Indo-Pacific : News & Discussion

RISING SUN

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Chinese research vessels in Sri Lankan waters come under Indian Navy lens​

New Delhi: Two Chinese research and survey vessels in Sri Lankan waters have caught the eye of the Indian Navy, which sees them as possibly being part of a larger ploy to gather data vital for conduct of naval operations, especially that of submarines, ThePrint has learnt.

The two vessels have reached the Sri Lankan waters over the last one month, sources in the defence and security establishment said.

Incidentally, Chinese survey and research vessels have been regular visitors to Sri Lanka and the waters around the Island nation over the last decade.

Chinese survey and research activity picked up in 2012 and there has been continuous presence of Chinese survey and research vessels in Sri Lankan waters ever since.

“These vessels are ostensibly being deployed for locating wrecks of Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s treasure fleet, which reportedly sank off Sri Lanka in early the 15th century,” a source explained. “An agreement to undertake marine surveys, including search for wreckages, was signed between the two countries during the visit of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Head Xi Jinping to Sri Lanka in September 2014.”

A note prepared by the security and defence establishment said sustained presence of Chinese survey and research vessels also begs the question whether this presence is related only to search for wrecks as claimed.

12 declared visits
There have been 12 declared visits since February 2014 and many more, which have not come to the attention of Sri Lankan authorities.

“Why do these vessels not conduct their activities closer to the shore, where the likelihood of finding wrecks and artefacts will be higher, as would be the ability of Sri Lankan authorities to monitor their activities,” the source said.

The note indicates that despite repeated requests from Sri Lankan authorities, these vessels do not disclose their activities or details of their movements within Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“No details of equipment being carried are provided, nor the type of data being collected during deployment of these vessels,” the note said. “Research data is also not shared with Sri Lankan authorities despite being mandatory as per the agreement. To buttress their claims of being engaged in purely historical and scientific missions, Universities at Kelaniya and Ruhunu are being engaged, albeit at a superficial level.”

Sources in the know said the CCP appears to have bullied its way and swept aside all questions being raised regarding their activities in this domain.

“It would be interesting to examine on how many occasions Sri Lankan authorities were permitted to embark these vessels? What was their level of access and has there been any tangible benefit to Sri Lanka from the deployment of these vessels? The opacity with which these deployments are being undertaken and the unwillingness of CCP to share information with Sri Lankan authorities indicates motives apart from just marine archaeology,” another source said.

The note said survey and research vessels primarily gather data vital for conduct of naval operations, especially that of submarines. “Such unencumbered and suspicious activity within Sri Lankan waters will surely raise the hackles of other nations in the region and also has the potential to upset the delicate maritime balance in the IOR.”

Project headed by professor with links to Chinese military

The note added that the person spearheading the wreckage investigation project from the CCP’s side is Professor Hu Changing, Director of Shanghai Acoustics Laboratory at Chinese Academy of Sciences. It claims that Professor Hu has been deeply involved with the CCP’s military for projects, including for submarine sonar systems.

Sources said the CCP’s claims that these survey missions would be beneficial to Sri Lanka seem quite far-fetched, if not outlandish.

“In what can only be described as an attempt to put a square peg in a round hole, CCP has attempted to link the discovery of Zheng He’s wrecks to increased tourism from China,” a second source said. “However, available data and predictions suggest that there is no such correlation. This is also despite the fact that in 2012, Sri Lanka had celebrated the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s landing on the island nation and held special tourism promotion drives in Yunnan Province, which is Zheng He’s native place.”

While Zheng He is a revered figure back in China, he did not have a benign eye towards the island nation.

This is because Zheng undertook a series of naval expeditions to waters around Sri Lanka, using his fleet of Junks. These expeditions were undertaken to collect tribute and demand obedience towards the Chinese Emperor.

“This is much in the same way that modern day CCP’s economic debt-diplomacy aims to subjugate Sri Lanka’s interests,” the source said.
 

RISING SUN

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US Navy in Asia welcomes Japan-Australia military pact, India’s role in Quad​

A senior US Navy commander in Asia on Thursday welcomed an agreement by Japan and Australia to tighten military cooperation that will bolster the United States in a region where China’s influence is growing.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian leader Scott Morrison on Tuesday agreed in principle on a
Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) that will more closely align the US allies through a legal framework allowing each other’s troops to visit for training and to conduct joint military operations.

“That kind of agreement is really helpful and encouraging to everybody in the region. We are very supportive of that agreement and we look forward to exercising along right with them,” Vice Admiral William Merz, commander of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, which is headquartered in Japan, said during a round table briefing.

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/poli...alia-agree-military-pact-eye-chinas-influence
The agreement between Canberra and Tokyo, Japan’s first with another country since a similar agreement with Washington in 1960, comes as the two countries work more closely with the United States and India as part of an informal grouping known as the “Quad” as they grow more concerned about Chinese activity in the South China Sea and East China Sea.​


Suga hosted foreign ministers from the Quad in Tokyo last month before heading to Vietnam and Indonesia to deepen ties with key Southeast Asian nations.


