DPG Indo-Pacific Monitor

Vol.III, Issue.2

Date: March 01, 2022
The conflict in Ukraine drew the political and media attention, particularly in the US and Western Europe away from the Indo-Pacific, creating concern about whether the US would turn attention away from China, till recently described as its “pacing threat”.  Though the US has reiterated its intention to remain militarily aloof and has maintained enhanced military levels in the Western Pacific, the concern remains.  Partners, allies and neutrals in the Indo-Pacific will make their own assessments, with any turn away from the region forcing re-evaluation of national strategies and particularly the neutrals turning towards China.

The China Russia entente intensified as Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Beijing for an in-person summit on February 4, 2022 and announced a “no limits” partnership.  The joint statement released on the occasion provided a glimpse of the “multipolar” world both aspire to, spelt out the ideological differences between their governance models and those of the US, identified their developmental priorities and highlighted their areas of security and multilateral cooperation.  They targeted increasing bilateral trade from the current $ 140 billion annually to $ 200 billion, including through a deal to deliver ten billion cubic metres of natural gas to China every year.  As the month ended, GAZPROM inked a deal to design a new Soyuz Vostok pipeline that could supply China 50 billion metres of natural gas every year. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, held a virtual summit on February 18, 2022.  They agreed on a Roadmap to strengthen bilateral cooperation, including the signing of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement that will open up new avenues for trade and investment. 

The Fourth Quad Ministerial Meeting took place in Melbourne on February 11, 2022.  A joint statement, released for the first time after a ministerial meeting, highlighted the progress the Quad has made so far and its intentions in the lead-up to the next summit to be hosted by Japan in the first half of 2022.  Though cooperation continues to grow, the Quad’s ability to remain on track with its commitments in the Indo-Pacific will be tested by differences between India and the other partners on condemning the Russian action in Ukraine. 

Following the Quad ministerial, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar co-chaired the 12th Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue and the inaugural Foreign Ministers’ Cyber Framework Dialogue with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne.  The bilateral partnership continues to forge ahead, with the conclusion of the first phase of the economic partnership agreement in the offing.

Dr. Jaishankar then travelled to the Philippines and agreed with his counterpart to step up engagement with this important South East Asian nation.  India’s growing cooperation with the Philippines was marked by a landmark deal to export Brahmos missiles, described as the most strategic military purchase the Philippines has made in years.

India renewed its attention to the maritime front, through a sharp increase in capital allocations for the Indian Navy and Coast Guard in the budget for FY 2022-23.  The increase, however, still provides only part of the financial requirements for approved projects, as brought out in an analysis in this edition of the Indo-Pacific Monitor. 

Two of India’s long-running aircraft acquisition programmes drew to a close, with arrival of the 35th Rafale and the 12th P-8I contracted for with French and US manufacturers.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the solution to long procurement lead times as lying in the Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India campaigns.

In other Indo-Pacific developments, India’s growing security engagement with the Gulf region was displayed through the incoming high-level visits from the Sultanate of Oman and Saudi Arabia.  The 40th Chinese naval escort task force commenced its operations in the Horn of Africa on February 4.  The President’s Review of the Indian Fleet off Visakhapatnam on February 21 and the following Exercise MILAN showcased India’s maritime capability.  The latter was attended by the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet and the Chief of the Australian Navy, in addition to ships and senior officers from 15 countries.  Conflict continued in Myanmar, with little signs of reconciliation that could help alleviate the deepening crisis facing the nation.  Indonesia invested in purchase of Rafale and F-15 aircraft to strengthen its Air Force.  USS Ralph Johnson carried out a Taiwan Strait transit on February 26, while North Korea carried out yet another missile test on February 27. 

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sparked a debate when he called for discussion of the possible sharing of nuclear weapons and their placement on Japanese soil mirroring NATO practices in Europe, highlighting concerns regarding the US ability to focus on both Europe and East Asia simultaneously.  PM Kishida promptly ruled out any change in Japan’s anti-nuclear weapons stance.

The US released its new Indo-Pacific Strategy, as well as a Combined Space Operations vision, which are detailed in this report.