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Indo-Pacific Region: A hotspot of rivalry

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The Pacific region in post-Cold-War period is fast changing its strategic complexion. This region had been under United States’ influence. But, the USA and its proxies like India Taiwan, and some other countries perceive that the region is in a state of flux. USA and its allies fear China may in future challenge USA’s undisputed dominance of the seas-lanes in the region.

China’s disputes

China has maritime disputes over some islands in the region (Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines). In East China Sea, there is dispute between China and Japan over islands of Diaoyu and Senkakus islands.

The USA assures China’s rivals that USA would be their `security provider’ in moment of need. The major stakeholders in the region ae the USA, China, Australia, ASEAN countries, Japan and South Korea. American presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama visited the region to strengthen partnership with littoral states.

The Indo-Pacific region is of great importance because of its impact on energy maritime and trade security. ASEAN and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation are important politico-economic players in the region. The APEC members account for 40 per cent of world’s population, 54 per cent of the World’s Gross Domestic Product and 44 per cent of the World’s trade. The ASEAN accounts for about 8.8 per cent of World’s population and three per cent of the total and area of Earth.

To block China’s ascendancy, all littoral states including Japan, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and other middle ranking regional powers are modernizing their navies. China wants to surpass the USA not only in terms of GDP but also in respect of naval power.

India: Emerging us proxy in Indian Ocean

Robert Kaplan, in his book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and Future of American Power, argues that the geopolitics of the twenty-first century will hinge on the Indian Ocean. USA’s new protégé is India. To woo India firmly into its fold, USA offered to sell India US$ 3 billion (per one unit) Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-3) missile defence systems as an alternative to Russian S-400 system. India ditched Russia from whom it had decided to purchase five S-400s Russian S-400s air defence systems at cost of US$5.4 billion.

With US tacit support, India is getting tougher with China. There was a 73-day standoff on the Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) plateau near the Nathula Pass on Sikkim border last year. Being at a disadvantage vis-a-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations.  In later period, China developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 10,000-ton-class missile destroyer 055 being built.

China wants to bridge its aircraft-carrier deficiency through anti-ship ballistic missiles and Xian H-6K bomber armed with advanced air launched cruise missiles. Chinese defence systems include DF-, Dong-Feng 21 (DF-21; NATO reporting name CSS-5 – Dong-Feng (literally: ‘East Wind’). Dong-Feng 21 is a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket, single-warhead medium-range ballistic missile developed by China Changfeng Mechanics and Electronics Technology Academy. A variant is DF-26 with range increased to 3,000 km (1,900 mi) to 4,000 km (2,500 miles). China has two supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, the YJ-12, with a range of 400 km, and the YJ-18, which can hit targets up to 540 km away. But they are no match for US subsonic

Harpoon anti-ship missile, which has been modified to give it a maximum range of about 240 km.  An anti-ship variant of US Raytheon’s Tomahawk land attack cruise missile, with a range of over 1,600 km, has been delivered to the US navy.

At us prodding, India revised its maritime strategy “Freedom to Use the Seas’ in 2015 to “Ensuring Secure Seas”. India obtained access to the US naval base in Diego Garcia, and to the French naval bases in Mayotte and Reunion islands, besides Australian naval base in Cocos (Keeling). It signed an agreement with Seychelles to develop and manage facilities on its Assumption Island, another agreement with Mauritius to develop dual- use logistics facilities in the Agalega Island, obtained berthing rights in Duqm Port in Oman and Maputo in Mozambique. Besides, she took up development of the Sittwe Port in Myanmar as part of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project for building a multi-modal sea, river and road transport corridor for shipment of cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar through Sittwe. It upgraded its existing listening post in northern Madagascar.

Chinese navy’s snooping in Indian Ocean is rising (Deccan Herald, March 3, 2019).  Upon Indian navy’s protest, Chinese flotilla had to move away from Port Blair. Till 2025, China, currently in grip of corona virus, Bangkok unrest and Xinxiang Uighur, has to do a lot to end American one-upmanship.  

China’s thinking

China is suspicious of India’s role as a US proxy in the Indo-Pacific region. It regards the arc from The Bay of Bengal to East China Sea as a hot-spot of rivalry. China’s blue Book warns if India China itself and the USA failed to engage with each other more constructively in view of their overlapping interest, the Indian Ocean could end up `as an Ocean of conflict and trouble’. Chinese Battle Group and submarine often moved in Indian Ocean though after giving prior movement-notice to littoral states.

China has deployed `Xia’ class nuclear submarines with SLBMs in South China Sea. They can reach south-western quadrant of the Indian Ocean via Strait of Malacca or Sunda in a short time.

China is building energy relationship worldwide especially in Central Asia, Russia, Africa, Middle East and Gulf countries.