Merz, who spoke with Lieutenant General H. Stacy Clardy, the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, said greater cooperation in the region is not aimed at China.
Every Saturday

“There is no attempt to contain China or anyone else, we are trying to create an environment of inclusion,” he said.

Beijing, which says its intentions in the region are peaceful, has described the Quad as a “mini-Nato”.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) was formed to provide collective security against the then Soviet Union and is still seen as a threat by Russia as it expands to include some European states that were formerly part of the Eastern Bloc.

The Japan-Australia agreement also came under similar criticism in China on Tuesday, with the state-backed newspaper the Global Times saying the United States “is using its two anchors in the Asia-Pacific region to push forward the construction of an Asian version of Nato”.

“India is very committed to improving this Quad relationship, and the overall impact is just a more stable region,” he said.

Merz met the press as the four Pacific powers, which routinely operate together in the Indo-Pacific, conducted the second phase of the “Malabar” exercises in the Northern Arabian Sea following the first phase from November 3 to 6.
Indian army fighter jets are seen on the deck on an aircraft carrier during the second phase of the Malabar naval exercise in the Arabian Sea. Photo: AFP


Indian army fighter jets are seen on the deck on an aircraft carrier during the second phase of the Malabar naval exercise in the Arabian Sea. Photo: AFP

Malabar started in 1992 as a bilateral drill involving the US and Indian navies, with Japan joining in 2015. Australia returned to the exercises this year after last taking part in 2007.

“So, what you’re seeing with India, again, is a relationship that we have been advancing for quite a while now,” Merz said.
 

RISING SUN

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China sends a message with Australian crackdown​

For a glimpse of the future in a world dominated by China, a good starting point is Australia. Beijing’s embassy in Canberra last week handed the local media a short document detailing 14 grievances that China says are the cause of its rapidly deteriorating relations with Australia. The document contains many familiar complaints: Beijing says Canberra has been interfering in its sovereignty through critical statements on Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Xinjiang, and has unfairly excluded Chinese companies like Huawei from Australia’s 5G telecommunications network.

The truly illuminating detail, however, lay in the other multiple grievances, about hostile local media coverage, foreign investment restrictions, critical think-tank reports and MPs speaking out on human rights. As Rush Doshi of the Brookings Institution in Washington notes, the list is revealing in its hypocrisy. After all, Beijing routinely directs attacks at its critics through its state-controlled media, regulates local think-tank output, screens foreign investment proposals and regulates the speech of Chinese officials. China’s most prominent Oceania scholar followed the document’s release by calling Australian foreign policy “bizarre”, “immature”, “stubborn”, “belligerent”, “mindless” and “juvenile”, among a litany of other pejoratives. And that was in just one article. The list of grievances also complains that Australia is forcing the state government of Victoria to ditch its participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, because it conflicts with Canberra’s refusal to sign on to Beijing’s flagship infrastructure programme.

Needless to say, if a Chinese provincial party secretary signed an agreement with Australia which Beijing had not sanctioned, he or she would be sacked forthwith. It is little wonder that Australia has become the canary in the coal mine of an emerging illiberal Chinese world order.

Australia is a close US ally, and a core member of the Anglosphere’s Five Eyes intelligence partnership. The Australia-China relationship has been deteriorating for some years, but the downward spiral has accelerated in recent months. Two tipping points stand out this year — the Australian call for an independent inquiry into the Covid-19 outbreak, and police raids on Chinese-Australians and Chinese media in Australia over allegations of covert interference in domestic politics.

China’s response has been ferocious, slapping trade restrictions on multiple Australian exports, such as wine, beef, timber, barley and coal. The trade barriers initially carried a pretence of legality, as they were ostensibly based on anti-dumping claims and health concerns. In recent weeks, the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing hasn’t bothered with that, issuing informal instructions to customs to block Australian goods on arrival.

A new diplomacy in the Pacific Rim Australian leaders used to say the country didn’t have to choose between its security ally (the US) and its economic partner (China). Such sinuous spin no longer passes muster. It is true that Australia has at times been diplomatically clumsy in its handling of Beijing, notably in the way it unilaterally called for the Covid-19 inquiry and in its management of proposals to limit Chinese investment in the country. Prominent Australians have also been critical of Canberra’s hardening line, saying that the intelligence community has taken over policy at the expense of diplomacy and commercial interests. They also complain that Australian leaders’ efforts to keep on the right side of Donald Trump has ended up making them look like they were trailing dutifully behind him. Some in the business community are demanding that Canberra finds ways to work with China to rescue the relationship.

However, other democracies should take note of Beijing’s behaviour, as they could be the next target. The message is clear. If your media is overly critical, if your think-tanks produce negative reports, if your MPs persist in criticism, if you probe Communist party influence in your community and politics and if you don’t allow Chinese state and private companies into your market, and so on, you will be vulnerable to Beijing’s retribution as well. As documents go, Beijing’s “14 Grievances” doesn’t quite match the “Long Telegram”, the dispatch from George Kennan in 1946 that laid the foundation for US policy of containment towards the Soviet Union in the cold war. But it provides an illuminating road map for a future in which a powerful China demands that its political system be respected and its human rights record stays beyond foreign scrutiny.
 

