Indo-Pacific Geopolitics Newsletter 05/07/2023

RADAR SWEEP Geopolitics Newsletter May 1 – 7 2023 U.S. ON EMBASSY-OPENING SPREE IN THE PACIFIC TO COUNTER CHINA The

RADAR SWEEP

Geopolitics Newsletter May 1 – 7 2023

U.S. ON EMBASSY-OPENING SPREE IN THE PACIFIC TO COUNTER CHINA

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, confirmed this week that the U.S. State Department will open an embassy in the South Pacific nation of Tonga for the first time. The move follows the February reopening of the US embassy in the Solomon Islands—30 years after it closed at the end of the Cold War—and the confirmation in March that another will be opened in Vanuatu. Talks are also ongoing for yet another embassy to open in Kiribati. Furthermore, Washington is working to strengthen US defense commitments to former US-administered Micronesian nations in the north-west Pacific—Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia—under “Compact of Free Association” agreements where the US still retains responsibilities for defense.

These embassy openings mark the latest in a series of geopolitical moves by the Biden administration in the past year following an unprecedented US-Pacific summit in September 2022. The renewed US focus in this region was sparked by the Solomon Islands signing a security agreement with China—which has ramped up economic aid to the region in the past decade—last year. The deal alarmed Australia, New Zealand, and the US given the prospect of a Chinese naval base—strongly denied by both China and the Solomon Islands—in the heart of a region long thought to be aligned with the West. By having these embassies on the ground, the US State Department will have a direct capability to influence local decision-making in Pacific countries in direct competition with China’s long-established embassies.

US administrations have traditionally left Australia and New Zealand to influence US-aligned interests in the South Pacific but Biden’s focus marks the first time in the post-Soviet era that the US is seriously engaging with the region’s predominantly island-state countries. In doing so, Washington has recognized for the first time that the “Pacific” in “Indo-Pacific” geopolitics requires direct engagement with Pacific Island countries. Read more [External]

US opening embassies

US President Joe Biden makes the case for closer US ties, and opening more embassies, directly to Pacific leaders in last year’s historic US-Pacific summit in Washington | Source: AP / Susan Walsh

Indo-Pacific

Nepali Prime Minister Dahal concluded his visit to India – May 1

Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal concluded his visit to India this week. The trip focused on strengthening bilateral trade, agricultural development and the construction of the transnational Raxaul-Kathmandu railway. Read more

India Air Force chief concluded his Sri Lanka visit – May 4

Air Force Chief Vivek Ram Chaudhari concluded a four-day visit to Sri Lanka this week. Chaudhari met with Sri Lanka’s top military and political leaders, including President Ranil Wickremesinghe, to strengthen defense cooperation between Indian and Sri Lankan air forces. He also interacted with cadets of the Sri Lanka National Defense College and visited the Sri Lanka Air Force Academy.  Read more

Pakistani FM attended Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in India – May 4

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met with fellow foreign ministers in the SCO—a China-led Eurasian defense and economic diplomatic group—this week. It is the first visit to India of Pakistan’s chief envoy in seven years and comes amid ongoing enmity between the subcontinent’s two nuclear-armed rivals.  Read more

China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan discussed security issues – May 6

China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan’s foreign ministers met in Islamabad this week for trilateral talks. The Saturday talks follow a meeting held in Uzbekistan involving Afghanistan’s neighboring countries and an UN-led meeting in Qatar, neither of which the Taliban were invited to. Read more

Leaders of Japan and South Korea met in Seoul – May 7

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with his South Korean counterpart President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul this week. Mutual security fears over North Korean missile tests and Chinese military threats ended a decade of strained bilateral relations over wartime disputes with an earlier meeting in Tokyo.  Read more

National Security

EU-Azerbaijan energy dialogue began in Brussels – May 2

European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson hosted Azerbaijan’s Minister of Energy Parviz Shahbazov. The discussions covered their energy partnership, which forms part of the EU strategy to move away from importing Russian gas. Read more

IMDEX Asia 2023 Defense exhibition began in Singapore – May 3

The exhibition occurred in the context of increasing tensions between China, the West, and India and attracted global leaders in naval and maritime innovations to demonstrate their work with industry professionals. Naval vessels and technology systems were also unveiled to attendees. Read More

Finance, Economics, and Technology

US released employment data for April – May 5

Private sector jobs rose by 296,000 in April with construction, hospitality, education, and health services leading the way in monthly jobs growth. However, the jobs data comes as the Federal Reserve continues to cool a heated labor market in an effort to slow down inflationary pressure caused by rising wages from new job creation. Read more

Iran Economic Expo 2023 opened in Tehran – May 7

The expo is designed to showcase Iran’s non-oil exports for the Islamic Republic’s sanctions-hit economy. The convention brings together over 800 Iranian brands, 40 foreign companies, and 15 government delegations—including the long-time arch-enemy of Iran, Saudi Arabia. The expo is Tehran’s attempt to find alternative export revenues as Iran’s main oil exports suffer from ongoing sanctions and falling international prices. Read more

Politics and Society

Ukraine-Romania information caravan arrived in Romania – May 3

An information caravan aiming to promote Ukrainian-Romanian cross-border cooperation arrived in Romania this week. The objective of the caravan was to promote cooperation between Ukraine and Romania. Bucharest has been a Ukrainian ally against Russia’s invasion, but Romanian opposition to Ukrainian grain exports into the EU has soured relations. Read more.

The private trial of Russian opposition symbol, Alexei Navalny, began – May 5

Navalny—a prominent critic of Russia’s authoritarian President Vladimir Putin—has been incarcerated in prison since January 2021 after arriving back in the country from receiving medical treatment after being poisoned. The trial relates to terrorism charges which could possibly result in his prison sentence extending beyond 2050. Read more

Reigning British monarch, King Charles III, was formally crowned in London – May 6

The eldest son of the late Queen Elizabeth II was formally crowned at Westminster Abbey—the traditional site of British coronations for the past 1,000 years. The office is largely ceremonial and holds no real political power. However, this coronation comes at a time when the king’s cultural power to unite Britain while advancing British soft power abroad is being tested amid a current cost-of-living crisis. Read more

THE WEEK AHEAD

ASEAN-India maritime naval exercises conclude – May 8

The week-long naval exercises strengthen Indian military engagement in South-East Asia. Read more [External]

ASEAN Summit begins in Indonesia – May 8

Indonesia hosts the 42nd ASEAN Summit as US and China spend another year seeking to curry influence within the bloc. Read more [External]

Russia holds its annual Victory Day parade – May 9

Particular attention will be paid to President Vladimir Putin’s speech as Ukraine prepares to launch a counter-offensive to retake Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. Read more [External]

Indian-owned port to begin operations in Myanmar – May 9

Sittwe Port is the first Indian-owned port in a country with long-established but declining Chinese influence. Read more

 

Contributions by: John Milo, Cian Muenster, and Will Wain-Williams