China gets about 70 per cent of its oil imports from West Asia and Africa through tankers. China is creating a strategic petroleum reserve and is building a fleet of super-tankers for transport of energy to China.

China’s ‘string of pearls’

The USA has over 800 naval bases while China has only two  that is Mombasa and Djibouti, aside from controversial Hambantota (Sri Lanka). Yet, the US propaganda is that China is setting up bases along the sea lanes from Middle East to South China Sea. The bases have dual objectives to protect energy and strategic interests.

USA’s ring

Doubtless the USA is the dominant super-power in the Indo-Pacific region. Majority of the littoral states including India. Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Spith Koprea are under American influence.

The USA has powerful naval bases at Diego Garcia, Busen, Guyan Island, Yongson base (South Korea) and Okinawa (Japan).The USA has stationed its littoral combat ships at Singapore besides accessing facilities of Vietnamese port Cam Rank Bay.

India’s outreach

The revised Indian Maritime doctrine 2009 states that India wants to build a Blue Water Navy capable of defending not only its homeland d, but also wider security and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region. In view of South East Asia and South China Sea region, India created regional Andaman and Nicobar Tri-Service Command in 2001 at Port Blair.

India’s Natural gas C Corporation Videsh Limited has oil fields in Russias Sakhalin region. Vietnam allotted two more gas exploration blocks to ONGC-VL during Indian president Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam in September 2014.

Indian navy wants to attain underwater nuclear power projection capability by year 2025. By said year, Indian navy will have network-centric approach and land-attack assistance capability. The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System has become operational since 2016. It will provide positional information of about 1500 kilometers around the Indian mainland.

India is already a partner in the US Security architecture of Indo-Pacific Region. Indian navy’s new acquisition project in the pipeline adds up to well over Rs. 300000 crore over the next 15 years.

Conclusion: Despite adverse advisory opinion on Chagos Island, including Diego Garcia atoll, by International Court of Justice, United States’ forces is still entrenched there. Besides, France maintains naval bases in the Indian Ocean and stations frigates off its Reunion islands. China has a string of naval assets in the region from Gwadar to Djibouti.

India’s ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean does not augur well for the region. It should let Indian Ocean remain the zone of peace.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Southeast Asia

Is Quad 2.0 transforming into a Pentad?

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The reinvigoration of Quad Security Dialogue as Quad 2.0 including US, Japan, and Australia along with India during the 12th East Asia Summit in November 2017 has been appreciated and acknowledged by several countries including Germany, France, and Britain. It has been expressed from these countries that such a concert of the major democracies would provide peace, security and help in maintaining order and harmony in the region. Quad 2.0 has been gaining strength with the Foreign ministers meeting in February 2021 followed with Summit level meeting (online) in March 2021 between the leaders of the four countries -India, US, Japan, and Australia.

In 2017, during the India-France Strategic Dialogue, the French senior officials have hinted that they would like to explore possibility regarding collaboration with the Quad members about joining the initiative. The French side has clearly mentioned that given the strength and the objective of the Quad, France would like to join the initiative with the common consensus of the other four partners.

Given the fact that India is averse to any idea of an Asian NATO, therefore France, India and Australia have created a new minilateral which would develop security structures and promote maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. In September 2020 during the foreign Secretary level dialogue between three countries issues such as Maritime Security, Blue Economy, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), and Protection of Marine Global Commons were discussed. The maritime global commons and the blue economy are the two things along with maritime security which allude to the fact that France wants Quad by its side to protect its resources. Deliberating on the objectives and agenda of the Quad, France recently concluded joint exercise with the Quad members in April 2021. The exercises were conducted in the eastern Indian Ocean and were held for three days.

 India has been operating Rafale fighter jets (14 are now in service with Indian air force) and plans to procure two squadrons (about 36) of these jets while the three Scorpene submarines have already been commissioned with the Indian navy. This structural defence cooperation between India and France has also been seen in the context of India’s’ entry into the Indian Ocean Commission (an intergovernmental group of island nations- Madagascar, Comoros, Reunion islands, Mauritius, and Seychelles, dealing with maritime governance) as an observer, and India and France maritime surveillance sorties from Reunion islands from Reunion Islands. India benefits from France entry into the Quad as it would enhance extensive naval presence and add more friendly ports into the Quad network. France has expressed concerns related to China’s search for marine resources and seabed minerals near its Indian Ocean territories.

France has been looking into an agreement with Quad members for regular joint exercises and entering into a logistics supply agreement that India has signed with US and both Japan and Australia already have the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA).India and France have signed reciprocal logistics support which is not comprehensive but compliments the requirements from both sides. During the visit of the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to India in November 2017, the French Minister welcomed the “a free, open, prosperous and inclusive” Indo-Pacific and sated that it would servelong-term global interests but added that this concert of democracies should be open and inclusive citing that such an initiative should welcome other democracies.