RISING SUN

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The outlines of a European policy on the Indo-Pacific​

The Netherlands recently published its first official strategy paper for the Indo-Pacific, just ten weeks after Germany had brought out its own. The two countries are now part of a club of three in Europe, after France led the way in 2018.

In the diplomatic world, this feels like lightning speed. And Amsterdam is stating clearly where this new approach is supposed to lead: “The Netherlands believes that it is desirable for the European Union to develop its own vision of the Indo-Pacific,” reads the country’s strategy paper (so far only available in Dutch).

That statement should come as no surprise to analysts, says Céline Pajon, research fellow at the Centre for Asian Studies at the French Institute of International Relations, a Paris-based think tank. “It’s the logical consequence of what’s been going on behind the scenes for years, where especially the French have been pushing for a European approach.”

The very existence of these papers makes for a fascinating recognition of what is often remarked to be the shifting economic and geopolitical centre of gravity in international relations towards the Indian and Pacific oceans.
This is not only about strengthening economic ties – it’s also about diversification.

The German and Dutch strategies are both comprehensive and include areas such as climate change, peace and security in the region, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The two countries make the case for free trade and enhanced connectivity, with the Germans putting an extra emphasis on closer cultural cooperation. All this under multilateral umbrellas, such as the United Nations or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Economics is in large part what is driving this shift. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated in the strategy paper that his country’s prosperity would in the coming decades “depend on how we work together with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region”. Meanwhile the Dutch also emphasise that developments in the Indo-Pacific will have “direct consequences for our prosperity and security”.

Asia indeed accounted for more than 60% of global economic growth in 2018 and 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund. German exports to the Indo-Pacific rose by 7% in recent years, while the country’s exports overall went up by only 3%. About a fifth of all Dutch imports come from Asia.

Keeping shipping routes safe will be crucial to keep up that pace. About 90% of global trade is conducted by sea, with two thirds passing through the Indo-Pacific.

But this is not only about strengthening economic ties – it’s also about diversification. Europe seems to want to decrease its dependency on China. The country is both Germany’s and the Netherlands’ biggest trading partner in the region.

And the Covid-19 crisis has further highlighted how being dependent on China can lead to bottlenecks for certain goods, such as medical equipment. The new strategy papers of both countries specifically mention South Korea, New Zealand, India and Australia as alternative trading partners. As memorably described by Bonn Juego, a researcher on international relations with a focus on Asia at Finland’s University of Jyväskylä, this diversification amounts to an “enlargement of the shopping basket”.
Lake Tai, the largest freshwater lake in China, located in Jiangsu province (European Space Agency/Flickr)
Keeping a careful watch on the risks in dealing with China also seems an imperative, given the rising international criticism of Beijing’s policies at home, including a crackdown on opposition in Hong Kong and reports of Uighur internment camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

And German companies, which have so far shown a strong preference for realpolitik, seem to have understood that they could benefit from their government asking Beijing to respect rule of law. As Juego puts it, “That’s actually good for their business – it gives them security.”

The danger was apparent in 2016 when robot maker Kuka – with headquarters in the German city of Augsburg but factories in China – was taken over by Chinese appliance maker Midea Group. The episode was seen as a reminder of how important it can be to protect European intellectual property.

What’s more, Germany and the Netherlands – just like France – seem to want to break away from too strong a dependency on the US, and stay clear of the economic battle lines between Washington and China. Germany specifically warns “a new bipolarity with fresh dividing lines across the Indo-Pacific would undermine [our economic] interests”.

That awareness of the downsides of getting caught up in between the lines will not go away, even if a newly elected President Joe Biden promises calmer waters than those under Donald Trump.

Thus the German strategy even includes a military element.

Berlin pledges to expand its security and defence cooperation and participate in maritime exercises in the region. A first warship, the frigate Hamburg, is to be sent there next year, a plan currently slightly delayed by the pandemic.
Such a military push, albeit a timid one, is not natural at all for a country that has been, at least since the end of the Second World War, regarded as pacifist and whose military is constitutionally defined as purely defensive (although it has increasingly contributed to UN and NATO operations in conflict prevention and crisis response).

France has no such compunction. In the 2018 French Indo-Pacific strategy, there is an emphasis on defending French sovereignty in the region as a resident power. Paris has several overseas territories with roughly 1.5 million inhabitants in the Indo-Pacific and about 8000 soldiers already based in the region.

How these diverging perspectives can be merged into one European strategy remains to be seen. Even within the German government, opinions seem to differ, with Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently stressing that “Europeans will not be able to replace America’s crucial role as a security provider” – and the focus of her comment was the European continent. This led French President Macron to call these words “a historical misinterpretation”. For all the change these papers presage, the age-old search for common European stance will go on.
 

jetray

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The Netherlands believes that it is desirable for the European Union to develop its own vision of the Indo-Pacific,”
look at these guys, they are in europe and worried about Indian ocean. The level of strategic thinking is not only far reaching but also far ahead.
While India does not even have a proper strategic long term policy on our immediate neighbor & enemy , pakistan.
 

RISING SUN

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@Gautam Please merge the thread with dedicated thread subject as "Indo-Pacific : News & Discussion". Thank you.

