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The Financial Express

Quad Summit: An alliance against China


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The "Quad" which stands for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has had a rather patchy history since its inception after the 2004 tsunami and formalised in 2007.  Australia, India, Japan and the US are the members of this grouping. With the US being a member makes it a powerful regional grouping geographically extending  from  one end of the Pacific ocean to  the very end of the Indian ocean bordering the continent of Africa. But comprising only four countries. The reason being it is a grouping of "like minded democracies".

Many political observers, however, opine that if these four countries are the face of "democracy" and human rights, may God save us from such democracies. It is also suggested that if there are no more conceited countries in the world like the four members that make up the Quad, they definitely need each other.

The Quad has largely remained dormant since its inception except for occasional expressions of wishes such as one of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who termed it as an "anchor of peace and stability in the region". The desire for such an anchor and a very heavy one leaves no one in doubt about its ultimate goal to act as a counter-weight to China's economic rise.

But there is a fear among South-East Asian countries that the "anchor" might be dropped in their neighbourhood. This is what these countries do not want to see. Prime Minister Morrison then had to  assuage their fear by saying that the Quad members " look into the Indo-Pacific through the same lens as the ASEAN nations" or to say that it was just a message, do not worry.

But things have started to move since 2017 when Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed the view that it was time that a strategic dialogue between the Quad members be resumed. That quite nicely worked in favour of former US President Donald Trump's aggressive strategic posturing towards China. In fact, the Trump administration did contemplate to turn the Quad into "Asian NATO". This is a well trodden path used by the US to form alliance against its perceived or real enemy. By forming such a military alliance, the US can stack odds in its favour and economise military and diplomatic resources by shifting significant burden of those expenses to other member countries to achieve its own strategic objectives.

More importantly, it opens up massive opportunities to sell arms to these member countries. It is reported that India is in the process of buying 30 unmanned drones costing US$250 billion from the US in an effort to bolster its military amid tensions with China. That purchase is in addition to US$3.4 billion regular armament purchase from the US by India in 2020. Also, both Australia and Japan mostly source their armaments from the US.

But eventually,  the "Asian NATO' idea faltered along the way and opted for less ambitious proposal to create a "free and open Indo-Pacific" as suggested by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016,  but the aggressive posturing by the US continued against China. By creating an image of a united front against China, member countries like Australia, India and Japan  are not only trying to gain confidence against China and bully smaller neighbours, but also helping the US to step up its aggressive posturing against China. Some political observers  describe the Quad as the new Gang of Four.

Australia and Japan have been  the two principal client states of the US in the region since the end of the World War II and have remained closely tied to the US security system in the Pacific region. Australia has a long rooted and historical anti-China sentiment which was described as the "yellow peril" in the mid 19th century. It was that way until the 1920s with the adoption of Australian policy that banned migration of the Chinese to Australia. This policy was eventually scrapped in 1973. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard prided himself by declaring Australia as the Deputy Sheriff of the US in the Pacific region. Australia's sense of identity and its  security policy tied to that of the US makes the country the most resolute follower of the US in the region, so much so that when the US asks Australia to jump, it asks how high.

As for Japan, it was one of the leading countries along with the US  and 9 European countries that imposed the unequal Boxer Protocol of 1901 on China. Japan was also responsible for killing 20 million Chinese in the 1930s and the 1940s. The Nanjing massacre or the rape of Nanjing in 1937  saw Japanese troops resorting to mass murder,  mass rape of Chinese women and destroyed and stole Chinese property on a scale that will never be known. Similar atrocities were also committed by Japanese troops in other towns of the Lower Yangzi and East China.  These atrocities were committed by Japanese troops to strike terror into the hearts of the Chinese.

While racism and bigotry are integral to the American social fabric,  largely directed against Afro-Americans and Muslims, it has now found a  renewed target-- Asians (read Chinese). According to the Washington Post, there were 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian bias between March 2020 and the end of last month - a reflection of a surge in anti-Asian attacks that saw anti-Asian hate crimes  across 16 cities in the country rise by close to 150 per cent. It is interesting to note that President Joe Biden described the recent murder of 8 Asians including six women in Atlanta  by a white gunman as a hate crime, and not a terrorist attack.

It is India's involvement in the Quad which is interesting. India has been the cautious participant in the group at the initial stage and was wary of giving an overt "anti-China" character to this group. Its policy of non-alignment during the cold war period largely  dominated its foreign policy also in the post-cold war period. But under the Hindu supremacist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there have been growing tilts towards kow-towing Washington. Also, India's relationship with China has become  fractious under the current Hindu supremacist government.

