Indo-Pacific Geopolitics Newsletter 02/19/2023

RADAR SWEEP Geopolitics Newsletter February 13-19 2023 World Leaders Gather at the Munich Security Conference – Feb. 17-19 Leaders, foreign


Geopolitics Newsletter February 13-19 2023

World Leaders Gather at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 17-19

Leaders, foreign ministers and defense ministers gathered at the 59th Munich Security Conference to discuss ongoing security policy challenges amid the war in Ukraine. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and French President Emmanuel Macron were among the attendees. However, for the first time, Russian representatives were not invited. VP Harris used to occasion to officially accuse Russia of crimes against humanity.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also addressed the crowd by video link and urged Western leaders to act faster when deciding on sanctions and arms deliveries. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz—also present—pledged to soon deliver the first batch of Leopard tanks. Zelenskyy also warned of Moscow’s closer relationship with Tehran and the prospect of Russia transferring enriched uranium to Tehran. Iran was also not invited to the conference, due to its ongoing suppression of peaceful protests and its support for Russia in the war.

The conference was also an occasion for representatives of Washington and Beijing to meet in person. Antony Blinken had been due to visit China earlier this month but canceled his trip after the alleged Chinese spy balloon appeared in the skies above the U.S. However, geopolitical tensions are unlikely to abate anytime soon. Blinken warned his Chinese counterpart against supplying Russia with material for the war, while Wang Yi refused to apologize over the balloon incident and called Washington’s response to it “hysterical”. VP Harris, President Macron and Chancellor Scholz publicly agreed to remain “closely aligned” on matters regarding China. As defense contractors everywhere continue to increase output, this year’s conference ended with a worrying sense of insecurity.

Munich security conference

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at the Munich Security Conference, February 17, 2023 – Photo: Wolfgang Rattay/REUTERS

Indo-Pacific Geopolitics

Other unidentified objects in the sky likely not Chinese Feb. 16

U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the other three unidentified objects that were shot down the previous week were likely not Chinese. This followed the downing of the alleged Chinese spy balloon, the recovery of which is still ongoing. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Beijing and Tehran called for the repeal of Iran sanctions Feb. 16

During Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Beijing, Raisi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping jointly called for U.S. sanctions on Iran to be lifted. Both leaders also called for the reimplementation of the 2015 nuclear agreement—which limits Iran’s nuclear program—but only after sanctions are completely lifted. It is highly unlikely that Washington would agree to such terms. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Russia, China and South Africa held naval drills Feb. 17

The navies of Russia, China and South Africa staged joint drills off South African shores. As part of the exercise, the Russian navy tested a new hypersonic missile. Hosted by South Africa, the drills undermine Pretoria’s claim of neutrality toward the war in Ukraine and may anger the U.S. and its allies. Read more

Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar concluded Fiji visit Feb. 17

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar visited Fiji to attend the 12th World Hindi Conference and to strengthen ties between the two countries. This follows Fijian Deputy Prime Minister Biman Chand Prasad’s recent visit to India, soon after Fiji’s newly-elected government announced a cooling of relations with China. Read more

Pentagons top China official arrived in Taiwan Feb. 18

According to a report by Reuters, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Chase–the Pentagon’s top China official—has arrived in Taiwan. He was likely discussing bilateral security cooperations going forward, but the trip remains shrouded in secrecy, as it was not publicly announced. Read more [EXTERNAL]


Paraguayan President visited TaiwanFeb. 18

Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez concluded his five-day visit to Taiwan, during which he emphasized the two countries’ strategic alliance. Paraguay is among a handful of countries that maintain official relations with Taiwan. However, Paraguay’s opposition candidate Efrain Alegre has promised to switch the country’s diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, should he be elected president later this year. Read more

German President Frank Walter-Steinmeyer visited Cambodia – Feb. 13

The President’s trip to Cambodia is part of an Indo-Pacific tour aimed at enhancing political and economic ties in the region. Improved relations would likely help renew trading relations, open the German market to Cambodian goods and lay the groundwork for lifting EU sanctions on Cambodia. Read more

First part of South Sudan Juba Workshop concluded Feb. 13

The Juba workshop, led by a South Sudanese mediation team, aims to review and discuss pathways for the implementation of the conditions outlined in the Juba Peace Agreement (JPA). The JPA was signed by the government and several armed rebel groups and aims at bringing lasting peace to South Sudan. Doubts have emerged about the success of the peace process so far, which may further delay the final draft of the JPA. Read more

World Government Summit responded to earthquakes in Turkey and Syria Feb. 13

Though the summit normally focuses on long-term global issues, participants are addressing the short-term concerns and humanitarian and economic responses following the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Read more

National Security

Moldovas president accused Russia of coup plot Feb. 14

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu stated that Russia was planning to overthrow the Moldovan government with the help of foreign citizens in the country. This follows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s previous week’s claim that his intelligence service has also uncovered such a plot against Moldova. Read more [EXTERNAL]