Senior British Politician Comes Out in Support of Australia in Its Tussle With China​

In an interview to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) on November 26, Tom Tugendhat, chairman of Britain’s Foreign Affairs Committee expressed deep solidarity with Australia as that country finds itself in China’s crosshairs. Terming the non-paper with 14 demands from Australia that China issued last week via several Australian media outlets “an extremely aggressive act,” the SMH also quoted Tugendhat as saying “I think there’s a real opportunity for the free countries of the world to be taking this extremely seriously.”

“It’s about time that he [Xi Jinping] realised that free countries are not here to be bullied and not here to be pushed around,” Tugendhat told the SMH.

As I wrote of the astonishing Chinese move last week in these pages:

This latest bout in China’s infamous “wolf warrior diplomacy” comes amid Australian push back against Chinese interference and influence operations, beginning with new laws issued in 2018. Canberra’s April call for an investigation into the origin of the novel coronavirus, its ban on Chinese 5G infrastructure, as well as its increasingly visible and rejuvenated military partnerships with like-minded powers in the Indo-Pacific have all irked Beijing.

Diplomat Brief​

In retaliation, China effectively banned a large number of Australian commodities imports, while its state-run media as well as foreign ministry have taken positions that oscillate between petulance and hyper-ventilation.

For its part, Canberra upped its diplomatic game and committed significant resources for its military for the decade ahead, re-energizing partnerships with major European powers with stakes in the Indo-Pacific is a key part of the former. Early this month, the German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer spoke of her country’s interest in assigning military officers to the Australian Navy, as both countries committed to jointly meeting the security challenges in the Indo-Pacific. Over the last couple of years, Australia and France have also deepened their defense relationship as Paris, with President Emmanuel Marcon at the helm, considering Canberra and New Delhi as key Indo-Pacific actors; in September this year, the first edition of the long-proposed trilateral Australia-France-India dialogue took place.

Unlike France and Germany, the United Kingdom has not formally adopted an Indo-Pacific strategy. That said, as Bill Hayton recently wrote, shaped by both compulsions arising out of Brexit – which necessarily means that the U.K. will now have to increasingly look towards Asia as it firmly turns it back on Europe – as well as China’s intransigence have implied that a British “Indo-Pacific tilt” is now visible, with small but coherent moves towards the region.

And then of course, there is Britain’s place of pride in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement that also involves Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. The Five Eyes are steadily embracing a larger strategic policy agenda, beyond the traditional confines of joint signals intelligence efforts. In fact, it was a recent Five Eyes statement on the situation in Hong Kong that provoked a rather undiplomatic reaction from a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

Therefore, at many levels, British declarations of support toward Australia makes sense. What does not, however, is the United Kingdom’s tall commitments toward rebuilding a robust military – which is what, at the end of the day, is required if the country is to play a larger role in Indo-Pacific geopolitics. As The Diplomat’s defense columnist Jacob Parakilas wrote of the recently announced massive increase in the U.K.’s defense budget, “The pandemic has hit the British economy hard, and … its future has rarely been so uncertain. So, the question of whether the U.K. can follow through on this commitment is a genuine one.”

So, while Canberra will find much to be happy about Tugendhat’s statements, it will most probably see them for what they are: rhetorically solidarity of a declining power hell-bent on joining the latest game in town, the Indo-Pacific.
 
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RISING SUN

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Australia prepares to escalate action against China to World Trade Organization over barley tariffs​

As tension grows over Beijing's massive tariffs on Australian wine, the Federal Government is continuing with plans to take China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over barley exports.

Key points:​

  • The Trade Minister said his Government "sought to engage in good faith" with China over barley tariffs
  • He said the next step would be a WTO appeal
  • Recent trade disputes have also hit the wine, timber, beef and lobster industries
In May, China began threatening to slap the tariffs on the barley industry, as a result of "an ongoing anti-dumping and countervailing duties investigation".

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has detailed appeals the Government has made through China's domestic processes to overturn the decision and limit the impact on the $1.5 billion barley trade with China.

"We sought to engage in good faith," Senator Birmingham told the Insiders program on Sunday morning.

"We are disappointed that all the evidence, as compelling as we are confident it is, was rejected by the Chinese authorities and that appeal was unsuccessful."

Iron ore out of bounds


China has targeted everything from Australian barley to coal, wine to tourists and students, but it isn't likely to come after our biggest export, iron ore. Ian Verrender explains why.

Senator Birmingham said the WTO appeal was the next step.

"I expect that will be the outcome," he said.

The industry itself is split over whether the escalation of the trade conflict is the right course of action.
"There are different opinions, to be quite frank there," Senator Birmingham said.

"But on the whole Australia stands by the rules-based system for international trade and if you stand by the rules-based system, you should also use that rules-based system, which includes calling out where you think the rules have been broken and calling in the international umpire to help resolve those disputes."

The Federal Opposition has backed the Government's preparedness to take China to the WTO.

But Shadow Trade Minister Jason Clare has added that Labor's endorsement of the appeal should not be seen as the Government getting "off the hook" over the failed negotiations.

"The Prime Minister says there needs to be frank discussions between Australia and China, well I want to know what action the Prime Minister has taken to have those frank discussions," Mr Clare said.

