Quad cautious in expanding Indo-Pacific alliance
R. Muthu Kumar
The hot topic of debate in current diplomatic circles is US President Donald Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the importance of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” comprising Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.
Trump, in fact, has been vociferous in his anti-China sentiment for almost a year now, ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, which he directly attributes to China. Apart from banning Chinese apps in the US and trying break all diplomatic links with China, he has been trying to drum up support for his presidential re-election by accusing his Democratic rival Joe Biden of being a “China” man and even alleging that Biden’s son had received bribes from China.
However, on the multilateral or bilateral fronts, the US and the Trump administration have been weary of taking any tangible measures that can trip the very purpose of forging an alliance against China’s global shenanigans. US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun very recently said that the US and India have been too cautious in expanding the ‘Quad’ framework due to China’s perceptible reactions. On the note of caution, he also remarked that the Quad coalition can be extended to broader areas of shared interests and with other like-minded partners seeking a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
What has been striking about the Quad thus far, however, is that it has resisted openly identifying China as the primary target it seeks to rein in.This is not a trivial issue as the first iteration of the Quad, in 2007, fell apart largely because Australia and to some extent India got cold feet over how much to push China without impacting other dimensions of their bilateral relationships.
With change in global orders, for the first time in the Quad’s history, the powerful nations are aligning for a harder line on China, and the implications of going forward can be significant for the current four countries involved in the Quad as well as other countries harboring anti-China sentiments.
Beginning with Australia, perceptions of China have progressively dimmed in recent years. A variety of tensions arising from Beijing’s South China Sea and Taiwan policies, promotion of Huawei in Australia, growing influence in Australian politics and academia, harsh treatment of Hong Kong protests, and threats of economic retaliation with Australia’s call to hold China accountable for coronavirus have all soured the mood among leaders in Canberra.
China a global bully: Perception or myth
“Is China turning out to be a global bully, is indeed the moot point?” Two of the biggest takeaways from the October 6, Quad security dialogue were that US confrontation with China over Taiwan (which has the potential of serious escalation) and Washington blaming Beijing for not only the global pandemic but also for the economic in the US, especially on the eve of the presidential elections.
While India is legitimately worried about the on-going military stand-off with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in East Ladakh, the three other Quad powers were far more concerned about China’s bellicose moves on Taiwan. With US navy super carriers and destroyers patrolling the South China Sea, there is serious military friction brewing over Beijing’s bullying of Taiwan.
Indo-US interlocution and diplomatic feedback from the Indo-Pacific Quad dialogue indicate that Beijing’s “One China” mantra may come under question if US President Donald Trump returns to power, although the Biden campaign has signaled that it too will take a hard line on China.
Beijing, however, seems to be least bothered about global statements and sentiment. Its expansionist plans have picked up steam after a weak global response to Beijing’s introduction of security laws in Hong Kong and the near-absolute silence of ASEAN countries over events in Taiwan and the South China Sea due to the massive economic clout of the middle kingdom.
China wants the world to recognise “One China” policy as a matter of its right, it evidently has no respect for sovereignty of others including India, Japan (Senkaku Islands) and Russia (Vladivostok). China does not recognise Ladakh but wants India to recognise its occupation of Tibet, Xinjiang and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) construction in Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. And of course, it can always be sanctimonious over Jammu and Kashmir, more so when politically desperate Valley politicians are apparently asking Beijing to intercede on their behalf.
What is the ‘One China’ policy?
It is the diplomatic acknowledgement of China’s position that there is only one Chinese government. Under the policy, the US recognises and has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day.
The One China policy is a key cornerstone of the Sino-US relations. It is also a fundamental bedrock of Chinese policy-making and diplomacy. However, it is distinct from the One China principle, whereby China insists Taiwan is an inalienable part of one China, also to be reunified one day.
The US policy is not an endorsement of Beijing’s position and indeed as part of the policy, Washington maintains a “robust unofficial” relationship with Taiwan, including continued arms sales to the island so that it can defend itself.
