Weekly Bulletin (26/3-31/3)  

Vietnam’s diplomacy:
On March 29th, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong spoke on the phone with US President Joe Biden. The two agreed on maintaining peace, stability and cooperation in the region, ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, not using or threatening to use force in international relations, as well as implementing the DOC in the South China Sea and soon signing an effective COC in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS.
On March 30th, Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Ha Kim Ngoc and US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Jessica Lewis co-chaired the 12th Vietnam-US Political, Security and Defense Dialogue. The two shared the importance of ensuring the rule of law, freedom, and safety of navigation and aviation, peaceful settlement of disputes on the basis of international law. The US reaffirmed its support for Vietnam to improve its maritime and law enforcement capabilities.
+ Developments on the ground:
On March 26th, China’s South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) published a report showing that in 2022, the US military deployed three carrier strike groups (CSGs), two amphibious ready groups (ARGs), 20 bombers, and 12 nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) in the South China Sea and its surrounding areas. FONOPs in the South China Sea have decreased (9 in 2020, 8 in 2021, and 4 in 2022) but have been politicized as “its conjuncture with major US agenda towards China is more obvious”.
On March 26th, frigate HMCS Montréal and supply ship MV Asterix of Canada left Halifax, to travel across the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia, commander of Canada’s Maritime Forces Atlantic, said this is “the first time in a very long time that we sent a ship from the East Coast all the way to the Indo-Pacific region”. The ships are expected to take part in a number of joint operations before returning to Halifax in October 2023.  
On March 30th, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said that during its maritime patrol from March 16 to 21, PCG’s BRP Malapascua encountered China’s Type 056A Jiangdao II Class Missile Corvette vessel with bow number 649 within Thitu Island’s 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. Simultaneously, the PCG also spotted the China Coast Guard vessels with bow numbers 5304 and 5305 near the Sabina Shoal, and 5201 near the Ayungin Shoal. 
+ Politics - Diplomacy:
On March 27th, in an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines, Indonesia's envoy to Manila Agus Widjojo said that while the COC negotiations are progressing, there is still much work to be done. “The most important is the parties are willing to meet each other and talk to each other”. Indonesia expects the COC that reflects international norms, and be aligned with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 
On March 28th, New Zealand defence minister Andrew Little confirms that the country is evaluating the possibility of cooperation with AUKUS in artificial intelligence, including quantum computing and military technologies while reaffirming New Zealand’s legal obligations and moral commitment to nuclear-free.
India-France-Australia discusses the possibility to upgrade the trilateral partnership that focuses on maritime security, blue economy, and humanitarian relief in the Indo-Pacific. The trilateral meeting was previously upgraded from the working level to the foreign ministerial level in May 2021. According to The Mint, this could happen in India at the G20 Leader’s summit in September 2023.
In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines on March 30th, UK Minister for Indo-Pacific Anne-Marie Trevelyan said although China is an important trading partner of the UK, its behavior in Philippine waters is “unacceptable”. The UK would want to continue business with China but would also not hesitate to protect and defend its assets when “push comes to shove”.
In an interview on March 30th, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo states that are set to resume exploratory talks on a possible joint venture for oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea. The Philippine position would be guided by its Constitution, which he said will serve as the guiding principle in the negotiations.
+ Commentaries from SCSI:
The UK’s 2023 Integrated Review Refresh stresses the interconnected between the Indo-Pacific & the Euro-Atlantic, a tamer regional ambition and possibly a stronger approach to China. Read more here.
By sending rescue ships to the Spratly Islands in particular & the South China Sea in general, is China providing “public goods” or strengthening its maritime claims in the disputed areas (or both)? Read more here.
A recent article on DW argues that BRICS is gradually shaping a new world order, replacing the Western-led one. Will this be the case in reality? Read more here.