"It really shouldn't have come to this. It shouldn't be that hard.

"This should be able to be sorted out on the phone or face to face."

Mr Clare has attacked Scott Morrison's diplomacy with China, arguing that former prime ministers would have been able to keep lines of communication between Australia and China open.

"That's what Bob Hawke would've done. That's what John Howard would've done and that's what Scott Morrison should do," Mr Clare said.

Winemakers among industries hit by trade disputes​

A header approaches the camera whilst harvesting barley.

In May, China began threatening to slap the tariffs on Australia's barley industry.(ABC Rural: Jo Prendergast)
Recent trade disputes have also hit the wine, timber, beef and lobster industries.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-29/morrisons-vision-australia-changing-the-order-china/12926904
Winemakers are now facing tariffs of up to 212 per cent on their products.

The Chinese Government announced the measures would take effect from Saturday, striking a blow to the $1.2 billion a year industry.

China has accused Australian producers of selling wine for less than the cost of production, harming Chinese winemakers.

The investigation is not due to finish until next year, but China's Commerce Ministry announced that from November 28, Chinese importers of Australian wine would need to pay temporary "anti-dumping security deposits".

The deposits, which effectively work like tariffs, will range from between 107 per cent to more than 200 per cent.
Mr Birmingham clarified that while a complaint with the WTO on barley duties could be expected soon, the same high level appeals over wine were not imminent as China's wine dumping investigation was still in the "early stages".

"We still have parts of that Chinese process that we have to work through before we get to the point of a WTO dispute [on wine]," Mr Birmingham said.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-23/australia-china-agriculture-trade-tensions-analysis/12585884
As uncertainty hangs over industries hit by China trade tariffs, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has told Sky News the Federal Government has no regrets over Australia being among the first countries to call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

The calls angered the Chinese Government and have widely been viewed as one of the motivations for Beijing to step up its aggressive foreign policies.

But Mr Littleproud stood by the request for a probe, insisting: "There wasn't any malice in our request to look at this. It was a sensible request."

"I would've thought that after a pandemic where so many lives have been touched that that is a responsible thing governments would do … and the fact that Australia led, I think we should be proud of that," he said.
 
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RISING SUN

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After anti-China alliances in Indo-Pacific, New Delhi joins hands with Europe​

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday held the first-ever India-Luxembourg bilateral summit with his counterpart Xavier Bettel. Besides reviewing bilateral relations, the summit, the first in two decades between the countries, focused on increasing investments. The two Prime Ministers decided to ramp up relations in the financial sector, digital domain, green financing and space applications. They also took stock of the global situation arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Significantly, barely a fortnight back, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla's first visit out of the South Asian region was a week-long tour of Europe -- France, Germany and the UK. After bonding with the US, Japan and Australia, it is evident that India is looking at Europe with a renewed sense of camaraderie.

India and many European nations find themselves on the same side of the fence. While India is negotiating the new geopolitical order, Europe too had its own share of setbacks -- the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit, migration issues from West Asia, tumultuous relations with the US, and the aftershocks of the 2008 economic crisis. Year 2020 has been one of revelations for many a European country -- the spread of Covid, technology wars, an unending flow of Chinese sarcasm-laced hostility during Europe's most vulnerable moment at the height of Covid deaths.

The communist nation's geopolitics has been an eye-opener globally. Fed so liberally and benevolently by the liberal democracies of the West, China bared its fangs to the smug and traditional European nations. No wonder, the Ministry of External Affairs put it so succinctly: "India's relations with France, Germany and UK are built on a foundation of shared democratic values and are informed by a commonality of interest in issues such as sustainable development and climate change."

The Europeans too are responding to India's overtures. The European Union (EU) is looking at India as a more suitable alternative than China for strategic concerns and economic relations. India enjoys substantial trade ties and large investment flows with the EU. Moreover, India and many European countries work closely at multilateral and plurilateral platforms on various issues of common interest.

Shringla's first pit-stop was France, where he met up with Alice Guitton, France's Director-General of International Relations and Strategy (DGRIS), to discuss the Indo-Pacific region as well as maritime security and growing defence partnership. France is supplying the Rafale fighters and also helping it design its latest submarines. The two countries discussed a wide range of issues spanning terrorism, global warming, sustainable development, climate change as well as technology and innovation.

Owing to a fast-changing global scenario, many European nations have reworked their political outlook and are looking keenly at rapprochement with Asian nations, particularly those in the Indo-Pacific region. Germany released its new Policy Guidelines for Indo-Pacific Region in September this year, which stresses on strengthening relations with Asian countries other than China.

As Germany shifts from a China-centric policy, India fits into German crosshairs. Shringla met up with German Foreign Minister of State Niels Annen besides senior diplomats and think tanks. India has seized the opportunity to remind the country how it fits as a reliable and a strategic partner into the former's vision of the Indo-Pacific.

The German reaction to the changes in the Indian Ocean region and the South China Sea is stark. Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said recently that her country would like to send its navy to patrol the Indian Ocean trade routes next year. She was speaking at an event organized by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF), where she added that Germany would also like to have closer defence cooperation with Australia.

