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The Indo-Pacific Digest (2)

Abhishek Kumar


Hello and welcome to the Indo-Pacific Digest, a weekly newsletter about geo-political and geo-economic developments in the Indo-Pacific region. The newsletter primarily covers the region's emerging dynamics and makes our readers aware of what the stakeholders are doing in their respective domains.

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The Indo-Pacific Digest (2)
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Amid China's aggression, U.S. and Indonesia held Military exercises in Indo-Pacific.

INDIA TV NEWS, 03 AUGUST: On Indonesia's Sumatra island, annual combined military drills between the U.S. and Indonesian forces got underway on Wednesday. Soldiers from other alliance countries took part for the first time, a show of strengthened ties despite rising Chinese maritime activities in the Indo-Pacific. The exercises were the largest since they began in 2009 and included more than 5,000 soldiers from the United States, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, and Singapore. According to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, the exercises are intended to improve interoperability, capability, trust, and cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Armed forces training, including the army, navy, air force, and marines, will continue through August 14.

In response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory to be annexed by force if necessary, the Defence Ministry of China announced Tuesday night that it would conduct a series of targeted military operations to "safeguard national sovereignty." Additionally, China has become more adamant about its claim to the South China Sea.

The number of Chinese ships and aircraft intercepting American and other ally troops in the Pacific over the past five years has increased noticeably, according to U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and so has the number of dangerous engagements. During an Indo-Pacific trip that included a stop in Indonesia last month, Milley said, "The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have gotten significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region."

According to Milley, Indonesia is a crucial U.S. ally and strategically important for the area. The United States granted Indonesia's request to purchase modern fighter warplanes for $13.9 billion earlier this year. Additionally, in December of last year in Jakarta, agreements for expanded cooperative naval drills between the United States and Indonesia were signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Although relations between Indonesia and China are usually favorable, Jakarta has voiced alarm over Chinese intrusion into its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

As the highest-ranking American politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years, Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday, just in time for the U.S.-Indonesia military drills. Beijing sees foreign dignitaries' visits as a confirmation of the sovereignty of the island.

A "free and open" Indo-Pacific vision of security and trade with the U.S. and other democracies in the region is promoted, according to Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, which is taking part in the drills for the first time. China views the increased drills as a threat. According to Chinese state media, the U.S. has been charged with forging an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO to purposefully incite conflict.

India Calls for the Support of ASEAN centrality in Indo-Pacific

THE PRINT, 04 AUGUST: According to S Jaishankar, India's minister of external affairs, the ASEAN should remain together and play a major role in a free, open, inclusive, and rule-based Indo-Pacific.

Jaishankar emphasized the value India places on the 10-nation bloc in his speech at the annual ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AIFMM) on Thursday in Phnom Penh. The grouping is seen as a key pillar of the regional, multilateral, and global order in India.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reported on Friday, a day after the meeting, that both parties discussed ways to strengthen "ASEAN-India" connections, especially by increasing collaboration in fields like "smart agriculture," healthcare, new and renewable energy, digital inclusion, and fintech.

It stated that the ministers discussed preparations for the next ASEAN-India summit and exchanged opinions on significant global and regional topics of shared interest.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is regarded as one of the most powerful organizations in the area, and India is a dialogue partner along with the U.S., China, Japan, and Australia.

ASEAN's current chair is Cambodia. Foreign ministers and representatives from other ASEAN member states attended the AIFMM, which was co-chaired by Jaishankar and his Singaporean colleague Vivian Balakrishnan.

In his remarks, Jaishankar also noted that the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative of India and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) had a lot in common (IPOI).

The ASEAN chair for this year, Cambodia, with the theme "ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together," was appreciated by the minister of foreign affairs.

He emphasized how essential ASEAN is to India as a pillar of the regional, multilateral, and international system. India's support for ASEAN unity and centrality in a free, open, inclusive, and rules-based Indo-Pacific was reaffirmed by the external affairs minister, the MEA said in a statement.

The MEA stated that the ASEAN foreign ministers valued India's ongoing assistance to ASEAN and looked forward to cooperating to further bolster the ties.

The 29th ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial Meeting and the 12th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting were two more ASEAN-related ministerial gatherings that took place in Phnom Penh on Friday.

India, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Russia are also represented at the East Asia Summit in addition to the ASEAN member states.

The meeting of the East Asia Summit's (EAS) Foreign Ministers examined strategies for bolstering the platform headed by the leaders of the EAS and making it more receptive to new challenges.

According to the MEA, the meeting examined the preparations for a new EAS plan of action and exchanged perspectives on recent regional, international, and geopolitical developments. Also discussed were the preparations for the upcoming 17th EAS summit, which will take place in November 2022.

Jaishankar also spoke with Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, on the trip to address bilateral and global matters of shared concern.

The external affairs minister also interacted with his counterparts in Australia, Sri Lanka, the U.S., and Vietnam on a personal level.

Jaishankar stopped in Siem Reap on his way to Phnom Penh on Wednesday when he toured the Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat temples, both of which are world heritage sites.

The Archaeological Survey of India's restoration and conservation efforts at these cultural heritage sites were evaluated by him, according to the MEA.

Jaishankar also paid a visit to the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) Asian Traditional Textile Museum in Siem Reap, which had been established by New Delhi with the help of Cambodia and other MGC member nations.

Emory S Land Class American Submarine visits India

AMERICAN NAVY, 05 AUGUST: During a planned port visit to Visakhapatnam, the Emory S. Land-class submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) hosted a number of interactions with Indian Navy partners and outreach activities.

The expeditionary repair, rearm, and resupply capabilities of the submarine tender, as well as initiatives to provide better platform interoperability, were discussed by Frank Cable with Indian naval personnel. Additionally, Frank Cable led a tour for local print media outlets and organized a meeting between participants in the English Access Microscholarship Program and the female officers and enlisted personnel of the U.S. Navy stationed onboard. Access is a program designed specifically for female university students who want to study English.

The crew of the ship had the chance to participate in several community outreach activities during their stay in the eastern Indian city. Sailors participated in a tree-planting event at Andhra University alongside female cadets of the National Cadet Corps and played sports with youngsters at the Ken Foundation Government Children Home for Boys.

In support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, Frank Cable is now on patrol doing expeditionary maintenance and logistics in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

US, India Will increase cooperation for Free And Open Indo-Pacific: White House

NDTV, 03 AUGUST: The U.S. congratulated India on its 75th anniversary of independence and stated that the two nations would cooperate to establish a free and open Indo-Pacific region and confront global problems.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded to a question by saying, "We congratulate the people of India on 75 years of independence."

According to her, the U.S. believes that India will continue to thrive over the next 75 years and that India's nonviolent liberation movement will serve as an inspiration to the rest of the world.

She emphasized that the two nations work together in various crucial sectors, like defence, vaccines, the environment, technology, and our expanding people-to-people ties.

In the face of China extending its regional muscles, she declared, "The U.S. will continue to cooperate with India to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific and confront the problems both of our countries face throughout the world."

Both the South China Sea and the East China Sea are highly contested territorial disputes involving China. China asserts control over the whole South China Sea. Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the Philippines have counterclaims.

Many of the islands and reefs under Beijing's authority in the area have also been fortified and militarized. It is claimed that both regions are abundant in minerals, oil, and other natural resources and are also essential to international trade.

The long-awaited plan to form the "Quad" or Quadrilateral coalition to challenge China's aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific area finally took shape in 2017 thanks to the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia.

According to the U.S., the Quad is not an alliance but rather a collection of nations united by common goals and ideals that want to improve the rules-based system in the strategically significant Indo-Pacific area.

