DPG Indo-Pacific Monitor

Indo Pacific Monitor

Date: July 31, 2022
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, fell to an assassin’s bullet on July 8, 2022.  Abe changed how the world saw Japan.  His vision of the ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ and the ‘Democratic Security Diamond’ stands established, with both the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ and the Quad becoming an integral part of regional geopolitics.  Quad leaders came together to pay fulsome tributes to his vision and vowed to redouble their work towards a peaceful and prosperous region.

If the Indo-Pacific represents the insertion of India into the geopolitics of “broader Asia”, the virtual I2U2 Summit of July 14, 2022, bringing together India, Israel, the UAE and the US, could mark the expansion of India’s role in the Middle East.  The initial focus of this partnership is on food security and clean energy.  Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid went on record to include defence as among the areas under discussion.  How far the partnership expands and the areas it covers will be decided by the partners as mutual understanding develops and the benefits become visible.
Geopolitical compulsions resulted in President Joe Biden making his maiden visit to the Arabian Peninsula, from July 14-16, 2022.  Structured around three legs, the first saw the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration from Jerusalem, implicitly recognising Israel’s annexation of the city’s eastern part and renewing a US commitment not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  The second leg was the bilateral interaction with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, overcoming an openly stated aversion and seeking to rebuild the US-Saudi relationship.  The third was interaction with the GCC + 3 (Egypt, Iran and Jordan), seeking to reassure them regarding a continued US commitment to the security and stability of the region.

Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held an extended phone conversation on July 28, 2022, but without any indication of a change in their respective positions.  China continued to demand a change of course by the US and maintained its hardened stance on Taiwan, while the US sought to keep lines of communication open and responsibly manage differences. 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Beijing on July 25-26 and followed up with visits to Tokyo on July 27 and Seoul on July 28.  A significant development was Beijing’s commitment to promote mutually beneficial cooperation between the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and China’s BRI, as well as on AOIP priority areas, reinforcing commitments made during the 2021 China-ASEAN Summit.  The Tokyo and Seoul visits and Indonesia’s outreach to the US indicate continued pursuit of balancing as great power competition in the Indo-Pacific grows.

The 51st meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum held in Suva, Fiji from July 11-14, 2022, indicated that the the US and Australia are engaging the region with greater purpose.  Kiribati and the Marshall Islands pulled out of the Forum, but they could be induced to return.  Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saw no option but to take at face value the commitment by his Solomon Islands counterpart that a Chinese base would not be allowed.  The efficacy of Australia’s diplomacy will be tested going forward, as it joins the US in countering China’s gains.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles visited the US from July 11-14, 2022, completing his bilateral interactions with defence ministers of all three Quad partners.  In this process, he has reviewed progress under AUKUS, stated that the decision on which submarine Australia will build will be announced in the first quarter of 2023 and pushed for integration of the US and Australian military industrial bases.  Australia’s spending choices in the next budget, to be announced in March 2023, will indicate the actual commitment of the Labor government to its words.

Japan published the 2022 edition of its annual Defense White Paper on July 22, 2022.  The White Paper speaks in harder tones of the China threat and of China-Russia cooperation, projects the need to enhance deterrence, describes Taiwan as an extremely important partner for Japan (much to China’s annoyance) and seeks to enhance its own security capabilities, the Japan-US alliance and partnerships with other like-minded nations, including Australia, India and Western European nations. 

The US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, updated his Navigation Plan for the United States Navy on July 26, 2022, in line wih the emphasis in the 2022 National Defense Strategy on the need to address long-term competition with both China and Russia.  He envisaged a force comprising over 350 manned ships, about 150 large unmanned surface and sub-surface platforms and 3000 aircraft by 2045 to assure US dominance of the seas. 

IAC-1 Vikrant, India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, completed the last phase of her sea trials on July 10 and was formally delivered to the Indian Navy on July 28.  The ship is expected to be commissioned in mid-August.

Ships from the Indian Navy’s Western and Eastern Fleets fanned out on both sides of the Indian Ocean, showing India’s flag across the seas.  One ship is headed across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, while another is participating in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) off Hawaii.  The deployments herald India’s increasing maritime outreach.

India and the US both reached out to Mozambique during the month.  There is considerable scope for synergising their efforts in this important part of the South-western Indian Ocean.