India is also now in a strategic alliance with Washington that involves providing base facilities for US armed forces and arms purchase. The four Quad member countries took part for the first time in the annual Malabar naval exercises in the Indian ocean last year. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi India is increasingly undertaking  hostile activities against China in overseas countries also.

It is reported that the recent attacks on Chinese owned factories in Myanmar and violent hostile activities against local ethnic Chinese population in the wake of the military coup were instigated by  Indian intelligence operatives with the help of the US. In fact, India is increasingly becoming a proxy for the US in Myanmar. India's increased involvement in the domestic politics of Myanmar is further reflected in Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla's view that it was important to work towards the restoration of democracy in Myanmar echoing the views of Washington. India also has established a surveillance base targeted at China in Vietnam. To underscore India's commitment to the Quad, Indian Prime Minister Modi told his summit colleagues, "The Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region".

While President Joe Biden is considered as a less radical version of Trump, since assuming his office, Biden has made it clear that he will continue to intensify the US's aggressive stance against China. President Biden's focus on China was underscored by a much anticipated foreign policy initiative in the form of a virtual Quad summit held on March 12 to counter China's economic rise. This was the first  multilateral meeting he hosted.

Before the summit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed the wish that relevant countries would refrain from forming closed and exclusive "cliques" and not target interests of "any third party". Also, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for "true multilateralism" and argued against exclusive groupings or "selective multilateralism". Wang further added  that "building small circles in the name of multilateralism is in fact 'group politics' ".

The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the summit with rather a very flowery title "Spirit of the Quad"  by the four leaders revealed nothing new, just contained the stock phrases directed against China  such as "free, open rules-based order; "freedom of navigation and overflight" and collaboration "to meet challenges to the rules based maritime order in the East and South China Seas". However, it must be noted that the word China was never mentioned in the joint statement, yet China was all over there for every one to see.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was, however, very forthcoming and said, "The four leaders did discuss the challenges posed by China and they made clear that none of them has any illusions about China". Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga even felt "emotional" about the re-emergence of the Quad  and its dedication to realising a "free and open Indo-Pacific", a code word for encircling China. He also further tweeted that there had been consultations on China. Even the Summit's headline grabbing promise of one billion vaccines for the region is primarily aimed at countering China.

While it is routinely asserted that the Quad is not a military alliance against China, the actions of the US are clearly designed to ring fence against China to assert its strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific region.

But the Quad, so far, has failed to formulate a unified China-containment policy. "Historic meeting" aside, it also failed to devise anything of practical significance. In to-day's world the interests of countries are diversified, hence countries are unlikely to follow the US strategic initiatives just because the US wishes them to do so.

Australia, India and Japan, each have their own set of issues and positions to deal with China quite different from those of the US. Even in Australia, the most resolute follower of the USA, many are getting increasingly concerned about the deteriorating relationship with China and asking the government to abandon its hostile posturing against China and use proper diplomacy to replace  the current  megaphone diplomacy. 

All four Quad member countries are significantly more economically integrated with China than with each other. Each of these countries also have their individual differences in how to deal with China, in particular Japan and India's attitudes towards China are more complicated. Also, the US can not give much to allies in exchange for blind support for its policy to confront China. It has been clearly understood around the world for a long time that the US is singularly committed to pursue only its own national interests and total disregard for it allies or other countries national interests. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Chinese economy is expected to grow 8.1 per cent this year while the US economy shrank by 3.5 per cent in 2020. It is now projected that the Chinese economy could be larger in absolute terms than that of the US by 2035. Other analysts suggest that China could overtake the US economically even much sooner.

There is no evidence that suggests the US's confrontational policies have weakened China's drive to continue to improve the quality of life for its people or trade or diplomacy. The US-led Quad meeting is neither historic nor a game-changer. Despite such agreed pronouncements like "cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region"; "support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity"; "strengthening democratic resilience in the broader region" and others, the prospect of the Quad blossoming into a security arrangement to encircle China is most unlikely.

In fact, the US might expose itself to some cannier member/s to manipulate the situation to its/their own advantage notwithstanding the fact China can also use the differences between four member countries and leverage that to its own advantage by  dealing with each of them individually with custom-designed deal packages to suit individual country needs which will be mutually beneficial.

In a military confrontation with China, the US can not achieve any clear victory and hurting China economically will only further weaken the US and the global economies. The Quad is also not  an alliance of likeminded countries as the US claims,  in fact, it is a gang of one, the rest are  trying to piggyback on the US as and when opportunities arise to advance their own national interests.

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