Following the visit of the French Minister, it has been explored that given few Francophone countries in Eastern Africa, the logistics and other related support can be procured from the willing countries. India has set up a grid of coastal surveillance radars in Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Madagascar. France has military assets in Mayotte, besides military bases in UAE and Djibouti, and it has proposed a wide network of radars which can be integrated with other coastal surveillance radars so that not only white shipping, but rogue ships can also be monitored.

France has expressed interest in developing synergies and cooperative structure which should assimilate itself with the larger objectives of the Quad and is looking for maintaining peace and security as well as protecting the marine resources in the Indian Ocean as China has also been exploring for seabed resources near the Madagascar region. The islands that are of interest and can benefit from the Pentad (with France as new entrant) as this would provide security to its islands namely Reunion, Mayotte, French Southern and Antarctic Lands which includes Île Amsterdam, Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, Île Saint-Paul and other scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean, Bassas da India, Europa Island, Banc du Geyser, and Glorioso Islands, largely uninhabited islands.

Few of these islands can support military structures and Quad countries can use its facilities in and around the Indian Ocean as well as certain islands in the Pacific Ocean. In such a context, France has proposed in the past for holding bilateral and trilateral (with Australia and India) naval and coast guard exercises. The increasing bon homie between Quad members and France serves three basic purposes. Firstly, it involves the French navy in the Indian Ocean and helps in monitoring western Indian Ocean. Secondly, the number of island territories that France had both in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific provides unique coverage and support systems. Thirdly, the trilateral between Australia, India, and France (India and Australia are two Quad members) shows that even though it is not very profoundly expressed but the blueprint is already created for including France to make it a Pentad.

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ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus: A Solution to Crisis in Myanmar?

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It is a glimmer of hope amidst an ongoing military crackdown in Myanmar that the member countries of ASEAN have been convened in Jakarta to discuss the potential of a resolution of the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. The meeting was conspicuous in its absence of any representative of Myanmar people. However, it has reached an interim five point consensus on how to resolve the impasse in Myanmar. This article assesses the efficacy of the consensus in ameliorating the ever deteriorating situation in Myanmar.

The Myanmar junta spearheaded by General Min Aung Hlaing   is nearing its 3 month hold of power amidst continuing backlash from citizens and civil societies alike. Using the irregularities and widespread voting fraud of November election as a pretext to usurp the power, the Myanmar junta has taken over the country which is reminiscent  of the country’s protracted military rule.

The junta has squelched all of the opposition in its bid to prolong the power hold. The junta has indiscriminately detained the protesters. The number of detainees climbed to 3,389. Security forces have deployed live ammunition to quell the uprising, killing more than 740 people in brutal crackdowns, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Besides, the junta has also halted communications across the country by imposing a nightly internet shutdown for 70 consecutive days.

Amidst this backdrop, the regional organization of south-east Asia, ASEAN has convened a meeting to resolve the situation in Myanmar. This is the first in-person meeting since the onset of covid-19 pandemic and this is also the first foreign visit of junta Chief General Min Aung Hlaing. The ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting was convened at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, and was chaired by the Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. In a statement announced by ASEANs chair, the Sultan of Brunei, the leaders in their five-point consensus called for 1) the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar; 2) constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people; 3) mediation to be facilitated by an envoy of ASEAN’s chair, with the assistance of the secretary-general; 4) humanitarian assistance provided by ASEAN’s AHA Centre and 5) a visit by the special envoy and delegation to Myanmar to meet all parties concerned

Although the statement by the ASEAN and its five point consensus is encouraging amidst such inflammatory situation in Myanmar, it leaves much to be desired. There are many blatant shortcomings of the meeting and the subsequent statement it put forth. Firstly, there was no mention of the prisoners both political and civilian which has been detained by the junta since February. While they had mentioned that the association has “heard the calls”, it is at best quite ambiguous selection of words in an attempt to evade the issue of political prisoners. Secondly, the meeting wasn’t representative enough. While chief of Myanmar military attended the meeting, there was no representative of Myanmar civilian of newly fashioned parallel government namely National Unity Government (NUG). Therefore, the decision that ASEAN reached run the risk of not reflecting the ground realities of Myanmar. Beside some doubts are being raised given ASEAN’s abysmal record of implementing such lofty goals. History abounds with numerous precedents where ASEAN purported to take firm actions but was futile due to its unique organizational structure and lack of good-will. It remains to be seen whether ASEAN can bring about any decisive solution to Myanmar impasse.

Although an epitome of regionalism as evidenced by deepening economic cooperation between the countries, ASEAN’s success in political stability is rather limited. Part of the reasons for lack of political involvement can be attributed to its cornerstone principle of non-interference which forbids any nation to interfere the internal affairs of other countries.

