DPG Indo-Pacific Monitor

Indo Pacific Monitor

Date: June 01, 2023
A series of summits marked the month as nations jockeyed collectively and individually to enhance their position in the Indo-Pacific.  The 42nd ASEAN Summit at Labuan Bajo in Indonesia on May 10-11 began the plurilateral series.  A Chairman’s Statement and ten other outcome documents spoke of incremental progress in building the Southeast Asian community, but left the strategic community at large unhappy about ASEAN’s inability to get to grips with major challenges facing the region.

The Hiroshima G7 Summit followed from May 19-21, resulting in a voluminous communiqué and nine vision documents / progress reports.  The unity of the G7 on issues as diverse as the war in Ukraine, China’s egregious behaviour, economic security, the clean energy transition and responding to global challenges was remarkable.  This could result in increased unilateralism even as the G7 talks of greater cooperation with the G20 and Global South.

The Quad Sydney Summit scheduled on May 24 became a truncated Quad Hiroshima Summit of May 20 due to President Biden’s domestic compulsions.  It was marked by a vision statement, a joint statement that unlike the one by the G7 mentioned neither China nor Russia, and three statements of principles.  The third FIPIC Summit at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea followed on May 22, strengthening India’s engagement with the Pacific Island countries.

At the bilateral level, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos made his first visit to the US from April 30 – May 4.  Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Seoul from May 7-8, continuing the resurgence in Japan-South Korea relations following President Yoon’s visit to Tokyo in March.  India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a bilateral visit to Sydney on May 23-24, eliciting a bipartisan welcome from Australian polity and a rapturous one from the Indian community. 

The Indian Ocean Rim Association published its Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, with ASEAN and Quad partners acknowledging India’s role in leading its development.  Bangladesh also posted its new Indo-Pacific outlook, becoming the second Indian Ocean country after India to do so.

At the ministerial level, India’s Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh made a successful visit to the Maldives from May 1-3.  The 13th Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting in the 3+3 format on May 1 advanced Singapore-Australia ties.  Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited the Philippines from May 16-18 for a review of the bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken substituted for President Biden in Papua New Guinea on May 22, signing the US-PNG Defence Cooperation Agreement.

India demonstrated its capability through the evacuation of nearly 4000 of its nationals from strife-torn Sudan.  The Indian Navy continued its outreach to the region, through the inaugural ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise in the South China Sea, bilateral exercises with Thailand, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, and port visits to Cambodia and Vietnam.  INS Vikrant carried out the first night trap of a Mig-29K fighter on board.

The US Congressional Research Service assessed that the PLA (Navy) will comprise of 400 ships in 2025, as compared to the USN fleet size of 286 ships at the same time.  This will include six SSBNs, 10 SSNs, 55 conventional submarines, 55 capital ships and 120 escorts.  The planned ultimate size of the PLA (N) remains unknown.