Why new international alignment will only complement QUAD power in Indo-Pacific First Post 03 Oct 2021 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Why new international alignment will only complement QUAD power in Indo-Pacific First Post 03 Oct 2021

          The Indo-Pacific is the next region of global competition. President Biden justified his withdrawal from Afghanistan by stating that US concentration shifts to the Indo-Pacific. The latest US strategy has no mention of Afghanistan and Pakistan, implying that the US centre of gravity has shifted towards China and its emerging threats. The announcement for creating AUKUS (Australia-UK-US trilateral) was made two weeks after the US pulled out from Afghanistan.

Maximum of the world’s maritime trade moves through the Indo-Pacific. It stretches from Western coast of North America to the Eastern Coast of Africa. It comprises of 38 countries, 45% of the world’s surface, 60% of global GDP and 65% of global population. China lays claims to a large part of the South China sea and its outlying islands, an act which will enable it to dominate the Indo-Pacific and control shipping through the region. In addition is the Chinese threat to Taiwan, which it considers as a renegade province.

To counter Chinese hegemony, expansionism and demands over the region, the world began demanding a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).’ The term was first coined by the Japanese PM, Abe Shinzo in 2016. The intention remains to ensure rule of law and shared prosperity of ocean wealth. The latest to target this was PM Modi, who stated in his UNGA speech, ‘we must use ocean resources and not abuse them.’ He added, ‘The international community must speak in one voice to strengthen a rules-based world order.’ Both these comments were directed at China.

There have been multiple partnerships and collaborations to project unison in thought within the region. These include the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) involving India, US, Australia and Japan, Supply Chain Resilience Initiative involving India, Australia and Japan, trilaterals including India-Japan-US, India-France-Australia and India-Indonesia- Australia. The latest to join the fray is AUKUS, which is a security arrangement as compared to the others which are largely diplomatic, though contain a military component.

China has always been claiming that the QUAD is a security arrangement to counter it. On occasions it has termed it as an Asian NATO. S Jaishankar, the Indian foreign minister, press stated, ‘Looking back, I think a term like NATO is a Cold War term. QUAD looks at the future. It reflects globalisation and compulsion of countries to work together.’ The recent summit of QUAD leaders in Washington displayed that the organization has a far greater outreach than being military dominated to counter China.

The statement issued at the end of the QUAD summit on 24th Sept stated support to ASEAN nations, which face the brunt of Chinese offensive policies. It also mentioned provision of vaccines to nations battling COVID, jointly tackling climate change and cooperation in critical and emerging technologies implying microchips. This hint is towards threats faced by Taiwan, which is the world’s largest Chip manufacturer. QUAD seeks to project itself beyond the military sphere aimed at drawing in ASEAN nations thus weakening Chinese hold over the region.

In his interaction with the press last week, US Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby stated, ‘There are lots of outcomes to the QUAD relationship and they don’t all have to do with China. Its not that the QUAD exists simply to counter China or its influence.’ He added, ‘Obviously what China is doing in the Indo-Pacific, the aggressiveness, the coercive nature with which they are trying to press their claims, certainly is a frequent topic of discussion inside the QUAD.’ He closed by stating that the ultimate aim is to have a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

There are regions of interest amongst QUAD members. While India’s region of interest is the Indian Ocean, Japan’s is the East China Sea, Australia remains focussed on the Southern Pacific and the US in the South China sea. Naval power to counter China’s naval might flows mainly from the US and India. Japan is enhancing its naval capability and Australia has displayed intent by the creation of AUKUS.

The initial statement announcing the creation of AUKUS mentioned that the organization will ‘involve a new architecture of meetings and engagements between the three countries, as well as cooperation across emerging technologies.’ It also stated that UK and US would support development of conventional nuclear submarines for the Australian navy. A US official stated, ‘the creation of AUKUS, with its focus on submarines, is meant to send a message of reassurance and a determination to maintain a strong deterrent stance (against China).’ The Australian defence minister, Peter Dutton stated, ‘nobody wants to see a conflict but that really is a question for the Chinese.’ Till Australian nuclear submarines are developed, US warships would possibly operate out of Australian waters.

While the French displayed anger at being dumped from an earlier signed nuclear deal, China objected vehemently. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, described the agreement as ‘extremely irresponsible’ while its state media warned Australia that it was now an ‘adversary’ of China and should ‘prepare for the worst.’ China also questioned Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and accused the trilateral of ‘obsolete cold war zero-sum mentality.’ For China, strong naval power with Australia is a threat, especially as it adds to the increasing naval muscle power of the QUAD. Russia has also questioned Australia’s adherence to nuclear non-proliferation.

Simultaneous to the announcement of AUKUS was the statement by the Australia-US ministerial consultation. The statement, apart from mentioning the creation of AUKUS also stated, ‘(both nations) reaffirmed their commitment to working through the QUAD to support Indo-Pacific partners to respond to the defining challenges of our time.’

Thus, while AUKUS will guarantee the security of Australia, it will in no way impact the functioning of the QUAD. As Australian naval power grows, the capability of the QUAD to challenge Chinese hegemony and expansionism will grow. While AUKUS would focus on the Southern Pacific, QUAD could concentrate on ASEAN, seeking to draw these nations into the grouping adding to Chinese isolation. The impact of AUKUS on the QUAD was summed up by the Indian foreign secretary, Harsh Shringla, who stated, ‘(AUKUS) is neither relevant to the QUAD, nor will it have any impact on its functioning.’