However, in a world marked by globalization where national, regional and global has been blurred and where any incidents in one nation can have spill over effect in other countries of the region. The potentiality of an essentially national incident to disrupt the stability of the region is well documented. Particularly, it requires no special mention that given the geopolitical importance of Myanmar, stability in the south-east Asian region hinges on the stability and good governance in Myanmar. Besides, economic cooperation presupposes a semblance of stability which is hindered if good governance can’t be assured.

Therefore, ASEAN shouldn’t remain aloof from its geopolitical calling since the situation in Myanmar isn’t an internal affair any more and has transcended Myanmar. The Rohingya refugee crisis which is the manifestation of Myanmar military hawkish posture serves as a shuddering reminder to world community. The inability to forestall any crisis can have devastating consequences for the whole region and can disrupt the security in the region.

If ASEAN’s firm action can’t be ensured, the present imbroglio can ensue more such refugee crisis given the assortment of ethnic communities that reside in Myanmar and their apparent hostility and protracted conflict with the junta. Therefore, ASEAN can’t trade the security and stability of broader region under the pretext of its provincial non-interference norm. A bold and effective action by ASEAN is the crying need of the time rather than lukewarm condemnations which doesn’t serve much purpose. Moreover, ASEAN should come out of its record of advancing platitudes and nostrums in response to pressing political issues and rather should take decisive action to solve the quagmire in Myanmar.

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Southeast Asia

Does ASEAN still play an important role?

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The five Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) founders sought regional harmony in several dimensions, including economy, collaboration, prosperity, socio-cultural development, security concerns, and shared interests, in the early days of the organization. Many of ASEAN’s gains have been accomplished over time, along with the growth of the organization itself, one of which is how ASEAN has facilitated multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific region.

Furthermore, ASEAN has agreed to expand regional coordination in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic so that member countries can reduce health risks, assist with economic stimulus, and restore tourism by coordinated policies. As can be seen, the ASEAN debate does not only include Southeast Asia, but the impact is significant enough to hit a broader audience, including the international community.

ASEAN has evolved into a regional body with several agreements between member countries in terms of fiscal, social, and global contributions. While, in reality, ASEAN faces numerous challenges in order to maintain its strength. Internal and external problems continue to be major impediments to ASEAN’s achievement of all of its objectives. Nonetheless, member countries’ confidence, determination, and passion have made him relevant over the years.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which was adopted in 2015 in a blueprint and also approved by the AEC continuity strategy for 2025, exemplifies members’ hope, determination, and excitement. AEC clearly seeks to create a more cohesive and competitive ASEAN. high, diverse, yet increasingly people-oriented in order to achieve a global ASEAN.

When seen through the lens of how ASEAN ideals are geared toward national and common interests, ASEAN can still be regarded as important. ASEAN has succeeded in becoming a forum for its members to collaborate through mutually agreed-upon agreements that demonstrate that ASEAN can assist its members in achieving their respective national interests.

Furthermore, ASEAN’s centrality dynamic has offered a means for its member countries to compete for foreign cooperation while still forming an active and strong defense of the regional order. As a result, ASEAN has established itself as one of the regional organizations that has effectively demonstrated its ability to carry out regional and national interests in a united manner.

ASEAN has become an indirect reflection and performance of Indonesia’s foreign policy framework. Indonesia’s foreign policy is reflected in ASEAN’s neutrality. Indonesia has earned the right to be considered one of ASEAN’s founders. Indonesia gradually gained recognition in terms of its presence in the eyes of member countries and internationally as a result of its position as one of the founding members of ASEAN.

Indonesia plays an important role in the ASEAN structure, as shown by its success in establishing a channel of contact and diplomacy with the United States and Japan over the settlement of the South China Sea dispute. However, ASEAN is only just a strategy that promotes collaboration with other member countries, and it is no longer a cornerstone of its members’ foreign policy, since each member country must still recognize requirements and pursue its national interests. None of which could be accomplished by ASEAN.

In conclusion, ASEAN continues to have significant implications for its member countries. However, the concept of not interfering in the internal affairs of its member countries remains debatable, as it is also debatable to what degree ASEAN can assist, especially in issues and disputes involving two or more member countries. As a result, ASEAN can be defined as a platform for cooperation and diplomacy that is only used officially and ceremonially for regional participants when a serious problem involving several parties arises.

Because of its existence, ASEAN appears to serve only as a diplomatic intermediary, with no authority to intervene in the internal affairs of these countries. Even so, there is nothing wrong with ASEAN continuing to stand firm because it still plays a positive position with tangible benefits, especially in the regional context. Since, in the end, ASEAN also has the power to bring parties that have affairs with each other together on a formal negotiation agenda with a coordinated process to address these issues in the hopes of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement that takes into account each other’s interests as well as shared interests as a group.

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