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I started life as a fan of a hapless baseball team called the Washington Senators, so I recognize losing when I see it. There’s plenty of losing going on in the Pacific as the Chinese seek to undercut the American and Australian positions.

Lose the Pacific and it almost doesn’t matter what weapons you give to Taiwan or how you reinforce the so-called First Island Chain running from Japan via Taiwan and the Philippines to Borneo. The Chinese are running rings around the US, Australia, and everyone else in the Pacific.

In the latest setback, Papua New Guinea reportedly is talking to China about an agreement that will allow for People’s Republic of China (PRC) police to provide training and surveillance equipment to the PNG police force.

The Americans and the Australians might have thought we were best friends forever with PNG. But this shouldn’t be a surprise – even after the Americans signed a comprehensive security deal with PNG last summer and the Australians signed a more recent agreement with PNG regarding policing and security. Supposedly Australia would be PNG’s ‘partner of choice’ when it needed help.

When the Americans signed the deal it was a good thing by and large and offered benefits to both countries – especially on the security front between each nation’s military. But one wondered whether the Americans anticipated the Chinese political warfare counter-attack that one knew was coming.

As news of the deal came out, citizen groups started to challenge it. No surprise. The Chinese are always on the ground in PNG and in the Pacific – always influencing and pushing – and at all levels and parts of society.

It’s all greased with money – much if not most of it under the table, of course – but a lot of the financial influence derives from the Chinese commercial presence in all these Pacific nations, right down to the corner shop level. The American and Australian commercial presences? There is some, but it doesn’t match up so well against the Chinese.

In fact, the president or head of a Chinese logging or fishing outfit in Papua New Guinea (or any other Pacific nation) probably has more real influence on the ground than the four-star Admiral commanding the US Indo-Pacific Command.

For now, China won’t mind if the Australians and the Americans are still around in PNG or elsewhere in the region. It gives them a chance to watch and learn their behaviors. And they don’t mind if they have signed agreements.

An agreement is just a piece of paper (as PRC officials will tell you) and can be renounced or ignored anytime. The PRC just needs its foot in the door and it will go from there for as long as it takes.

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