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Indo-Pacific Intelligence Report #1: 10/07/2024

Updated: Jul 14



Indo-Pacific Report #1 - 10 July 2024
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Understanding our Risk Rubric

Global Weekly’s intelligence reports make use of a risk rubric to prove a structured methodology for assessing and measuring risks associated with emerging geopolitical events. When analysing a geopolitical event we assign a score to the following risk factors: political, governance, security, and crime. Each factor is graded from 1-10, with 1 representing the lowest risk and 10 representing the highest risk. These are some of the following factors when considered:

●       Political: risk of armed conflict, durability of state institutions, level of food and water security, predictability of government-decision making

●       Governance: level of corruption, transparency in policy-making, standard of legal and regulatory frameworks, extent of human rights practices

●       Security: threat from domestic tensions, existence of terrorist organisations, capacity of military forces, hostility to foreign investments

●       Crime: level of organised crime, threat of violent crime, threat of sexual abuse, capacity of law enforcement agencies.



Garbage Balloons in the Korean Peninsula and Nuclear Implications in the Indo-Pacific


Executive Summary

●       Since the end of May, North Korea (DPRK) has launched waste-carrying balloons over to South Korea (ROK) in response to anti-government propaganda being sent North of the border. Earlier this year (in January), Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un ordered the removal of the Arch of Reunification in Pyongyang. 


●       Such events have stirred tensions in the region and have likely made pending denuclearisation efforts unable to be completed until 2027 (when the next South Korean presidential election is expected to occur).


●       This has likely placed US-China relations in a further tenuous state. While both countries share the common objective of a denuclearised DPRK, their two different approaches to achieving that goal (sanctions/military presence vs. aid/security guarantee) have ultimately resulted in alarming nuclear threats in the Korean Peninsula.


●       This is likely to intensify the strategic rivalry between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific region as both countries attempt to assert their perceived ‘correct’ way to maintain regional peace and stability.


●       While unlikely to have a direct impact on other regional players like India or ASEAN, there is a possibility that the uncertainty of peace in the Korean Peninsula will discourage them from pursuing any strategic and/or economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.


Context

Since May 28th 2024, DPRK has sent over 1,600 balloons carrying waste towards the ROK. This is due to the increasing presence of anti-DPRK propaganda (leaflets, loudspeaker messages) arriving in the North from the ROK. Ever since the election of anti-Sunshine Policy (peaceful Korean reunification) president Yoon Suk Yeol in 2022, tensions in the Korean Peninsula have escalated, especially with the state-ordered removal of the Arch of Reunification earlier this year in Pyongyang, a monument built in 2000 to symbolise eventual Korean reunification and peace. This has caused further delays in the denuclearisation process, causing complications in US-China relations and the Indo-Pacific region. The US and China share a common foreign policy objective of desiring a denuclearised North Korea but unfortunately, their conflicting approaches such as American-imposed economic sanctions in contrast to Chinese development aid to such an outcome have caused them to be rather more assertive than compromising, diminishing any hopes for regional stability in the Indo-Pacific.


Analysis

The DPRK’s recent actions could be deemed as a complete reversal of eventual plans toward denuclearisation and further asserting their stance as a key, anti-Western nuclear power. Some foreign policy experts have described the situation as a ‘dead end’ as DPRK will continue to view the US as an unnegotiable adversary due to its long-standing military presence in the ROK and Japan. Meanwhile, China, as opposed to its American counterpart, continues to rely on its policy of aid and funding to discourage the DPRK but so far, the channels of such financing have remained opaque. The DPRK has currently developed approximately 45 nuclear weapons and analysts have predicted a bleak figure of 242 if this trend continues.


While US-China relations have long been sour, the current state of the Korean Peninsula is likely to exacerbate further tensions in the strategic rivalry these two great powers already share. The increasing criticism from foreign policy scholars of the American approach to the denuclearisation of DPRK is an indicator of concern that America’s status as a ‘global police’ is not functional or capable of solving problems in the 21st century. On the other hand, the Chinese reluctance to cooperate with the US due to its opposition to Chinese claims in the South China Sea and towards the Senkaku Islands (Japan) is likely leading to a proxy conflict emerging and leaving the Korean Peninsula destabilised with a potential threat of nuclear warfare. This could prove to be a big concern for the existence of an Indo-Pacific community as failure to denuclearise DPRK may lead to other regional players like India and ASEAN to avoid strategic or economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific and divide amongst themselves for dependency on either China or the US, prolonging the proxy conflict.


Forecast

Denuclearisation can be a long process and so far, South Africa has only proven to be a successful case out of six that have attempted throughout history. Even then, this was done in secret until 1993 when former president, F.W. de Klerk announced that South Africa had dismantled its entire nuclear arsenal without any further explanation. As for the short-term, tensions are most likely to be incredibly high in the Korean Peninsula unless there is a change to the current South Korean official policy or perhaps the presidency. Someone who will prioritise Korean reunification or at the very least, peace between these two nations, can help resolve these diplomatic woes of the Yoon administration. However, this can only be done through elections and it seems quite unlikely that a snap presidential election will be called anytime soon.


