AUSTRALIA, India, Japan and the United States of America are trying to buffer the rising power of China. This could be a good scheme for those who engaged in this struggle but their circumstances seem to be more in danger than in favour for each of them. Debate should be initiated with a brief preface about the group of four harmonious democracies who met in Manila on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia Summits on November 12 to discuss regional and global cooperation. The meeting was the first since the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. Wary of their relations with China, India and Australia hesitated to take part initially. Recently the Quad meeting again made China circumspect with regards to its strategic security. Chinese foreign ministry warned against countries politicizing cooperation in the region.
So that, on 13th November in response of recent meeting of four countries’ officials, US, Australia, Japan and India, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that ‘The regional cooperation should neither be politicized nor exclusionary’. Actually this meet-up highlighted the deep suspicion and turbulence among China’s neighbors over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitions for regional dominance. It also clearly underscored growing regional competition between Beijing and Washington. The meeting comes with the United States’ emphasis to shift the strategic focus, while Donald Trump using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ in order to categorize the region during his first trip to Asia. It could be assertively said that this term indicates United States’ diplomatic approach towards security commitment of Asia’s border region.
In their meeting, on the eve of the leaders’ summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the four countries agreed to extend the cooperation towards a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region”. The meeting, known as the “Quad”, did not release a joint statement and the US officials have denied the move as if it were not aimed at containing China. However, Beijing warned last week that any manoeuvres towards a security grouping should not target or damage a “third party’s interest”. It leads toward a thought provoking question: Is ‘Indo-Pacific’ containment ploy or a new label for region beyond China’s backyard? In Donald Trump’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of ASEAN, he not only discussed regional security but also pledged to boost bilateral trade and security ties.
By drawing the logical implications, the Quad meeting was not a coincidence or serendipity. Trump appeared keen to promote his Indo-Pacific concept as the keystone of his Asian strategy and worked hard to strengthen ties with its allies and partners, including India and Vietnam to counter-balance China. Jinan University’s Southeast Asian affairs specialist Zhang Mingliang also claimed that “The Quad was largely an expected response from the four countries to Beijing’s growing military and economic influence”. Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies) China Institute in London, also said: “India, Australia and Japan each had their reasons for wanting the Quad to mean something, especially considering the declining power of the US under Trump.” Moreover, “For all the silliness of Trump, China’s neighbours remain wary of China’s increasing might and intentions, especially as Xi Jinping tried to restate China’s “historical” place or dominance in the region”, he claimed. Anyhow, by calculating the aftermath of ‘Quad-Nexus’, it can be postulated that the Quad will drive Russia and China closer together. While Russian President Vladimir Putin will see the Quad as another example of the US attempting to maintain its unipolar world dominance and will feel for China, Moscow is wary of the growing power of China and the Central Asian tentacles of its “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s plan to grow global trade.
For the United States of America, there are two aims to be fulfilled in this way. One, other states in Quad bloc will be seen as welcome supporters to maintain its constant dominance over the seas. Two, satisfy its own point to provoke an eventual conflict to satisfy its own sense of importance. What are the fruits for Australia? Not much. About 30 percent of Australian exports go to China, with Japan and South Korea accounting for only 20 percent. China wants to dominate the South China Sea so that it can keep importing from resource-rich countries such as Australia. One other factor is also there, Canberra’s participation in the Quad would encourage India to take part. India aims to be a main player in Central Asian affairs and seems to counter the belt and road strategy. This Central Asian ambition is largely impractical and unnecessary as any Central Asian resource can be accessed elsewhere. Importantly, the only way for India to gain such access is via Iran, particularly through the Chabahar port. Participation in the Quad would mean that India is spreading itself too thin, and needlessly provoking China by influencing its vital maritime security interests in a similar way as it is attempting to do in Central Asia. It would be deliberately damaging for both India and Australia. To sum-up, it can be argued that the outcome of like-minded ‘Quad-Union’ may reshape the regional geopolitical landscape in the long run. However if this nexus seeks to stop China from gaining power, then it will be just their futile attempt.
— The writer works at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan.