Asia-Pacific Current Affairs - 2020

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China’s interests in the new country Bougainville

Recently, Bougainville, a chain of islands voted for a referendum of independence from Papua Guinea. The referendum saw 85% voter turnout choosing Papua Guinea as second option. The referendum was introduced because the peace agreement signed before 20 years ended. The agreement was signed to end nine year conflict or civil war that killed almost 10% of the country’s population. Employment and land acquisition in the island by copper mines (owned by Papua Guinea, Australia and other foreign countries) were the major reason behind the war.

Implications 

The independence of the country sends strong signals to other movements across the Pacific, especially New Caledonia (a French collectivity) that is preparing itself for the second referendum. The other important message that the independence sends is for the so-called traditional partners of the Pacific namely US, UK, Australia, France and Japan. The referendum has taken place during the period when the strategic anxiety among the traditional partners of the Pacific is at its peak.

China’s interests

The prevailing situation in the Pacific is advantageous to China. China seeks to influence an independent Bougainville. The political and economic presence of china in the country has increased already. China’s support to the island will increase its support among the Pacific islands against Taiwan. It is important to note that Taiwan recently lost two of its Pacific allies this year. Australia, UK and US believe that there are possibilities of China bringing Bougainville into its debt trap diplomacy. China is also interested in Bougainville for its rich fisheries, copper, gold and other resources. Building strong ties with the country will help China increase its presence in the Pacific.

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India expands Indo-Pacific Policy; includes Gulf and Africa

At the end of the joint Indian Ocean Dialogue held in New Delhi, External Affairs Minister officially announced that India is planning to expand its Indo-Pacific policy. So far, the Indo-Pacific covered Indian Ocean and the Arabian sea. With the expansion, the region will now include Gulf states and Africa.

Indo Pacific

Indo-Pacific is a US construct that includes regions between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. According to the US, it ranges from the eastern shores of the African continent to the western shores of the US. The move of US was perceived to contain China’s military expansion in the region. In June 2018, PM Modi outlined India’s vision on the Indo-Pacific region while addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Significance

The expansion will help India in its Act East Policy. It also clearly sets out message that India’s focus is more on the Indian Ocean element of the Indo-Pacific rather than Pacific Ocean element. This is because with the expansion of the Indo-Pacific, ASEAN becomes the geographical centre of a greater perimeter and becomes heart of Indo-Pacific. This will also help India in moving beyond cultural, historical and economic linkages.

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