Nevertheless, the medium-term and long-term consequences of such actions by the DPRK are truly alarming and may most likely result in a prolonged US-China proxy conflict in the Indo-Pacific region and an unstable geopolitical environment for the rest of Asia, with countries divided between Chinese and American influence. Unless there is a major shift in American and Chinese foreign policy towards the Korean Peninsula (as well as the Indo-Pacific region) and a promotion of compromise over dominance, a nuclear DPRK might be the inevitable outcome that all countries must face.

 

Risk: 4 1 4 1


 

Philippines and China clash in South China Sea; tensions likely to persist but armed conflict unlikely


Executive Summary

●       On June 17 2024, the Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino navy vessels clashed over the contested Second Thomas Shoal.

●       It is unlikely that this will escalate further as neither party is interested in an outright conflict

●       Such maritime incidents will likely take place in the short, medium and long term with no clear resolution to the contested territory.

●       However, China’s assertiveness in pressing its claims will continue to drive Southeast Asian states towards closer relations with the United States.


Context

On June 17 2024, the Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino navy vessels clashed in the contested Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. Wielding knives, spears and axes, Chinese coast guard personnel reportedly rammed and boarded two Filipino naval ships, resulting in several wounded and one Filipino soldier losing a thumb. The incident took place during a routine attempt by Manilla to resupply troops on the ageing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre), which was intentionally run aground into the reef in 1999 to bolster the Filipino claim to the shoal. Despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favour of the Philippines, China continues to claim sovereignty over the shoal as part of its wider nine-dash line claims.


Analysis

This skirmish is only the most recent in a string of confrontations between the two countries which has gradually been escalating since China seized the Scarborough Shoal, another contested territory, in 2012. In response to this latest incident, the US State Department has condemned the “escalatory and irresponsible” actions by China and, importantly, reaffirmed that the US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty extends to attacks that may occur over the contested shoal, leading to concerns that the incident could inadvertently provoke a wider conflict. However, the Philippine President has committed to resolving the issue peacefully and has so far resisted calls to directly involve the US.


Despite this, China’s assertiveness will likely provide further impetus for the Philippines and other South China Sea claimant states to upgrade their maritime security capacity and seek closer cooperation with the US and Japan to deter Chinese aggression.


Forecast

Whilst there is a risk that miscalculation could result in these maritime confrontations escalating, it is in the interest of both parties to stay below the threshold of outright conflict and we can expect de-escalation to take place. Nonetheless, both China and the Philippines remain committed to their claim over the territory, with Philippines Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro pledging to continue supply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre meaning that future incidents are likely to occur.


Global Weekly forecasts that the South China Sea will continue to be a major source of contention between China and the Philippines in the short, medium and long term. However, at least in the short and medium term, escalation to armed conflict is improbable allowing for the South China Sea to remain a viable route for trade and international shipping.

 

Risk: 3 1 5 1


 

How does the Sino-Indian Space Competition impact the Indo-Pacific?


Executive Summary

●       Both China and India have made significant strides in space technology in recent years, such as China’s successful Chang’e-6 mission and India’s rocket engine tests in June 2024, reflecting broader economic and maritime competition.


●       An increasing focus on attaining space dominance likely arises from evolving strategic security concerns due to counter-space technology’s growing prominence in 21st-century conflicts. This trend is seen in the use of Starlink satellite systems for communication and attack coordination during the Russo-Ukrainian war.


●       With China launching the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO) in 2008 and India leading the launch of the 2017 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Satellite, Sino-Indian space competition is likely to provide opportunities for smaller countries in the Indo-Pacific to develop their own space programs. 


●       Competition in this relatively new sector certainly signals an increased significance in counter-space capabilities for security. However, this is unlikely to directly contribute to regional destabilisation as stability ultimately depends on how the Asian powers handle maritime tensions.


Context

On June 25 2024, China’s lunar probe, Chang’e-6, successfully returned with the first samples from the far side of the moon. Similarly, India conducted successful 3D-printed rocket engine tests in early June. These are some of the significant strides that both Asian powers have made in space technology development in recent years.


Historically, competition between India and China has largely manifested across the Indo-Pacific through economic and maritime pressure. In the 21st century, these tensions have been reflected in the space domain with both countries developing dual-use space programs. While India has expressed its position against unilateral attempts to alter the Indo-Pacific status quo at G7 forums, China pursues regional hegemony. 85% of China’s oil imports pass through the Malacca Strait, hence emphasising China’s need to establish a strong maritime presence via the Maritime Silk Road and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Growing Chinese maritime influence and assertive space strategy have pushed India to bolster its own dual-use space program. This may create pathways for smaller Indo-Pacific states to enhance their own space technology. However, such regionally polarising competition may have destabilising consequences.    


Since the 1960s, India has focused on civilian applications of space technology. However, China’s 2007 anti-satellite test (ASAT) highlighted a significant security risk for the Indo-Pacific status quo. Xi Jinping has set goals for China to become a leading space power and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made progress in developing counter space capabilities, such as ASAT weapons, aimed at undermining an adversary’s space technology. In response, India carried out a successful ASAT test in 2019 which reflects a newly acquired technological ability to defend space assets and develop a more secure regional space authority. Additionally, India has developed space-based Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) technology and satellite navigation systems, such as NavIC, to improve military coordination and reduce reliance on foreign navigation networks.