S.Jaishankar meets Antony Blinken in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

THE INDIAN EXPRESS, 05 AUGUST: On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, where External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was also present. The meeting took place as tensions between the U.S. and China are running high due to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan.

Blinken raised worries about "challenges" in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the situation in the Indo-Pacific in his opening remarks at the discussion, which was held on the sidelines of an ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting.

"A warm conversation to start meetings on the sidelines of ASEAN Ministerial in Phnom Penh. Discussed the ever-strengthening India-US relationship and the global situation with U.S. Secretary of State @SecBlinken," Jaishankar tweeted.

According to the U.S. State Department, Blinken claimed that the US and India are ardent supporters of ASEAN's significance in the Indo-Pacific. "We both strongly support ASEAN centrality. We collaborate on our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific every day in a variety of ways, according to Blinken.

And of course, he added some pressing issues that both of us are worried about, such as the conditions in Sri Lanka, Burma, and a few other flashpoints. Therefore, I eagerly anticipate discussing many of these concerns with my friend once more before we proceed to our meetings.

Jaishankar also met Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry.

He later tweeted, "A warm first meeting with FM Ali Sabry of Sri Lanka. Congratulated him on his new responsibility. Reaffirmed India's commitment, as a dependable friend and reliable partner, to the economic recovery and well-being of Sri Lanka. Neighbourhood First."

As Sri Lanka fights its worst economic crisis since 1948, India has provided nearly $4 billion in economic and humanitarian aid.

The U.S. spokesperson also stated the following regarding the Jaishankar-Blinken meeting: "Secretary Blinken condemned the execution of democracy activists by the Burmese military regime, and they spoke about promoting accountability for the regime's atrocities as well as our joint efforts to return Burma to the path of democracy.

Jaishankar, who was present at the ministerial gathering between India and ASEAN, claimed that there is a "strong agreement" between the 10-nation bloc and India on the Indo-Pacific, countering the danger of terrorism, and the developments in the Ukraine and Myanmar.

He claimed that when it comes to connection initiatives, combating the COVID-19 epidemic, and cybersecurity concerns, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) share similar viewpoints.

The conversation between the foreign ministers of India and ASEAN concentrated on regional trends in the Indo-Pacific and strategies to deepen ties in light of geopolitical developments like the Ukraine crisis. The foreign ministers also covered the South China Sea problem, where China is acting aggressively.

China reduces ties with U.S. and sanctions Pelosi in a fury over Taiwan visit

CNBC 05 AUGUST: As Beijing intensified its response to Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, Beijing announced Friday that it would cease cooperation with the United States in areas such as military relations and climate change while applying penalties against her.

The latest restrictions were made public as Beijing continued its ferocious military exercises when she returned earlier this week, despite mounting condemnation, sending warplanes, naval ships, and missiles dangerously close to this small island democracy.

Unannounced U.S. delegation's travel to Taiwan has exacerbated a developing crisis, fueling worries of regional conflict and escalating hostilities between Washington, its allies, and Beijing.

Beijing announced on Friday that it would stop participating in discussions on climate change and marine safety as well as military phone conversations between area commanders and defence briefings. Prior to that, China declared penalties against Pelosi and her immediate family in retaliation for what the Chinese Foreign Ministry called her "egregious provocations."

Pelosi promised not to let Beijing isolate Taiwan, while Washington and its allies urged de-escalation as China announced the unnamed sanctions as its most recent reprisal for the brief visit to the autonomous island it claims as its own territory.

Up until this point, China's response has mostly focused on the island with a population of nearly 23 million people that is located just across the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing presumably sent numerous military ships and aircraft beyond the median line in the strait, which had been an unofficial buffer zone for decades, as part of the second day of military drills surrounding the island on Friday morning.

It launched ballistic missiles the day before, boasting that at least one of them flew directly over the island and that five of them landed in the waters of Japan's exclusive economic zone.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry has made both the confirmation and denial of missiles flying over Taiwan. If accurate, it would be the first time Chinese missiles had flown over the island under independent Chinese administration.

