Over Coffee #4 – German naval diplomacy and some other developments

The buzz this week is about German naval diplomacy, represented by the deployment of the frigate, Bayern, in the Indo-Pacific, showing Germany’s initial commitment in the Indo-Pacific. Plus, some minor updates on politics and defense in Southeast Asia.

Coffee first: I’m having a blast trying out different blends from 20mL. It’s quickly becoming my favorite which serves its own proprietary blend of beans (along with some single origin beans). My recommendation this week is the Caramello blend, which is a bolder version of the brighter Mochademia blend. Hints of dark chocolate are prevalent and I might have tasted some spices. If the Mochademia is like a Snickers bar, the Caramello is like eating a granola bar loaded with 84% dark chocolate.

As usual, I am not affiliated with any of these products.

German naval diplomacy

In 2020, Germany unveiled its policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific. It lists seven principles which guide German engagement in the region, namely European action, multilateralism, upholding rules-based order, human rights, development, inclusivity, and equality. The deployment of the Brandenburg-class frigate, Bayern, in the Indo-Pacific marked the first German naval deployment in nearly two decades.

After a stop in South Korea, the frigate was supposed to make a port call in Shanghai. Beijing, however, rejected the port call. After crossing the South China Sea last week, the frigate Bayern arrived in Singapore. It is scheduled to dock in Changi Naval Base for two weeks.

German Ambassador to Singapore, Norbert Riedel, affirmed the Bayern’s mission as a means to affirm the “universal character and primacy of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”. Ambassador Riedel also lauded the mission as an “early tangible outcome of Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines.”

The German Chief of Navy, VADM Kay-Achim Schönbach, also delivered a Fullerton Lecture, which was hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). In the lecture, Schönbach reiterated Germany’s Indo-Pacific interests, emphasising that Germany’s interests were inevitably tied to the Indo-Pacific, particularly in maintaining the freedom and safety of sea trade routes. Schönbach also hinted of future regular naval deployments in as early as 2023, alongside Air Force and Cyber Defense Units training with regional partners.

The Bayern’s journey could be interpreted as testing the waters. Schönbach admits that a period of learning would be necessary, considering Germany’s long absence from the region.

In the bigger picture, the Bayern’s deployment adds to the increasing number of actors in the Indo-Pacific. If the progress report is any indication, Germany is highly committed to being an Indo-Pacific player.

And some other developments, mostly from Indonesia

  • Malaysia receives the Rencong, its fourth Keris-class littoral mission vessel (LMV). The delivery of the Rencong marks the completion of Malaysia’s LMV procurement deal with China which began in March 2017. The LMVs will join the Eastern Fleet.
  • A landmark sexual violence prevention bill, which was supposed to be deliberated and passed this year by Indonesian parliament, continues to be delayed and defanged. This is despite a surge in cases of reported sexual violence across the country. Activists have called on the government to accelerate deliberation on a more potent version of the bill.
  • Earlier this week, Indonesia unveiled a “green” industrial zone worth USD 129 billion located in North Kalimantan. The 30,000-hectare industrial zone is expected to be a manufacturing hub for green technology, such as batteries for electric vehicles, and solar panels. According to Luhut Pandjaitan, there are 10 major Chinese investors involved in the project.
  • Indonesia has settled on a deal to acquire F-15 Eagle and Rafale fighter aircraft, scrapping a previous deal for Su-35 aircraft from Russia. The Indonesian Air Force expects an acquisition of up to three squadrons (around 36 aircraft in total of either Eagles or Rafale) to be delivered gradually, starting from 2027.
  • Singapore drags on into its fifth year of leadership transition, which might affect the continuity of the People’s Action Party.

That’s all I can cover for this week! This is the last recap of the year as I will be going on a well-deserved end-of-year break. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Header image: Frigate Bayern (Wikimedia Commons)

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