In London, Shringla urged the British government to come up with its own strategy of the Indo-Pacific in line with that of the European countries. He also said: "We would like the UK to come in as a major investor and innovation partner; a range of activities in the digital and cyber age which may not have been even possible to conceive earlier..."

He clearly hinted at the new-found relevance of the Indo-Pacific. Shringla said: "The rise of China and the imperative for a global rebalancing have added to the mix. A rules-based international order is achievable only with a rules-based Indo-Pacific." It was a clear statement that China has transgressed well-defined boundaries of peace and understanding that define mutual relations between nations.

Europe is learning its lessons fast. Countries have begun to revise their understanding of China and one after the other they are looking afresh at the vast Indo-Pacific region. France was the first one off its feet, followed by the Netherlands and, lastly Germany, that finalized its Indo-Pacific strategy.

India fits in well into that new strategy. It only has to up its own game and look outwards.
 

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Nearly half of China’s investments in India’s neighbourhood went to Pakistan​

India provided support for a slew of connectivity and cross-border development projects and extended currency swaps and financial support in the region spanning from Bangladesh to the Maldives, even as China invested more than $4 billion in the neighbourhood this year. China’s investments and contracts remain cloaked in opacity, with virtually no official figures available, though reliable estimates showed $1.93 billion, or almost half of its investments and construction contracts in India’s neighbourhood, had gone to its traditional ally Pakistan.

India’s support for connectivity and development projects in the neighbourhood picked up pace soon after the border standoff with China emerged in the open in May, and New Delhi has pumped in hundreds of millions of dollars for key schemes and to extend financial support to the governments of countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives that were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Indian side provided currency swap facilities of $400 million each to Sri Lanka and the Maldives to bolster economic revival. India also provided a soft loan of $250 million to the Maldives as budgetary support.

Another $500 million, including a grant of $100 million, was provided for the Greater Male Connectivity Project, which is set to be largest infrastructure project in the Maldives with 6.7 kilometre-long bridge and causeway links between the national capital and three islands.

New Delhi also handed over 10 broad gauge locomotives to Dhaka, launched the first cross-border container train service and began shipping goods from Kolkata to Tripura in the northeast via Bangladesh’s Chattogram port.

Some eight railway projects are being implemented for Bangladesh under lines of credit, including the $78-million Kulaura-Shahbazpur rail line and the $389 million Khulna-Mongla rail line that are expected to be completed in 2021. During their virtual summit on December 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina are set to launch the revived Chilahati-Haldibari railway link, which was snapped during the 1965 war with Pakistan.

Last month, work was launched on the third integrated check post on the Nepal border, which is being built at Nepalgunj at a cost of almost $20 million to streamline and boost cross-border trade. In August, India provided $5 million under a border area development programme to Myanmar, where the country’s total development cooperation is worth almost $1.4 billion.

According to figures collated by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which closely tracks China’s investments and construction projects around the world, Chinese investments in India’s neighbourhood this year included $1.93 billion in Pakistan, $1.25 billion in Bangladesh, $450 million in Sri Lanka and $280 million in Myanmar.

The investments in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka were all under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to AEI.

Amit Bhandari, a fellow at Gateway House who tracks China’s economic activities in the region, said the figures could be significantly higher, given the lack of transparency regarding such investments, especially by Chinese state-run firms.

“Recent estimates showed 60 per cent of the FDI in Pakistan, more than 40 per cent in Myanmar and more than 30 per cent in Sri Lanka came from China, which has a bigger cheque book to throw around. Such large investments in what aren’t vibrant economies are aimed at generating geo-political influence but also lead to badly designed projects that make problems worse. For instance, rates for power generated by China-backed projects in Pakistan are 20 per cent to 50 per cent more than in India,” he said.

India, Bhandari said, had improved its performance but is yet to match China in implementing big-ticket projects. Experts also have concerns about the pace of work on India-backed projects despite the external affairs ministry streamlining its development partnership administration by creating sections that focus on specific projects and regions.

For instance, though the 130-kilometre-long India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline was launched in September 2018, the ground-breaking for the construction of the pipeline to supply fuel from Numaligarh Refinery in Assam to Dinajpur in Bangladesh was done only on December 4 this year.
 

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China's fishing fleet heading for Australia amid trade war​

Beijing's monster fishing fleet has long since stripped its own waters bare. Now it is aggressively prowling the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans for a catch. And it is coming to Australia.

It grabs as much as it can. As fast as it can. Wherever it can. Not that there is anything entirely unusual about this.

What makes China's fishing fleet different, however, is that the Communist Party officially sanctions its behaviour. It is organised and overseen by the Communist Party. And it's used to assert the territorial ambitions of the Communist Party.

It's also huge.

"Helmsman" Xi Jinping – who recently adopted the honorific reserved for founder Mao Zedong – has urged his nation to "build bigger ships and venture even farther into the oceans and catch bigger fish".

That they've done.

It's now the world's largest fleet. Its operations span the globe. One count places the number of deepwater vessels at its disposal at 12,500.

Last month China instituted a de facto ban on imports of Australian lobster. Photo / 123rf

Beijing claims only 3000 boats operate in international waters.

