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View: Giving structure and clarity to Quad desirable

Author: Kanwal Sibal
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: October 9, 2020
URL:      https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/giving-structure-and-clarity-to-quad-desirable/articleshow/78562340.cms

The Quad ministerial meeting in Tokyo took place in the backdrop of the coming US presidential election, Chinese aggression against India in Ladakh, deteriorating Australia-China ties and rising Japan-China maritime tensions. The shadow of China’s policies and actions hovered over this meeting. Whether or not explicitly admitted, Quad’s strongest bond is the need to address China’s rising challenge under president Xi Jinping. China has become too powerful too suddenly and now has the confidence and temptation to extend aggressively its influence globally through the BRI, lead in new technologies, control over critical raw materials and expanded unlawful sovereignty claims.

The timing was favourable. With Abe’s departure, locking in his successor quickly to the underpinnings of the Quad concept was opportune. With China encroaching into Ladakh, India gained diplomatically in signalling that a common front against China’s expansionist policies was gaining ground. While Australian opinion is internally divided on China, the Morrison government was not deterred from committing itself solidly to Quad at Tokyo. The US used the occasion to make more explicit Quad’s anti-China thrust in the context of the forthcoming election and promotion of a front to curb China’s open challenge to US power. Pompeo backs formalising the Quad to build a “true security framework”. Progress on Quad is slow and hesitating for many reasons. US policies under Trump are seen as erratic and strategically thin. To meet the China threat, based on its economic strength providing resources for building its military, China must primarily be countered economically. If the world needs China economically, the reverse is also true. An economic front against China must include Europe as its largest trading partner, but Trump treats the EU as an economic adversary. The US should also treat India strategically on the economic front. The US-China trade war is seen as part of America First. What will be US policy towards China—search for some accommodation or continued confrontation—after the presidential election surely weighs on the minds of the Quad.

These underlying currents explain why Quad remains unstructured, cannot as yet issue a joint statement, with countries summing up their positions individually. Pompeo was categorical that for the Quad it is critical to protect against “CCP's exploitation, corruption and coercion”. Japan’s spokesperson chose to clarify that "This Quad meeting is not being held with any particular country in mind”. Japan, with huge stakes in China, is wary of creating unmanageable strains in bilateral ties. If Pompeo, according to the State Department, discussed concerns over China's "malign activity" in the region with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, the latter made no public mention of such concerns, having stated earlier in July that Australia makes its own decisions.

India’s statement places Quad in the larger context of connectivity (without endorsing the concept of Quality Infrastructure), humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime safety and security (no mention of UNCLOS), health security and counter terrorism, besides underlying the collective vision of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and firm support to Asean centrality There is no reference to cybersecurity and data issues mentioned in statements by others. India has supported regular meetings of Quad.

With India participating in structured groupings such as BRICS and SCO, giving a structure to Quad and overcoming the tentativeness around it is desirable. BRICS and SCO exclude western powers but China is in, India could well be in a Quad that keeps China out but US, Japan and Australia in. Chinese sensitivities should be ignored, as China ignores not only our sensitivities but hits at our core strategic interests with impunity.

* The writer is former foreign secretary

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