 

Analysis

A growing space sector may enable a positive impact on smaller states in the Indo-Pacific by promoting knowledge sharing and interconnectivity. For example, the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO), established by China in 2008, aims to enhance collaboration between regional states in fields such as disaster monitoring and data sharing. To counterbalance growing Chinese influence, India has undertaken projects with regional partners to increase connectivity and access to satellite technology. For example, India launched the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Satellite in 2017. With countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka relying on Chinese and Indian support to enhance their space programs, the Sino-Indian competition provides opportunities for smaller Indo-Pacific states to advance their own space technology capabilities.


The use of Starlink systems in the Russo-Ukrainian war by Ukrainian forces to enhance communication and attack coordination demonstrated how efficient space technology broadens security and intelligence capacity. With space taking on an important role in geopolitical dynamics, competition in the space sector may amplify the growing tensions in the South China Sea. India’s accession to the United States-led Artemis Accords in 2023 promotes principles for the peaceful and transparent exploration of celestial bodies. However, this puts pressure on non-signatories as it provides greater legitimacy to US-centric approaches and challenges Chinese attempts to secure a position of space dominance. Therefore, increasing space industry competition risks an escalation in Indo-Pacific disputes and heightened space militarisation.

 

Forecast

Sino-Indian space competition demonstrates the technological prowess of both rising Asian powers and paves a pathway for the Global South to secure interests in an emerging sector. This development is very likely to facilitate technological cooperation and space capacity building across the Indo-Pacific with smaller nations acquiring technological support from India and China. This is likely to have a significant long-term impact on regional development in areas of disaster management and satellite infrastructure.


Alternatively, there is also a growing risk of destabilisation and conflict escalation due to the nature of space industry technology as a key strategic factor. With space technology already being used in ongoing conflicts, such as the Russo-Ukrainian war, the strategic significance of counter-space capabilities is almost certainly going to come to greater prominence in the long term.  However, regional destabilisation would ultimately depend on how these Asian powers navigate maritime tensions and developments in the space sector are therefore unlikely to directly contribute to destabilisation.

 

Risk: 4 1 8 1


 

Quad to Squad: The Evolution of Informal Alliances in Geopolitics


Executive Summary

●       The Quad, an informal alliance comprising India, Australia, Japan, and the US, initially formed to counter China's assertiveness, is undergoing significant changes.

●       Recently, US Defence Minister Lloyd J. Austin proposed expanding this coalition to include the Philippines during a meeting in Hawaii in 2024. This decision reflects a strategic shift, as the US views the Philippines as a more effective partner in countering China, particularly given their mutual defence agreements and ongoing disputes within the South China Sea.

●       India, traditionally a member of the Quad, has focused on issues such as cyber threats, terrorism, transnational crime, natural disasters, pandemics, and upholding a rule-based order. In contrast, the Philippines' strategic importance lies in its shared defence agreements with the US and its direct involvement in territorial disputes with China.

●       The escalation in the East Philippine Sea, where Chinese coast guards have clashed with Philippine vessels, underscores the regional tensions. China has continued to pursue its claims in the region. On 17th June 2024, one of its vessels collided with a Philippine vessel, damaging the vessel and injuring Filipino navy personnel within the internationally recognised exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

●       In response to these developments, the US has proposed a new regional alliance, dubbed "Squad," aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation and safeguarding maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific. This initiative reflects growing concerns over China's assertive actions and seeks to bolster regional security cooperation among like-minded nations.


Context

China has closely monitored recent developments and issued a warning that the Squad initiative could exacerbate risks and escalate tensions in the South China Sea. They have also expressed concerns that US efforts could potentially 'Ukrainise' the Philippines, drawing parallels to Russia's actions in Ukraine. This implies a scenario where the Philippines could become embroiled in a conflict or geopolitical instability influenced by external powers. As plans for the Squad's expansion unfold, the geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific region becomes increasingly intricate, presenting challenges to maintaining a stable balance of power among nations. Consequently, the South China Sea may evolve into a focal point of heightened geopolitical rivalry and strategic manoeuvring in the foreseeable future.


Analysis

The inclusion of the Philippines in the Squad initiative could have significant geopolitical implications for the strong relationship between two powerful countries, India and the US, which share a close bond based on common interests such as counterterrorism and countering Chinese influence. However, recent changes within the Quad, now being referred to as Squad, have left India feeling somewhat replaced. There are concerns from Western powers because India is not entirely aligned with Western alliances; it remains a member of BRICS and maintains a neutral foreign policy stance towards all countries, practising geopolitical hedging.


Forecast

India's approach differs from Western expectations, leading Western powers to seek more comfortable alliances that align more closely against China, such as the AUKUS military alliance between Australia, the UK, and the US. As long as India remains part of the Quad, it has emphasised that it does not support a military angle within the alliance. These factors could potentially strain the relationship between India and the Western powers.


Risk: 8 7 9 7

 

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