South Korea categorized North Korea as enemy” – Feb. 16

South Korea published a defense white paper in which it classified North Korea as an enemy for the first time in six years. This marks a clear end to the previous administration’s attempt at fostering friendlier relations with its northern neighbor. At the same time, the paper called Japan a “close neighbor” with “shared values”. Read more [EXTERNAL]

North Korea launched ballistic missile Feb. 18

North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile into the sea off Japan’s west coast. The launch was a response to the announcement of upcoming U.S.-South Korean military drills. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Ukraine extended martial law Feb. 19

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy extended his country’s martial law, as the country enters the final week of the year since the beginning of the war. Russia is likely to strengthen its renewed offensive as the one-year mark approaches. Read more

Finance, Economics and Technology

Japanese parliament elected new Bank of Japan Governor Feb. 14

Japanese economist Kazuo Ueda was confirmed as the new governor of Japan’s central bank. He will have the job of overseeing monetary reform to kickstart the economy and wage growth. Read more

First International Summit on Responsible Use of Military AI concluded Feb. 16

The ReAIM Summit—jointly co-hosted by The Netherlands and South Korea—addressed the responsible use of AI in the military domain. As part of The Hague summit, representatives of 60 nations, including the U.S. and China, signed a “call to action” on the need for ethical and responsible use of AI. While the statement is not legally binding, it marks the first such global commitment to work to mitigate risks posed by military applications of AI. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Thai economy underperformed expectations Feb. 17

According to data published by Thailand’s central bank, the country’s growth underperformed expectations in 2022. Even a rebounding tourism sector was unable to offset the slump in Thai manufacturing and exports. Thailand’s economy expanded by only 2.6% in 2022, leading to a cut in expectations for 2023. Read more [EXTERNAL]


Turkey-Syria earthquake death toll mounts

The death toll from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria is approaching 50,000, as thousands of aid workers continue searching for victims in the rubble. Aid has been particularly slow to get into Syria. Syria continues to be sanctioned by many Western countries, which are cautious of handing aid over to the Syrian government, as it has in the past refused aid deliveries to rebel-held territories. Read more [EXTERNAL]

China declared victory over COVID-19 Feb. 17

The Chinese government declared a “decisive victory” over the pandemic and stated the country had overcome COVID-19 with the world’s lowest fatality rate. However, China heavily undercounts deaths, as doctors are discouraged from listing the disease as a cause of death in many cases, including all fatalities at home. Read more [EXTERNAL]

South Korea defense minister denied Vietnam War massacres Feb. 17

Following the recent ruling of a South Korean court in favor of a Vietnamese victim of a massacre reportedly committed by South Koreans during the Vietnam War, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup told a parliamentary committee that the government would appeal the verdict. Lee stated that there were “absolutely no massacres committed” by South Korean troops during the war. The country sent over 300,000 soldiers to fight alongside the U.S. According to U.S. documents and eyewitnesses, some are believed to have committed massacres. Read more [EXTERNAL]


New Zealand declared state of emergency over cyclone Feb. 14

The government of New Zealand declared a state of emergency due to Cyclone Gabrielle. The storm battered the country, causing widespread landslides and flooding. This marks only the third time in New Zealand’s history that a state of emergency has been declared. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Guyana held International Energy Conference and Expo Feb. 14

The four-day conference and expo was attended by government officials and industry experts and focused on developments in the energy sector. Read more

Taiwan committed to zero emissions by 2050 Feb. 15

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has signed a law that legally requires the country to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and introduces a carbon tax. The law puts Taiwan at the forefront of Asia’s push for net zero. Read more [EXTERNAL]


Biden to visit Poland Feb. 20

U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Poland to commemorate the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He will likely use the occasion to pledge further support to Ukraine. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Chinese Foreign Minister to conclude visit to Europe Feb. 22

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will conclude his week-long visit to Europe in Moscow on February 22. He will also visit Germany, France, Italy and Hungary. Wang Yi will likely avoid making any commitments to either Russia or the West and maintain a neutral stance toward the war in Ukraine. Read more [EXTERNAL]

Inaugural meeting of the G20 central bank governors and finance ministers Feb. 23

G20 central bank governors and finance ministers will meet in Bengaluru on February 23-25 under this year’s Indian G20 presidency. High inflation and strained government budgets everywhere will likely be a major focus at the meeting. Read more [EXTERNAL]

One-Year Anniversary of War in Ukraine Feb. 24

On February 24, it will have been one year since Russia commenced its invasion of Ukraine. While there will be commemorations in many countries around the world, Russia will likely intensify its renewed offensive in an attempt to win at least a symbolic victory. Read more [EXTERNAL]


Contributions by: David Song-Pehamberger and Madeline McQuillan