Despite never having held power, the Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan as its own country. While Chinese President Xi Jinping views Taiwan's "reunification" with the mainland as a historical necessity, recent public surveys indicate that most Taiwanese prefer to keep things as they are.

The visit, which China claimed "seriously infringes upon China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," was repeatedly advised against by China to the United States. According to the White House, the speaker's travel was in line with American policy toward Taiwan and shouldn't be used to start a conflict.

Concerns over China's assertiveness have grown among Taiwan's neighbours and regional U.S. allies.

Tokyo requested that China immediately halt its drills on Friday. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated, "China's actions this time have a significant influence on the peace and stability of our area and the world community."

Beijing argued that the military exercises were "in conformity with international law and international practice."

"As for the 'exclusive economic zone you mentioned, you should know, and the Japanese side should also know that China and Japan have not yet demarcated the relevant waters, so there is no such thing as 'Japan's exclusive economic zone," Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing.

Sri Lanka asks China to Cancel docking of spy ship Yuan Wang 5 at Hambantota on India's request

THE PRINT 06 AUGUST: On Friday, Sri Lanka asked China to postpone the spy ship Yuan Wang 5's arrival in Hambantota.

The arrival of the military ship carrying a satellite tracker, the Yuan Wang 5, has been postponed by China at the request of Sri Lanka's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Chinese ship Yuan Wang 5 was expected to arrive in the Hambantota port that China has leased on August 11 to refuel and depart on August 17.

"On August 11, the Chinese Yuan Wang 5 scientific research vessel will dock at Hambantota for a week. The departure is anticipated for August 17 following restocking. According to Y Ranaraja, Director of the Belt and Road Initiative Sri Lanka, "it might conduct satellite control and research tracking in the northwest section of the Indian Ocean region" (BRISL).

The Yuan Wang 5 has a carrying capacity of 11,000 tonnes and was constructed in 2007. It has the designation of a research survey vessel. The survey ship departed Jiangyin, China, on July 13, and is currently passing by Taiwan where China is hosting provocative live-fire drills as retaliation for Taipei allowing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the self-governing island.

The 250 km away Hambantota port was constructed using high-interest Chinese loans. The port was given to the Chinese on a 99-year lease when the Sri Lankan government struggled to pay back the debt it had borrowed from China.

Notably, India had expressed security concerns over the ship's docking in Hambantota since it appeared to be a research vessel, although the spy ship could scan the ocean floor, which is essential to Chinese Navy anti-submarine operations.

Sri Lanka has been going through a worsening economic crisis since the start of 2022, and the government has stopped paying back its international creditors. 5.7 million people "need emergency humanitarian assistance," the U.N. warned.

Peaceful demonstrations started in March due to the significant shortages of basic necessities, such as food and fuel, experienced by many Sri Lankans. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country's former prime minister, and his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, left the country on July 13 and announced their resignations the next day due to the demonstrations.

With the backing of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the political party of the Rajapaksas, Wickremasinghe assumed the role of the acting president before being chosen by parliament to become the new leader in July 20.

In the meantime, India has consistently offered assistance to the indebted island nation as part of its "Neighborhood First" policy. In the last ten years, India has given Sri Lanka 8 Lines of Credit (LOCs) totaling USD 1,850.64 million.

The government of India has been providing ongoing assistance to the people of Sri Lanka in a variety of ways, including financial aid, support with foreign exchange, material supply, and many more. These initiatives demonstrate the continued effectiveness of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Neighborhood First" policy, which prioritises inter-community participation.

India is becoming a more reliable and advantageous partner for Sri Lanka. India is providing the island nation with basic goods, in addition, to aid amid the pandemic and the fertilizer shortage.


Abhishek Kumar is a postgraduate in International Relations and Area Studies, from the School of International Studies, JNU.