DPG Indo-Pacific Monitor

Indo Pacific Monitor

Date: September 01, 2021
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an open debate at the UNSC on August 09, 2021, marking not only the continuing evolution of India’s maritime policies, but also the development of a forward-looking vision necessary for India’s aspirations as a permanent member of the UNSC.  The discussion resulted in a Presidential Statement focused on transnational criminal activity and measures to secure coastal and offshore infrastructure, while setting aside divisive issues such as state supported coercion and illicit activity.  The statement provides the basis for the UNSC to address maritime security constabulary and disaster relief issues in a comprehensive manner.

ASEAN Foreign Ministers and those of partner countries came together virtually in a series of meetings in the first week of the month, to review progress of ASEAN’s subsidiary forums and discuss new avenues of cooperation in preparation for the Leader’s Summit in October 2021.  Extra-regional nations continued their outreach towards ASEAN, with Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Oman, Qatar and the UAE acceding to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, UK being accorded the status of a Dialogue Partner, Switzerland, Norway and Turkey progressing their sectoral dialogue partnerships, and Chile, Germany, France and Italy moving ahead with developmental partnerships.  The meetings highlighted ASEAN’s convening power while showing up the limitations of its consensus based decision making.  Incremental progress on shaping the easier aspects of the ASEAN community continues, while difficult issues are being shelved.  Challenging times, shaped by China’s assertions and great power geopolitical competition, lie ahead.  The ability to retain strategic independence while managing these challenges will be the key to ASEAN’s future.

Senior officials of the Quad met virtually on August 12 to continue their dialogue on developing meaningful cooperation among the member countries and prepare for a potential in person summit later this year.  Individual country statements issued after this dialogue reflected continuity in similar though not identical strategic visions, including support for ASEAN centrality and the principles contained in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  While the progress of the Quad generates some concern in China, it is not yet sufficient to deter its continuing assertions.  In other meetings, Singapore and Australia moved ahead with their comprehensive strategic partnership through the 12th meeting of their Joint Ministerial Committee on August 27, and the inaugural Australia-France 2 + 2 Dialogue was held on August 30.

Exercise Malabar 2021 took place in the Philippine Sea, off Guam, from August 26 – 29.  While the scale appeared smaller than last year, the exercise included Special Forces Operations.  Press releases from both the JMSDF and the US 7th Fleet referred to another phase of Exercise Malabar 2021 in the Bay of Bengal in October this year.  Ships from India’s Eastern Fleet participated in Malabar, as well as in maritime partnership exercises with Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam, while ships of the Western Fleet participated in exercises with Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the UAE and UK.  This included maiden exercises with Norway, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, as well as Exercise Konkan.  India also participated as a trainer at this year’s Exercise Cutlass Express, in Mombasa.

The Chiefs of the Indian and Australian Navies signed a Joint Guidance for the Australia- India Navy to Navy Relationship on August 18, spelling out areas and modalities to enable the two services to pursue cooperation.  INS Airavat was deployed for Mission Sagar, delivering COVID relief supplies to Indonesia and Vietnam.  IAC 1, the future INS Vikrant, sailed for her maiden sea trials from August 04-08, beginning a long process that could lead to her commissioning to coincide with the 75th anniversary of India’s independence next year.    The keel of the first of 16 ASW shallow water craft being built for the Indian Navy was laid at L&T Shipyard, Kattupalli, while the service began afresh the process for procurement/lease of three to four Mine Countermeasures Vessels, as well as the indigenous construction of four Landing Platform Docks.  The Director General of India’s Coast Guard, K. Natarajan, was elected as the Executive Director of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia, convincingly defeating China’s candidate.  He will assume charge from the Japanese incumbent in January 2022.

The first Indonesia–US strategic dialogue was held during the visit of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to the US on August 3, 2021, six years after the two nations had committed to its establishment.  US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Singapore and Vietnam from August 22 – 26, continuing the US outreach in South East Asia.  Admiral John C Aquilino, Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, made his maiden visits to the Philippines and India after assuming command. 
In other Indo-Pacific developments, the US Central Command released its investigation report into the UAV attack on MT Mercer Street off Oman on July 30.  The report found that the vessel suffered damage and casualties from the third attack, with two other attempts the previous evening failing as the UAVs ditched in the water. It unequivocally blamed Iran for the incident. The USS Carl Vinson CSG commenced its forward deployment to the Western Pacific, participating in a large scale global exercise conducted by the USN, followed by exercises with the JMSDF and the Royal Navy.  The UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth led CSG – 21 transited through the South China Sea and into the Philippine Sea on August 1.  It thereafter participated in a series of exercises with INDO-PACOM units, including one which brought three flat-tops, all operating F-35 Lightning-II aircraft, together east of the Taiwan Straits.