But the full extent of its operations came to light earlier this year when Global Fishing Watch released a study based on satellite data and tracking analysis.

Whatever the number, the fleet has another use – diplomatic bludgeon.

And Australia is currently Beijing's No. 1 whipping boy.

Fish fight

Australia's rock lobster industry is just one of many targets of Beijing's punitive economic acts. Now Australia's fishers are worried Beijing's fishing fleet may come for them: The site of a proposed new $218 million Chinese port is right in the middle of the Torres Strait rock lobster fishery.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne was quick to reassure that Border Force vessels would monitor the region to enforce territorial boundaries and joint-fishing treaties.

But if China claims the Papua New Guinea port gives it access to Australia's fisheries, that could cause problems.

Former government foreign policy advisor Philip Citowicki says the proposed port is a demonstration of great-power wedge politics.

"The reality is that it continues to seat PNG at the centre of a tug of war, where the presence of China's authoritarianism is increasingly imprinting itself on the fledgling democracies of the Pacific," he writes.

"Rarely driven by altruism or regional responsibility, it places both the resources and security of the region at risk."

It's not a new threat.

In 2018, the Lowy Institute foresaw Beijing's fleet "may soon create new security headaches for Australia".

"The impact of Chinese fishing has important strategic consequences for Australia's region in several ways," David Brewster wrote at the time.

"There is a good chance that fishing will become a key locus of disputes and incidents involving China."

Troubled waters

Chile's navy is on alert. China's fishing fleet is currently off its shores. Some 400 vessels are operating in international waters. The Chilean navy says 11 have so far crossed into its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The unfolding drama is following a well-established pattern.

China's Ecuadorean embassy insists Beijing has a "zero tolerance" policy towards illegal fishing, yet few complaints are followed up. Fewer still are upheld.

Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) Indo-Pacific analyst Blake Herzinger says international governments are starting to wake up to the damage done.

"Globally, economic losses from illegal fishing are difficult to quantify, but there is little disagreement that the overall economic loss totals tens of billions of dollars yearly, encompassing lost tax revenue, onshore fishing industry jobs, and depletion of food supplies," he writes.

The small South American nations of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are worried their fisheries are in the process of being looted.

A Japan Coast Guard vessel departs for near Senkaku Islands in 2017 after reports of overfishing in the area by Chinese vessels. Photo / Getty Images

In November they issued a joint statement asserting they would combine their limited resources "to prevent, discourage and jointly confront" any illegal fishing operations.

They did not name China. But the presence of so many of China's large, modern fishing vessels off their shores is hard to miss.

And this particular fleet has been the focus of world attention since July when it was caught within the international marine reserve surrounding Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador doesn't have the strength to enforce international law. And its government is heavily indebted to Beijing and struggling to pay back infrastructure loans.

Strategic fishing fleet

Beijing's fishing fleet is not just a commercial operation. It is a party-political one.

It is organised as a militia. Key factory ships have Communist Party commissars watching over the captains and their operations. Selected crews are trained to work in concert with the People's Liberation Army Navy.

In return, Beijing pays its fuel bill – the fishing fleet's single greatest expense. It's a massive subsidy that allows it to undercut its international competitors significantly.

Some vessels do no fishing at all. Instead, their job is to monitor the active fleet, intimidate fishers of other nations, or simply sit provocatively inside another nation's territory.

This makes them a diplomatic weapon, part of Beijing's determination to wage "hybrid war" – the use of every means available short of kinetic weaponry – to assert its will.

They've recently been highly visible off the Philippines and Indonesia.

Beijing's fishing militia also receives unprecedented military support.

Wherever the fleet goes, armed coast guard ships usually follow – no matter how far from China's coast the fleet may be. And China's coast guard is not a civilian police force. The People's Liberation Army operates it. And that dramatically escalates the implications of any confrontation.

Herzinger says international fishing regulations are being enforced – but only against weaker nations such as Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The fishing fleet is only one of Beijing's diplomatic weapons. Photo / AP

China escapes criticism because of the power of its potential economic and at-sea backlash.

The CIMSEC analyst argues the best response would be international sanctions:

"Shipbuilders, exporters, fish processing, and equipment manufacturers supporting China's distant water fishing fleet should all be considered within the realm of possibility for sanction," he writes.

"The prospect of collapse for a primary source of protein for more than 10 per cent of the world's population is worthy of attention."

Hunger games

China's 1.4 billion people love seafood – each reportedly consuming an average of 37.8kg a year. That's some 38 per cent of the total annual worldwide catch.

But Beijing's fishing fleet also sells huge quantities to markets such as the US, Europe and Australia.

Exactly how much it takes from the oceans is unknown. The militia does not report its catch to international authorities. Only the Communist Party gets that data.

It has a history, though.

China's coastal waters have been fished to the point of destruction. Studies suggest only 15 per cent of the region's pre-1980s fish population survives. And yet, some 300,000 coastal fishing vessels continue to chase them down.

And the destruction of crucial South China Sea spawning grounds through their conversion into artificial island fortresses hasn't helped the prospects of recovery.

