QUAD Summit: An Alliance Against China?

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By  Muhammad Mahmood    14 April 2021


The “Quad”, which stands for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has had a rather patchy history since its inception in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and formalized in 2007.  Australia, India, Japan and the US  are the members of this grouping and claimed to be a new,  permanent and with the US being a member makes it also 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 only four member 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 there are no more conceited countries in the world like the four members that make up the Quad, hence they are meant for each other. Furthermore, these QUAD countries must look at their own record of human rights abuses and prejudices – for some past and for others both past and present records of abuse – before they harangue others.

The Quad has largely remained dormant since its inception except for occasional expressions of phantasy such as the one expressed by the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the Quad is an “anchor of peace and stability in the region”. The desire for such an “anchor” and at that a very heavy one leaves no one in doubt about its goal which is to act as a counterweight to China’s economic rise.

The South-East Asian countries are nervous about QUAD. They fear that the so-called “anchor” might be dropped in their backyard and this is something that most of these Asian nations do not want. For example, in recent times, the Philippines President Duterte made it abundantly clear his position re the anti-China posturing of the QUAD, he said, “We do have our own problems with China but I am not choosing war to resolve them”. Prime Minister Morrison tried his best 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. Does not look like it is working.

QUAD gained momentum especially since 2017 when Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed the view that it was time that a strategic dialogue among its 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 turning QUAD into “Asian NATO”.

This is a well-trodden path used by the US, it confronts its enemy – perceived and real – by forming alliances. Such alliance especially military alliances help US to stack odds in its favour and economize military and diplomatic resources by shifting significant burden of those expenses to other member countries of the alliance, to achieve its own strategic objectives.

More importantly such alliances open massive opportunities to sell arms to the member countries. It is reported that India is in the process of buying 30 unmanned drones costing US$250 billion from the US, purportedly, to bolster its military capability against China with whim it has several on-going border disputes. That purchase is in addition to US$3.4 billion regular armaments purchases 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 continues against China. By creating an image of a united front against China; Australia, India and Japan  are not only trying to get embolden against China and bully smaller neighbours,  but also at the same time 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 aspects of 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 white Australia policy that banned the 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 which 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 raping 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 Chinese.

While racism and bigotry are   integral to the American social fabric, largely directed against Afro American 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 percent. 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 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 kowtowing 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 basing 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 have been 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 has hosted.

Before the summit, the Chines Foreign Ministry spokes person 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 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 realizing 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 but the actions of the US are clearly designed to ring fence China to assert its strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific region. By elevating its bonds with “like minded countries” US is trying to ensure that countering China is the existential purpose of the QUAD.

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 Australia the most resolute follower of the USA, many in Australia are getting increasingly concerned about the deteriorating relationship with China and asking the government to abandon its hostile posturing against Chia and use real 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. In fact, regional countries are very wary of the nature of the resurrected the QUAD.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the Chinese economy is expected to grow 8.1 percent this year while the US economy shrank by 3.5 percent 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 prospects of the Quad blossoming into a security arrangement to encircle China  is most unlikely.

In fact, the US might subject itself to manipulation by some its cannier member/s and at the same time, China can itself exploit the differences and tensions among the four members of the QUAD and leverage that to its own advantage by  dealing  with each of them individually with tailored deals of mutual benefit especially in economic sector where has a clear advantage over the QUAD’s commander-in-chief, the US.

Furthermore, it is also unlikely that should there be a military confrontation between US and China, US would achieve clear victory over China. All parties would be hurt equally and all parties including US would be weakened further especially economically.

The QUAD is not  an alliance of like-minded countries, something that the US claims. The alliance is no more than a gang of one, where the rest are  trying to piggyback on the US,  as and when opportunities arise,  to advance their own national interests.


Note: This article is a slightly revised version of a similar article that was published in the Financial Express on 28 March, 2021.




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