Readout of Senior Administration Travel to Hawaii, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands
On April 22, a high-level U.S. delegation – led by National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, Deputy Commander INDOPACOM Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka , and USAID Acting Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Craig Hart – visited Honiara, Solomon Islands. The delegation met for ninety minutes with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, along with two dozen members of his cabinet and senior staff. While there, the delegation also met with prominent religious leaders on the island and with key members of the political opposition.
This visit to Solomon Islands was the final leg of the delegation’s trip across the Pacific. It followed stops in Hawaii, where the delegation met with senior officials from Australia, Japan, and New Zealand; Fiji, where they met with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, as well as leadership of the Pacific Island Forum, and held the U.S.-Fiji Strategic Dialogue; and Papua New Guinea, where they met with Prime Minister James Marape and senior defense officials to discuss ways to enhance security ties. Across these engagements, the United States reiterated that it will seek to further deepen our enduring ties with the Pacific Islands and take tangible steps to advance a free, open, and resilient Indo-Pacific. The United States will do so by fulfilling and strengthening its commitments in the region, working to advance regional unity, coordinating with allies and partners on meeting twenty-first century challenges, and protecting the sovereignty of Pacific Island states.
In the meeting with Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Sogavare, the delegation reiterated the key priorities animating the trip and also outlined specific steps the United States would take to advance the welfare of the people of Solomon Islands. The United States will expedite the opening of an embassy in Solomon Islands; advance cooperation on unexploded ordinance; launch a program on maritime domain awareness; dispatch the Mercy hospital ship to address public health; advance a dialogue on the return of the Peace Corps; deliver additional vaccines; and advance initiatives on climate, health, and people-to-people ties.
The United States respects the right of nations to make sovereign decisions in the best interests of their people. The two sides engaged in substantial discussion around the recently signed security agreement between Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications, but the U.S. delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners. The U.S. delegation outlined clear areas of concern with respect to the purpose, scope, and transparency of the agreement.
If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly. In response to these enumerated concerns, Prime Minister Sogavare reiterated his specific assurances that there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability, as he has said publicly. The United States emphasized that it will follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners.
At this critical juncture, the United States and Solomon Islands agreed to launch a high-level strategic dialogue, co-chaired on the U.S. side by the White House and the Department of State. Its purpose will be to enhance communication, address mutual concerns, and drive practical progress. In particular, both sides agreed to discuss in greater detail security issues of mutual concern, economic and social development, public health, and finance and debt. Each side committed to take the necessary steps in the intervening period to prepare for a successful engagement.
… more Pacific Ocean than IOR,
(TheStar (Malaysia), may28)
Samoa signs China agreement amid South Pacific push
APIA (Samoa), May 28, 2022 (AFP): Samoa signed a bilateral agreement with China on Saturday, promising "greater collaboration" as Beijing's foreign minister continues a tour of the South Pacific that has sparked concern among Western allies.
The deal's details are unclear, coming midway through a Chinese delegation's eight-nation trip -- but an earlier leaked draft agreement sent to several Pacific countries outlined plans to expand security and economic engagement.
The mission has prompted Western leaders to urge regional counterparts to spurn any Chinese attempt to extend its security reach across the region.
A press release from the Samoan government confirmed that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa had met and discussed "climate change, the pandemic and peace and security".
Local media were invited to witness the signing of a deal, but no questions were taken.
The release said that China would continue to provide infrastructural development support to various Samoan sectors and there would be a new framework for future projects "to be determined and mutually agreed".
"Samoa and the People's Republic of China will continue to pursue greater collaboration that will deliver on joint interests and commitments," the release said.
The Chinese delegation has already visited the Solomon Islands and Kiribati this week.
It arrived in Samoa on Friday night and was to depart for Fiji on Saturday afternoon, with other stops expected to be Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
In a duel for influence, Australia's new Foreign Minister Penny Wong was in Fiji on Friday, seeking to woo island states after the Solomon Islands took Canberra by surprise last month by signing a wide-ranging security pact with China.
"We have expressed our concerns publicly about the security agreement," Wong told reporters in the capital of Suva.
"As do other Pacific islands, we think there are consequences. We think that it's important that the security of the region be determined by the region. And historically, that has been the case. And we think that is a good thing."
At the first stop in Honiara on Thursday, Wang lashed out at "smears and attacks" against the security pact already signed with the Solomon Islands.
While the wide-ranging draft agreement and a five-year plan circulated to several pacific nations, both obtained by AFP, would give China a larger security footprint in a region seen as crucial to the interests of the United States and its allies.
