the target country so that it is less able to withstand Chinese influence,” Paskal told The Epoch Times.
“That process of creating instability and fragmentation can be described as creating a state of ‘entropy’—of political, social, and economic entropy—where things start to just break down. And in that state of disorder, China can create a new order with itself and its proxies at the centre.”
Breaking Down A Democracy
Paskal says the situation in the Solomon Islands was a key example.
From 2019, when the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare decided to switch diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to Beijing, issues of corruption have become more overt.
One report revealed that 39 of 50 pro-Beijing members of Parliament received payments from the National Development Fund operated in conjunction with the Chinese Embassy.
Opposition leader Matthew Wale has also accused the prime minister of not delivering basic services, over-centralising power, and exploiting the country’s timber industry for the benefit of a few logging companies and to line his own pockets.
Late last year, local anger erupted, and protests were held in the capital Honiara against Prime Minister Sogavare, which resulted in three deaths and the Chinatown District being razed.
“You start to get this distortion in the society that creates an enormous amount of social anger. If you are from a democratic background, you think that’s a bad thing,” Paskal said. “But if you accept this premise of entropic warfare being the desired outcome from Beijing, you actually do want to create disruption within the society.”
“Then the authoritarian leadership elements get increasingly isolated from their own population and the international community, and become more reliant on Beijing.”
Western Leaders Could Exacerbate Corruption
According to Heston Russell, a former Australian special forces operative who has worked in the Pacific, western leaders who engage purely with the leadership class—and not other stakeholders—risk exacerbating and enabling this corruption.
“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 previously 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.”
The U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and India’s high commissioner have endeavoured to meet with the Solomons opposition during recent visits.
Entropy Spreading Across the South Pacific
Also, while there has been much fanfare around the apparent failure of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to convince eight Pacific nations to sign-up for a sweeping security and trade bloc, Paskal said the minister’s visit was a success for the Chinese regime on several fronts.
Wang Yi was able to convince Pacific leaders to waive quarantine restrictions for his delegation and ban local media from asking questions at press conferences.
At the same time, despite signing a huge swathe of deals with the leaders of the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Lester—little detail has been made publicly available.
“All of that created antagonism between the leadership of those countries and their own population and media. Sending them down this path that the Solomon Islands is already much deeper down,” Paskal said.
The institutions of Vanuatu are also beginning to feel the strain after the opposition refused to join a parliamentary sitting in response to proposed amendments to the Constitution.
Prime Minister Bob Loughman was forced to shelve the amendments which proposed extending the term limit of government from four to five years, imposing term limits on the chief justice, and allowing dual citizens to hold office.
These changes would not only centralise more power with Loughman’s government but potentially pave the way for Chinese nationals to hold office.
West Needs to Be Flexible
Paskal says democratic governments need to adopt a more flexible approach to meeting the needs of Pacific nations while counteracting Beijing’s unrestricted and entropic warfare.
“Australia’s and New Zealand’s bureaucracy says we have to hold half a dozen workshops and … we need to check those boxes,” she said. “That’s what our bureaucracy says. You need to be flexible and adapt to their bureaucracy. A country like the Marshall Islands—their entire ministry of foreign affairs, including administrative staff, might be 15 people.”
Meanwhile, Russell has also pushed for greater grassroots engagement and less focus on the political class of society.
He said democratic nations could work in tandem with the United States providing the overarching “strategic, financial, and diplomatic” framework, and countries like Australia and New Zealand providing the “actual boots on the ground” to develop human connections through sport, building schools, assisting with infrastructure, and help with disaster relief.