Asia in Review Archive
Date of AiR edition
17 August 2021
Indo-Pacific forces from 21 partner nations kick off SEACAT
(lm) Maritime forces from Indo-Pacific partner nations on August 10 began the 20th iteration of the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) naval exercise in Singapore and virtually. [Al Jazeera] [NavyTimes]
Signifying the largest iteration to date, this year’s exercise involves ten ships and more than 400 personnel. 21 nations participate, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.
This year’s also presents a new element by incorporating international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, whose objective is to create an even more realistic scenario to “enhance understanding and adherence to accepted rules, laws, and norms,” the US Navy said in a statement. Participants include United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), EU Critical Maritime Route Wider Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO), and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). [Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet]
The SEACAT exercises commenced just a day after more than 10,000 troops from China and Russia began a major exercise, West-Interaction 2021, in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Last year, the event was conducted as part of a virtual symposium amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
17 August 2021
Sri Lanka, India, Maldives to cooperate on maritime safety and security
(lm) As strategic rivalries in the Indian Ocean Region continue to intensify, a multilateral grouping comprising of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives last week hold a virtual gathering that brought together the top security officials of the three countries. [South China Morning Post]
The Colombo Security Conclave on August 4 hosted its second meeting in eight months, during which the neighbors emphasized “four pillars” of cooperation, including maritime security, counterterrorism, human trafficking and cybersecurity. [The Hindu]
The Deputy National Security Adviser-level meeting was hosted online by Sri Lanka, and chaired by General Shavendra Silva, the Acting Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Sri Lankan Army. The Indian deputy National Security Adviser and his Maldivian counterpart participated.
The group was formed in 2011 and revived in November last year after a six-year hiatus. It is now poised to expand its full-time membership to Bangladesh, Seychelles and Mauritius, which currently hold observer status.
The virtual gathering came nine months after India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval concluded a three-day visit to Sri Lanka – his second visit to the country in 2020. Besides meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Doval also participated in the 4th National Security Adviser-level meeting of the Maritime Security Cooperation, a trilateral forum with defense ministers from the Maldives and Sri Lanka, with officials from Mauritius and Seychelles attending virtually. [AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]
Earlier this year then, the navies of the three countries participated in the virtual trilateral tabletop exercise “TTX-2021”, which New Delhi said was symbolic of “the deep trilateral engagement” in the maritime domain between members of the trilateral.
15 June 2021
Indian foreign minister visits New Delhi’s East African partner, Kenya
(ad) India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on June 12 commenced a two-day visit to Kenya aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation for peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. The visit signals New Delhi’s ambitions to strengthen ties with key African allies, especially as the country plans to host the fourth India-Africa Summit later in the year. [The East African]
Both India and Kenya are currently serving on the UN Security Council until December next year. Moreover, alongside with South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius and various other countries in the western part of the Indian Ocean, the two countries are member states of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.
To explore a widening partnership, a series of meetings was held, most notably the third session of the India-Kenya Joint Commission, which had last met in March 2019 in New Delhi. During his visit, the Indian top diplomat also interacted with the Indian diaspora in Kenya, which has over 80,000 residents of Indian origin, with 20,000 being Indian citizens. [The Print]
11 May 2021
EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership
(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]
Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]
Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.
Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.
For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].
26 January 2021
Healthy diet unaffordable for 1.9 billion people in Asia-Pacific in 2020
(dql) Findings of a joint report, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, reveal that 1.9 billion people in Asia-Pacific could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, with 1.3 billion of them living in South Asia, 230 million in East Asia, 325.5 million in Southeast Asia, and 0.5 million in Oceania. The global number stands at 3 billion.
The report cited the coronavirus pandemic and surging prices of fruits, vegetables and dairy products as reason for the nutrition crisis. [UN News]
19 January 2021
China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”
(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043.
The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership.
Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”
As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]
For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017.