In a stark letter to fellow Pacific leaders, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo warned the agreement seems "attractive" at first glance but would allow China to "acquire access and control of our region". - AFP
Biden was hoping to work with a cluster of Asian nations that had signed the far-reaching Trans-Pacific Partnership
For US President Joe Biden, Asia begins in New Delhi and ends in Tokyo. This definition of the continent was also the case with the administrations that preceded his. Afghanistan, the country with which the US had been engaged for two decades, is a case apart. The geographic space beyond Kabul is the Middle East. If these definitions are correct, Pakistan does not figure in Washington’s thinking. The Americans think of Islamabad only when their strategic interests are involved. This approach dates back to the Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq eras when Pakistan’s participation was needed to stop the advance of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan and South Asia. When Gen Pervez Musharraf was in charge in Pakistan, President George W Bush left the Pakistani president with little choice but to participate in Washington’s ‘war on terror’. These are no longer concerns for Washington and the administrations that operate from that city are happy to ignore Pakistan. India is the current favourite for three reasons. As discussed later, India was included in the 13-country alliance Biden announced on May 23 as he was concluding his visit to Asia. Pakistan was not invited to join.
There are several reasons why India has drawn close to the US. The first is the growing influence of the Indian diaspora in American politics as well as economics. Several large American companies are now headed by people of Indian origin, and some occupy important policy-making positions in the Biden administration. The second reason is the belief that India could counter China’s growing influence not only in Asia but in places beyond the continent. The arrangement known as ‘Quad’ — the name given by a former Japanese PM — includes, in addition to his county, the US, India and Australia. The third reason is the interest corporate America has in the large growing Indian market. The Economist, the British news magazine, wrote a cover story on India in May 2022 titled ‘India’s moment: Will Modi blow it?’ “For India to grow 7% or 8% for years to come would be momentous,” wrote the magazine. “It would lift huge numbers of people out of poverty. It would generate a vast new market and manufacturing base for global business, and it would change the global balance of power by creating a big challenge to China in Asia. Fate, inheritance and pragmatic decisions have created a new opportunity in the next decade. It is India’s and Mr Modi’s to squander.”
The magazine’s positive and enthusiastic endorsement of India’s rosy future came with a caveat based on “bigger than usual spate of nasty clashes that broke out across a swathe of central India during this spring’s festival season. However, BJP officials made scant efforts to calm things. Instead, they loudly invoked the right of Hindus to practice their faith.” There is no doubt that India under Modi is heading towards a clash of religions and civilisations. That development does not seem to have bothered Washington. Even though Biden did not include India in his Asian visit, he met with Prime Minister Modi in Tokyo when he reassembled the Quad countries to discuss how the US was approaching the large continent. A Quad summit had been held in Washington soon after President Joe Biden took office.
President Biden began his two-country, five-day visit to Asia by stopping first in Seoul on May 20. His first place of call was not the President’s house or his office but the sprawling campus of a superconductor factory built by Samsung at a place an hour’s drive from Seoul. The American president was joined by Yoon Suk-yeol, the newly elected president of South Korea, who had been sworn in ten days before Biden arrived. This was a clear signal that advanced technology would be the battleground between the US and China in the remaining decades of the 21st century.
Biden was hoping to work together with a cluster of Asian nations that had come together to sign up on the far-reaching Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that President Barack Obama had taken months to negotiate with what were termed the ‘Pacific Rim’ nations. As he had done with several other Obama initiatives, President Donald Trump pulled out of the TPP within days of taking office. Biden went back to Asia with a new initiative named the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). There is some significance in the fact that the title of the new initiative includes ‘Indo’. Biden was making India the cornerstone of his Asia policy.
Speaking at the Samsung site, Biden said the visit to the factory was “an auspicious start to my visit, because it is emblematic of the future cooperation and innovation that our nations can and must build together”. He noted that Samsung would invest $17 billion to build a similar plant in Taylor, in the American state of Texas. The plant would employ 3,000 people. President Biden has seized on global supply chain problems to urge Congress to pass legislation that would provide $52 billion in grants and subsidies for semiconductor makers and $45 billion in grants and loans to support supply chain resilience and American manufacturing. The legislation was one of the few notable bipartisan bills expected to clear Congress. “So much of the future of the world is going to be written here in the Indo-Pacific for the next several decades,” Biden said in his speech at the Samsung plant. “The decisions we make today will have far-reaching impacts on the world.”
The details of the new approach were revealed on May 23 in Tokyo. It sought to bring together many of the same countries that had joined the US in the TPP but it was without the market access or tariff reductions that were central to the Obama approach.
The framework is not a traditional free trade agreement. It is instead an architecture for negotiation to address four major areas of interest to the US and the Americans believe also to the Asian nations. The areas are: supply chains that bind the global industrial structure; the digital economy; clean energy transformation; and investments in infrastructure. In a conversation with the press on Air Force One as he was travelling with the president, President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said it would be a “big deal” and be a “significant milestone for American relations with Asia. I think this is going to be the new model of economic arrangements that will set the terms and rules for trade and technology and supply chains for the 21st century.” The Financial Times reported that the administration had diluted the language of the organising statement to encourage more countries to join. Some countries were concerned that Washington will impose labour and environmental standards on them without the trade-offs of better trading terms because of the liberal opposition within Biden’s party. Rahm Emmanuel, the American ambassador in Japan, explained that the US “has an interest in saying that we are still playing in the Pacific and China has an interest in saying that the U.S. is on its way out.” But President Biden made it clear that the US was not going out of Asia. It was instead deepening its involvement in the continent.
