By JK Verma
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be attending the first in-person meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad) on September 24 in the US, to be hosted by President Joe Biden. The meeting would also be attended by his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. In the forthcoming meeting, besides the aggressive actions of China, the leaders would also discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, evolving technologies, global climate change, etc.
The spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) mentioned that “The Summit would provide a valuable opportunity for dialogue and interactions among the Leaders, anchored in their shared vision of ensuring a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”
The White House Press Secretary mentioned in the press release that Quad is the priority of the Biden-Harris Administration and “The Quad Leaders will be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.” As expected, China criticised the Quad and its Foreign Ministry spokesman mentioned that “China believes that any regional cooperation framework should follow the trend of the times and be conducive to mutual trust and cooperation among the countries in the region. It should not target any third party or harm their interests.”
On September 25 PM Modi would also address the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This will be the first in-person meeting between Modi and Biden though they met thrice virtually.
Modi’s visit to the US is important as the ground situation in the region became volatile after the Taliban overthrew the elected government in Afghanistan. The Taliban are supported by Pakistan, which is known as a terrorist state, hence the danger of terrorist attacks in India and all over the world has increased manifold. Hence it is expected that all the leaders of Quad would discuss the security situation in the region. Though China has not recognised the Taliban so far, it is openly supporting it. At the same time, there is no peace in Afghanistan after its capture as different factions of the Taliban are fighting with each other.
Prime Minister Modi and President Biden will discuss several important issues hence Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited US and met important officials, including the Secretary of State, and chalked out strategic bilateral and regional issues on which discussions would be held. Nonetheless, in view of China’s aggressive behaviour, the main topic of discussion between Quad leaders and between Modi and Biden would be China.
The Quad countries are worried as China is trying to control international organisations like International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and World Health Organization (WHO). The world is also worried because of their dependence on China which has emerged as the world’s manufacturing hub.
The Quad countries are also worryingly reliant on China and they are economically more close to Beijing than with one another. In 2004-05 Japan became worried about its massive investments because of anti-Japan demonstrations in China, hence Tokyo wanted to diversify investment and India was a good choice. The Senkaku Islands are also a bone of contention between China and Japan. Japan is an ardent supporter of the Quad as it was the brainchild of Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister of Japan. In July this year, Tokyo agreed to share defence intelligence with India, Australia, and the UK. The intelligence is already shared with the US. Tokyo has also opened a new segment in its Ministry of Defence to strengthen the cooperation with Delhi and Canberra.
Being an expansionist country, China has already occupied a large chunk of Indian territory, but still claims much more. In 2017 there was a long standoff at Doklam between the armies of both the countries and again there were violent clashes in the Galwan area in which 20 Indian soldiers, including a Commanding Officer, were martyred. But valiant Indian soldiers before their death killed more than double PLA soldiers. After this clash, there were several skirmishes on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India also banned 118 Chinese apps and is also trying to minimise Chinese imports.
The tension between China and Australia is increasing because of several reasons, including China’s aggressive policies in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan, uncalled for interference in Australian politics and educational institutes, and its onerous policies towards Hong Kong. China had put repressive trade restrictions on Australia when the latter demanded an independent probe into the origin and spread of the Coronavirus. China put restrictions on Australian wine, beef, and barley exports.
China is threatening the lone superpower status of the US and hence the latter is more eager to curb the phenomenal rise of China at present. The main contentious issues include violations and theft of intellectual property, trade imbalance, threat to Taiwan, human right abuses in China, particularly in the Xinjiang region, restrictions on press freedom, Coronavirus spread, Chinese aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, etc. While the Quad members participate in India’s Malabar naval exercise, the US is also planning to conduct an exercise of air forces of all Quad members at its Andersen Air Force Base so that better coordination is developed between Quad countries. The US and UK are also assisting Australia in deploying nuclear-powered submarines for patrolling in the South China Sea.
The scope of Quad can be enhanced and few more countries like Vietnam, New Zealand and South Korea could also join the Quad after some time, but they would avoid direct confrontation with China. Besides these countries, the UK, Germany and France also want to enhance their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific Region hence they may also join Quad.
The resolve of all four countries against China is strengthening. However, at present there is no need to convert it into a military alliance. It is important that they be ready to help each other in case of an armed conflict with China.
The Quad countries should also be careful because too much military cooperation would strengthen Beijing’s allegation that the Quad is a military alliance against China. Beijing calls it “the Asian version of NATO”. Moscow would also become suspicious and may align more towards Beijing. China may also try to build an organisation with Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to counter Quad.
China has become much more aggressive under President Xi Jinping not only within its borders but also outside the country. Xi Jinping is not only modernising his defence forces, but also increasing China’s naval presence in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Recently China has deployed its powerful 5,560-ton Hai Xun 03 warship in the South China Sea as it claims historical rights on large parts of that ocean region. In the recent past, the Chinese sank a Vietnamese fishing boat and there was also a standoff between a Chinese survey vessel and a Malaysian oil exploration vessel. China is using its economic might to achieve its political gains. Beijing is Canberra’s biggest trading partner while it is Tokyo’s second largest business ally.
The Quad is a loose alliance where the interests of member countries differ with each other as all of them have close economic relations with China. They may not like to have direct hostility with China, which has emerged not only as a formidable economic power but also a major military power. But the Quad gives a clear and stern message to China that if it wants to become a super power it must adhere to the international norms and should not threaten other countries of the world. The Quad conveys a clear message that the world, especially these countries, are ready to counter China’s expansionist moves.
-The writer is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of the United Services Institute of India and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely of the author.)