Date of AiR edition
28 August 2018
Japan announces plan to open an embassy in Seychelles
(jm) Japan plans to open an embassy in the Seychelles. While the embassy is expected to open in January, the Japanese ambassador to the Seychelles will remain based in Nairobi, Kenya. A local chargé d’affaires will take care of daily business. [Seychelles News Agency]
7 August 2018
Seychelles: The Committee on Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity bill approved
(jm) After the Committee on Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity was set up in 2017 to lay the groundwork for a transitional justice process, it introduced a bill to the National Assembly to create a Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission that was approved on Wednesday. The 7 members commission (including 2 foreigners) will have the duty to investigate the abuses made during and after the Coup d’Etat that occurred in 1977, to listen to the victims and perpetrators ,and make decisions on how to go forth. [Seychelles News Agency]
3 July 2018
Seychelles: India offers $ 100 million line of credit for defense, infrastructure
(jm) India aims to increase military cooperation with the Seychelles and signed six agreements to that purpose with the Island nation’s President Danny Faure which offer a line of credit of $100 million dollars for defense and maritime security cooperation. Moreover, the two governments started to talk again about a military base on Assumption island, despite the fact that the project was considered to be “dead” since it faced strong opposition from Seychelles’ population and lawmakers. [Seychelles News Agency]
27 May 2018
Seychelles: Bill guaranteeing freedom of information is approved by lawmakers in Seychelles
(jm) A new law regulates access to public information and creates a new public body responsible for facilitating access to such information as well as the implementation of new sanctions for those who restrain access. [Seychelles News Agency]
20 May 2018
Seychelles: Meeting with India at Joint Commission Meeting
(jm) After the controversy of the establishment of an Indian military base in Seychelles earlier this year, the two countries are meeting this week to speak about their cooperation on softer topics like health, education, human resources development and science and technology. The meeting aims to consolidate the ties between India and Seychelles after some turbulences but also marks the limits of cooperation in the foreseeable future. [Seychelles News Agency]
8 April 2018
Maldives shifting away from India – now towards Pakistan
(hg) The Maldives, traditionally part of the Indian backyard, are shifting away from what India would like to see as its sphere of great power influence, coming closer not only to China but now also to India´s arch enemy Pakistan.
For a long time, India was the island state´s big brother, sometimes helpful, sometimes dominating. Thirty-year ruling autocrat Gayoom, now one of the leaders of the joint opposition, has received crucial military support as a pro-Indian leader for instance when he was threatened by an attempted coup d’état led by Maldivian separatists and assisted by PLOTE, a Tamil secessionist group from Sri Lanka.
When the Gayoom dictatorship came to an end with the 2008 elections, first democratically elected President Nasheed, representing the other wing of the Maldivian opposition, continued good relationships with India until he had to resign in 2012, while Chinese investment started already to flow in. Current President Yameen, a half-brother of Gayoom, turned then decisively to China since 2014. Since then, Yameen has helped China to continuously beef up its presence economically but also by allowing the Chinese navy to dock in the archipelago. The Indian – Chinese rivalry has strongly influenced the present domestic power struggle with former President Nasheed having called for a military intervention by India to protect his country to be sold out to China. [International Policy Digest]
China has warned, however, that it would resist any Indian military intervention which has been ruled out by Delhi, while the Indian relationships to the Yameen government even worsen.
At a time when bilateral relations “are clearly in a free fall”, the Maldivian government has asked Delhi now to take back one of two naval helicopters it had gifted to the Indian Ocean archipelago saying that Male wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the “Dhruv” Advanced Light Helicopter it has received. Male is said to be also considering asking India to remove the other Indian chopper too which operates in an atoll where China is said to be considering building a port. [The Times of India] Moreover, has declined an invitation by India to send a ministerial-level delegation to the Defence Expo, a biennial exhibition of weapons and military hardware, to be held in Chennai next week, after having declined India’s invitation to participate in the eight-day major naval exercise “Milan” from March 6-13 too. [Global Village Space]
Now, the surprising visit of the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is another step in the Maldives´ shift away from India. The most worrisome outcome for India are reported discussion about joint patrol by Maldivian and Pakistani naval forces in the vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the island state, which is regarded as a ‘redline’ for India. So far, India has been the only country with whom the Maldives have conducted such joint patrols of its EEZ. Not too long ago, India and the Maldives have still been defense partners – even when China became already economically increasingly important already – leading to the conclusion of a significant MoU on defense cooperation in 2016. The latter formalized a process of setting up a coastal surveillance radar system for “real-time surveillance of the EEZ of Maldives”. Back then, India has supported the surveillance of the EEZ of the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles unrivaled. [The Wire] A Pakistani – Maldivian joint patrol of the Maldivian EEZ would mark a major setback, seen as an intervention in the Indian backyard and a dangerous encircling of the sub-continent.
