DPG Indo-Pacific Monitor

Indo Pacific Monitor

Date: April 01, 2022
The war in Ukraine was the centrepiece of global attention.  As the month drew to a close, there were some indications of possible moves towards negotiated peace, but the conflict continued to prevail and outcomes remain highly uncertain.   The Western bloc met at Brussels on March 24 for an extraordinary NATO summit, a summit meeting of the European Council and a meeting of G-7 leaders.   However, unprecedented Western sanctions have thus far not impacted Russia’s policies and pursuit of armed aggression against Ukraine. 

The Biden administration sent a budget request of $ 5.792 trillion for FY 2023 to Congress, including military expenditure of $ 773 billion, $ 30.7 billion above what was enacted for FY 2022.  The US Department of Defense transmitted its National Defense Strategy to Congress, prioritising the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific, followed by the Russia challenge in Europe and other challenges from North Korea and Iran.  Other challenges addressed by the strategy included violent terrorist organisations, climate change and other transboundary threats, including pandemics. 

China announced a proposed defence budget of 1.45 trillion Yuan (about $ 230 billion) for FY 2022, marking a 7.1% increase over the previous year’s budget. 
The virtual Quad summit on March 3 weathered differences between the partners on their reactions to the Ukraine crisis, maintaining the Quad focus on the Indo-Pacific.  Australian PM Scott Morrison acknowledged that while all Quad members were concerned by what is happening in Europe, the Quad was set up to focus on strategic, developmental and humanitarian issues in the Indo-Pacific.

Japan’s PM Kishida Fumio visited New Delhi on March 19-20 for his first bilateral visit abroad and the 14th India-Japan summit.  The two leaders reviewed the evolution of bilateral economic and security relations, setting a public and private investment target of ¥ 5 trillion ($ 42 billion) by Japan in India over the next five years. 
The second India – Australia Summit was held virtually on March 21, with Australia displaying greater sensitivity towards India’s stand on the Ukraine crisis than Japan.  Bilateral relations continue to progress across the board, with the early conclusion of an India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement on the cards.

Australia announced its intention of building another submarine base on its East Coast involving an investment of over $ 10 billion on March 7.  The base will provide an alternative to HMAS Stirling, near Perth, where Australian submarines are presently based.  Increased visits by Indian and Japanese warships to the region were among the reasons cited for the new base.
Three developments related to US-China ties commanded interest during the month.  In the first, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s Yang Jiechi at Rome on March 14, essentially to highlight the consequences of certain actions with respect to the Russia-China alignment.  In the second, US President Joe Biden held a virtual conversation with President Xi Jinping on March 18 with much the same theme.  In the third, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi made a brief visit to New Delhi on March 25, allowing for an extensive dialogue on bilateral and other issues but resulting in no breakthrough on the border standoff.  

Russia stepped up military activity around disputed islands and suspended peace treaty negotiations with Japan in retaliation for the latter’s economic sanctions.

USS Ralph Johnson transited the Taiwan Straits on March 17, hours before the virtual conversation between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.  The transit was not publicised on the websites of the US Navy, the Indo-Pacific Command or the Pacific Fleet, but China nonetheless accused the US of hyping up the event.

A flurry of ballistic and cruise missile launches by North Korea, including one of a new ICBM capable of reaching the entire continental United States, generated condemnation from the US and its Asia-Pacific allies.  As part of the US response, USS Abraham Lincoln carried out carrier-aircraft based exercises in the Yellow Sea.

Yoon Seok-youl of the South Korean People Power Party was elected the country’s new President on March 9.  He will assume office in May, with closer South Korea-US ties likely in the years ahead.