DPG Indo-Pacific Monitor

Vol.II, Issue.9

Date: October 01, 2021
‚ÄčThe month began with the sudden announcement by Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that he would step down after just one year in office, setting the stage for the election of a successor.  Fumio Kishida was elected as President of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party on September 29.  He will assume charge as Japan’s Prime Minister in early October and will lead the LDP in the general elections due in October-November 2021. 
The inaugural India – Australia 2 + 2 Dialogue was held on September 10.  The stage for this was set with Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, delivering the JG Crawford Oration on “Why Quad Matters” at the Australian National University on September 06, and his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, delivering the Third Indo-Pacific Oration in New Delhi three days later.  The Dialogue resulted in a Joint Statement structured around four pillars: deepening COVID-19 cooperation, a shared vision of the Indo-Pacific, bilateral cooperation and people-to-people ties.  The positive trend in this relationship thus continues, to the benefit of both countries and the Indo-Pacific.  Meanwhile, Australia conducted three other 2 + 2 dialogues during the month, with Indonesia, South Korea and the US, to add to the 2 + 2 with France on August 30. 
The surprise development was a joint announcement by Australia, the UK and the US on September 15 of a new security partnership named AUKUS.  The first commitment under this partnership is to chalk out the path to deliver an operational SSN to the Royal Australian Navy, in lieu of the submarine project Australia and France have been working on for the last five years.  A sharp reaction from France followed, with French Ambassadors to both Australia and the US being recalled for consultations.  The AUKUS announcement firmly commits Australia to the US bandwagon.  It also reflects US interest in building up Australia as an additional forward operating base, to cater for potential loss of deployments in South Korea, Japan and the Philippines which are within range of China’s Anti-Access / Area Denial ballistic missiles.  The US effort to win back its position in the Philippines continued to gather momentum.
The AUKUS announcement overshadowed release of the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy on September 16.  This strategy focuses on economically engaging countries in the Indo-Pacific, with only limited attention to defending professed interests such as democracy, human rights, sovereignty of nations, territorial integrity and the rule of law.  The contrast could not be starker: even as Australia made a conscious decision to prioritise regional security foundations over the economic dependence on China, the EU continues to prioritise the latter while largely glossing over serious challenges from China to its professed foundational principles. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US from September 23-25, with his agenda including a summit with President Joe Biden, the first in person Quad Summit, and an address at the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly.  There was visible movement on the Quad and bilateral India-US relationship, though the military-dominated element under the previous administration has receded in both.  US-India bilateral ties are centred around building India’s comprehensive power.  The Quad and AUKUS will be two distinct tracks for countering the China challenge, with the former being focused on shaping the future rules based regional environment while AUKUS addresses the military challenge. 
India continued its maritime outreach in the Indo-Pacific.  This included the deployment of warships to deliver COVID-19 relief supplies to Bangladesh and Thailand, exercises SIMBEX, AUSINDEX and SAMUDRA SHAKTI with the Singaporean, Australian and Indonesian navies, and the Special Forces phase of Exercise Malabar.  INS Tabar, meanwhile, was mission deployed off the Arabian Peninsula on return from her over 20,000 nm voyage to the Mediterranean, English Channel, North Sea and Baltic countries. 
The US continued its high-level outreach to the Philippines, reversing the trend of setbacks that has been evident since the loss of Scarborough Shoal in 2012.  China continued its aerial provocation, with 19 aircraft intruding into Taiwan’s Southwestern ADIZ on September 5 and a joint exercise off Taiwan on September 17.  USN ships in turn continued their Taiwan Straits transits and Freedom of Navigation patrols.  The USS Carl Vinson and HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Task Groups exercised in the Western Pacific.  HMS Richmond, part of CSG 21, made a deliberate transit through the Taiwan Straits on September 27, becoming the first RN warship to do so since 2008.  The fact that this transit came after the AUKUS announcement was noteworthy. 
In sum, the evidence suggests that the US is finally turning its attention to the Indo-Pacific instead of just talking about it.  The coming months will show how strongly this trend will be sustained.