Although Taiwan’s government claims it is an independent country officially called the “Republic of China”, any country that wants diplomatic relations with mainland China must break official ties with Taipei.
This has resulted in Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation from the international community.
China driven India’s foreign policy shift
India is struggling to get China to disengage in the Himalayas. Meanwhile Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has been playing down New Delhi’s widely expected shift toward the United States.
In August, Jaishankar said that India will “never be part of an alliance system”. Then he lectured Washington, saying that it has to learn to “go beyond” alliances. More recently, Jaishankar said that China should not view India through an American lens.
Some analysts believe that Jaishankar’s straight talk is aimed at assuaging China. A growing lobby of thinkers in New Delhi have begun to see India’s strengthening ties with the United States as one of the causes of China’s recent belligerence in the Himalayas.
India’s current priority goes beyond just buying arms and building its own technological capabilities.
Russia is realistic about China’s economic prowess and in reciprocation China is aware of Russia’s more advanced military presence.
In the months and years ahead, Beijing and Moscow are more likely to pool these assets together than turn on each other, given the common interests against the West. All this has already been happening on global issues such as Iran and Syria in recent times.
US Deputy Secretary of State Biegun’s take
India and the US have been too cautious in expanding the framework of ‘Quad’ due to China’s possible reaction, and the coalition can be extended to broader areas of shared interests and with other like-minded partners seeking a free and open Indo-Pacific, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said .
In a recent address at a think-tank in New Delhi, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said there was an “enormous” opportunity for a “security relationship” with India as he elaborated on conditions for a fundamental alignment between the two countries while referring to China as “an elephant in the room”.
“As the United States assesses our own interests and how they intersect with India’s, we have seen the conditions emerge for an organic and deeper partnership, not an alliance on the postwar model but a fundamental alignment along with shared security and geopolitical goals, shared interests and shared values,” he said.
“Of course, as we advance in this direction, there is an elephant in the room – China. India has a strong and proud tradition of strategic autonomy, and we respect that. We do not seek to change India’s traditions. Rather we want to explore how to empower them and India’s ability to defend its own sovereignty and democracy and to advance Indian interests across the Indo-Pacific region,” Biegun stated..
In the course of his address at the India-US forum, Biegun majorly focused on the need for expansion of the ‘Quad’, saying like-minded countries and groupings must join hands to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The US deputy secretary of state also quoted Indian strategic affairs expert Ashok Kantha to say that India and the US have been too cautious to develop the Quad by wondering how China would react.
“I could not agree more with Ambassador Kantha. We have been too cautious. Last week’s important and successful Quad ministerial leaves the United States confident that perhaps, just maybe, we can say that we are present at the creation of those strategic linkages to which Ambassador Kantha refers,” Biegun said.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China’s increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers in the last few years. The US has been favouring making Quad a security architecture to check China’s growing assertiveness.
Quad’s engagement with ASEAN
In Southeast Asia, he said Quad partners can deepen engagement with 10-nation ASEAN grouping, cooperate in defending freedom of the seas, and work together in governance, health, environmental protection and transparent data sharing.
“The Quad is a partnership driven by shared interests, not binding obligations, and is not intended to be an exclusive grouping. Any country that seeks a free and open Indo-Pacific and is willing to take steps to ensure that should be welcome to work with us,” Biegun said.
He further said, “Our work together in the Quad and in other multilateral groupings are critical pillars toward this end, as is formalizing our cooperation – bilaterally and with others – in more regular and systematic ways that offer benefits to our nations’ security.”
“The upcoming 2+2 ministerial meeting between Secretary Pompeo and Minister Jaishankar and their respective defense counterparts will be an excellent opportunity to explore the next steps on some of these issues,” he said. The third edition of the two-plus-two dialogue between India and the US is expected to take place on October 26 and 27 in New Delhi.
Edited by: Trinity Mirror Online Team