China's politically-controlled fleet is now operational worldwide. It also can be found among European and African vessels in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa.

But it's not just China.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates 90 per cent of global commercial fish stocks are depleted. Now climate change is destroying environments, and "dead zones" of oxygen-depleted waters are expanding in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.

Up to one-third of the seafood catch imported into the US has been found to have inadequate documentation – indicating it has been illegally caught.

"Much of that illegal catch comes from the exclusive economic zones of states such as Guinea, the Philippines, and North Korea that are impoverished and cannot exercise sufficient control of their maritime areas," Herzinger says.

Beijing insists its fleets are innocent. And, besides, its wolf-warrior diplomats declare, the entire international fishing system is both chaotic and corrupt. Which means any attempt to single-out Beijing for criticism must have ulterior motives.
 

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The “Indo-Pacific” is Here to Stay​

While the aspirational adjectives that prefix it may change, the Indo-Pacific will better reflect the strategic geography of the new era of great power contestation.

Our mental geographies are often shaped by major changes in geopolitical or geo-economic trends, often engineered by the agendas and contests of great powers.

In the last decade of the 20th century, with the end of the Cold War, great power competition subsided and the environment became conducive for soft security mechanisms, starting with the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994 and the East Asia Summit and the ADMM Plus a decade later, all under the rubric of ASEAN centrality. “Asia-Pacific” (East Asia, Australasia and the US) was the language of the geopolitical scope of this ASEAN conception.

The objective was to help secure Southeast Asian autonomy against the currents of international politics by bringing into a cooperative forum the countries of the Asia-Pacific region and especially China and the US. India, although geographically outside the Asia-Pacific was included. This was done not for the sake of Indian Ocean or Indian security, but as a potential contributor to East Asian-Western Pacific stability and security.

This ASEAN-centred Asia-Pacific architecture has done remarkably well in many ways. However, now in the third decade of the 21st century, the original conditions that founded it have changed. With the rise of China and its perceived challenge to US interests in Asia, great power rivalry has returned with a vengeance. Cooperative and comprehensive security, while still getting polite nods from the great powers, has been overshadowed in their strategies by the urgent needs of traditional military security and geo-economic competition.

The new great power contest is no longer confined to the Asia-Pacific, but is spilling over into the Indian Ocean. The “Indo-Pacific” defines the geography of this central theatre of the twenty-first century great power struggle – China on one side and the US and its allies and partners on the other –which is destined to stretch from Northeast Asia, through Southeast Asia and Australasia into the Indian Ocean.
One vision of the Indo-Pacific (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

China is building a potent navy to keep American naval power as far away as possible from China’s Pacific coast, and to secure China’s energy lifelines from the Indian Ocean which it sees as vulnerable to interdiction by hostile naval forces. From Beijing’s perspective, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has to be in the Indian Ocean as a matter of necessity, not choice. But this brings China inevitably into strategic rivalry with India, driving New Delhi into closer military cooperation with Australia, Japan and the US, a process that also brings Western Pacific rivalries into the Indian Ocean.

To escape its “Malacca dilemma” China has been building oil and gas pipelines from Kunming in China to Kyaukphyu port in Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal and securing port facilities at Gwadar, Pakistan, not far from the Persian Gulf. It was no accident that the Malabar naval exercise of the QUAD countries (Australia, Japan, India and the US) in November 2020 had two parts, one in the Bay of Bengal and the other in the Arabian Sea, both the epi-centres of the mounting Indian Ocean naval rivalry.

Consider too the recent statements by US Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite of the need to establish a new numbered US fleet for the crossroads of the Indian and Pacific oceans, presumably focusing on the eastern Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. Even the India-China military rumblings on their high Himalayan border are beginning to have connotations of the evolving stand-off in the broader Indo-Pacific strategic theatre.

The contest is not just a military one – it is also for influence through diplomacy and economic statecraft. China’s Maritime Silk Road includes both the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean where it seeks to gain influence through economic and infrastructure projects and acquire strategic footholds for China’s maritime power, as other great powers have done in the past.

The strategic and commercial linkages between the two oceans were defined graphically by Robert Kaplan in his 2010 book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power; “The Straits of Malacca is the Fulda Gap of the 21st century multi-polar world where almost all of the shipping lanes between the Red Sea and the Sea of Japan converge … where the Indian Ocean joins the western Pacific.”
“Asia-Pacific” may have long to live but “Indo-Pacific” will shape more our future mental maps.
So “Indo-Pacific” will not go away, rooted as it is in the geography of the new and growing great power strategic rivalry, the escalating linkages embracing the two geographical regions, and its sponsorship by the world’s leading power. It is now part of the official lexicon of the US and its Asian allies and of some leading European countries which have outlined their own Indo-Pacific strategies. Too much has already been invested in it by key countries.
“Asia-Pacific” may have long to live but “Indo-Pacific” will shape more our future mental maps.

When “Indo-Pacific” is prefixed to “Free and Open” as in the Trump administration’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, the terminology acquires ideological connotations, and so becomes more controversial in Southeast Asia. On this the Biden administration may have to navigate between the preferences of its major democratic allies and the sensitivities in Southeast Asia, a strategically important region between the two oceans.