India sees a second chance to pivot to the Indo-Pacific in new group that excludes China
Except for India and the U.S., all other nations in IPEF are part of a rival bloc.
Although IPEF is not styled as a trade pact, trade is one of its four pillars.
India's aversion to a pact which includes China has geopolitical considerations at its root.
New Delhi's move comes as U.S. overtakes China to become India's largest trade partner in the fiscal year ending March 2022.
U.S. President Joe Biden (R) here seen reviewing an honor guard with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, released an economic framework during his visit to Japan last week. The IPEF came as a lifeline for India, which had stayed out of a China-centric pact consisting of Southeast Asian nations in 2020.
Two years after walking out of a China-centric free trade pact in Southeast Asia, India is embracing the chance to become a founding member of another grouping — this one led by the U.S.
New Delhi's move to solidify its alliance with Washington comes amid news that the U.S. overtook China to become India's largest trade partner in the fiscal year ending March 2022.
Except for India and the U.S., all other nations participating in the IPEF launch are part of a rival bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. RCEP includes China, which is the largest trade partner of most pact members.
India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar later affirmed India's commitment to IPEF. At a conference in India with Southeast Asian nations last week, he said India was building infrastructure to forge closer links to Southeast Asia through Myanmar and Bangladesh which would dovetail with the new framework.
"[Connectivity] will not only build on the partnerships that we have with Asean and Japan, but would actually make a difference to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that is now in the making," Jaishankar said.
Countries in the [Indo-Pacific] region can overcome geography and rewrite near history if they get policies and economics right.
"Countries in the [Indo-Pacific] region can overcome geography and rewrite near history if they get policies and economics right," he noted.
Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are part of the Belt and Road Initiative under which China has plowed billions of dollars into infrastructure projects across continents. India has stayed out of President Xi Jinping's signature initiative because of an ongoing border dispute. Besides, a key component of the BRI passes through areas of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. India claims all of Kashmir as its own.
India's early fervor for the IPEF is an about-turn for the South Asian giant, which chose to stay out of the China-centric RCEP which kicked off earlier this year. The RCEP includes Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 Southeast Asian nations, making it the world's largest free trade pact.
"A major flaw of RCEP was the inclusion of China," former chief economic advisor to the Indian government Arvind Virmani told CNBC. "China agrees to everything on paper, but has no compunctions about evading rules in practice. IPEF is very attractive to India because it includes east & southeast Asian countries but excludes China," he said.
China which last week criticized the the IPEF as an effort "doomed to fail," dismissed it again on Monday.
"How can it be called inclusive if it purposefully excludes China, the largest market in the region and in the world?" Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked. Wang made the comment during a visit to Fiji, which became the newest member to join IPEF last week.
Although IPEF is not styled as a trade pact, trade is one of its four pillars. The other pillars are supply chain resilience; clean energy, decarbonization, and infrastructure and finally, taxation and anti-corruption.
"India will gain from signing up for a multilateral framework which will mean some standardization across sectors," a former industry secretary to the Indian government, Rajan Katoch, told CNBC from Bhopal, a city in central India.
"I hope it leads to something (on trade) because that will put pressure on the Indian system to be more open. India is too protectionist, in my view, considering the capabilities its people have," Katoch said, adding that the IPEF could enable India to push for supply lines for some products to be moved to India.
But strategic calculations could outweigh economic considerations. "It's becoming a very segmented world and you have a foot in this camp... you want that to be seen also," Katoch said.
India's aversion to a pact which includes China has geopolitical considerations at its root. Tensions on India's Himalayan border with China erupted into a bloody conflict two years ago. Tens of thousands of soldiers from both sides are still deployed on the border.
Katoch said although lowering barriers to U.S. markets is not currently on the table at this stage, that could eventually change through negotiations.
"Maybe [negotiations could result in] some reduction in barriers or some encouragement of supply chain relocation to India. I suppose that's the way it would go," he said.
But India's importance to the U.S. is more strategic than economic. As the only Asian country that shares a disputed land border with China and is strong enough to stand up to the emerging superpower, India is a key component of the U.S.' Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China. That strategic confluence may lead to concessions on both sides.
The very notion of an Indo-Pacific is hollow without Indian participation.
"The very notion of an Indo-Pacific is hollow without Indian participation," Joshua P. Meltzer, a senior fellow in the global economy and development program at the Brookings Institution, said in a recent analysis. He added India may be more accepting of IPEF than RCEP since it does not make any demands to lower tariffs.
"The IPEF also comes at a time when India has clarified its strategic concerns with respect to China. Increasing China–Russia alignment may also lead India to seek even closer relations with the United States," Meltzer said.