Another potential issue of Pakistani – Maldivian cooperation will be counter-terrorism with a team from the Maldives´ National Counter Terrorism Centre said to soon travel to Pakistan to further cooperation. In fact, Maldivian nationals received scholarships for religious study in Pakistan which seems to have contributed not only to their radicalization in general but also to the high number of Maldivians joining the Islamic State. [First Post]
1 April 2018
Seychelles: India´s military reach out barred again
(hg) India can still not use the small Assumption island of the Seychelles whose lease to India shall enable the operation of a naval base and air strip with Indian soldiers to be deployed on the island to “train Seychelles’ troops” as the qualification of an outright Indian military base seems to a be sensitive issue.
Much as the Maldives, the Seychelles’ have long fostered close security relations to India. During the 1980s, New Delhi helped to prevent several coups against the Seychelles government: twice in 1986 and one in 1981, when a group of white mercenaries attempted to overthrow the Island´s government. On basis of the 2003 ensuing MOU on defense cooperation, Indian naval ships were sent to patrol the country’s EEZ against Somali pirates in 2009. Since then, New Delhi has donated military equipment and eventually entered in the now muted agreement on the use of Assumption. The agreement was signed during Prime Minister Modi’s visit in 2015 but remained unratified by the Seychelles´ National Assembly as the government went into a minority in 2016. Meanwhile, after India has already built a network of six related coastal radar stations which are manned by Seychelles Coast Guard personnel, it has been revised this January to be tabled for ratification this month. Yet, now voting on ratification has been postponed till April again as the opposition signaled new resistance.
Besides, the ‘base question’, and some public sentiments against stronger Indian presence in general, the Seychelles and China are currently exploring new ways to expand their cooperation in defense and trade. [The Quint] [First Post]
11 March 2018
Seychelles: Parliament to ratify deal with India on development of island military facilities
(ls) Seychelles President Danny Faure recommended that parliament ratify an agreement with India to develop military facilities on strategically located Assumption Island in the Western Indian Ocean by next month and emphasized that the land has not been leased or sold to the Indian government. [The Wire]
The government of the Seychelles, based in Victoria on Mahe Island more than a thousand kilometers northeast of Assumption, says the base will help coastguards to patrol its 1.3 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy. But its location is also of strategic importance for monitoring maritime traffic in the Mozambique Channel. The project remains controversial with small weekly demonstrations, seeing an affront to sovereignty and national pride, in the capital. [South China Morning Post]
4 March 2018
Seychelles swap sovereign debt with a protecting plan of its ocean
(hg) The Seychelles have agreed to swap parts of its national debt in return for designating nearly a third of its domestic waters as protected areas. The debt-for-nature deal was brokered by NatureVest, the conservation investing unit of US-based The Nature Conservancy which will purchase up to $21.6 million of the nation’s over $400 million debt at a discount to redirect the payments from creditors to a newly-created local trust that will use the money to repay the initial capital as well as to fund marine conversation plans. By 2020, when the conservation plan is set to complete, Seychelles will have protected more than 400,000 sq km of its ocean — an area larger than Germany. [Quartz]
4 February 2018
India’s new military presence on the Seychelles and concerns over Chinese influence in Sri Lanka
(hg) India and the Seychelles signed a revised agreement that will allow India to build military infrastructure on Assumption Island, that will expand its strategic reach in the Indean Ocean.
Initially, the agreement had been signed in 2015 to be suspended because it had not been ratified by the Seychelles parliament prompting previous President of the Seychelles, Faure announced last year it would have to be re-negotiated.
The agreement shall enhance the cooperation pertaining anti-piracy operations and enhanced EEZ surveillance to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders indulging in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking and generally the Seychelles’ defense assets and capabilities. [Jane’s 360] [The Times of India]
The final conclusion of the agreement follows an unannounced visit of India’s Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to the Seychelles after the Seychelles-China cooperation has been rapidly growing in the recent past. Giving the Indian military interests on the islands, the deal securing them is indeed of great “strategic significance” for India. [India Today]
Meanwhile, India is indicating security concerns over Sri Lanka handing over the control of Hambantota Port to China with Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman having publicly raised doubts whether China would confine itself only to [peaceful] port activities, hinting at the port’s ‘dual use’ capacity. [Daily Mirror]
XX December 2017
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