Quad meet tackles China challenge obliquely - GulfToday

Quad meet tackles China challenge obliquely

South China Sea

Illustrative image.

The grouping of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia is ostensibly a formation to safeguard free navigation in the sea lanes passing through the Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean which includes the South China Sea, the Malacca Straits, and the Bay of Bengal. China has been asserting its sphere of influence in the South China Sea, and the United States and others have been challenging it. The second in-person summit of US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Tokyo on May22-23 forged two main policy frameworks.

In their joint statement at the end of the summit, the four leaders said that the Quad “is a force for good” and that it is committed to bringing tangible benefits to the region”. More importantly, the Quad leaders took a stance against China without naming it by stating that they “strongly oppose any coercive, provocative, or unilateral actions that seeks to change the status quo” in the Indo-Pacific region, and also warned against “militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities”. There is just one target in all these insinuations, and that is China.

It appears that it would have been much better if the Quad leaders had mentioned China instead of beating round the bush. But the Quad though an anti-China formation does not want to appear to be so, for both diplomatic and military reasons. If China was mentioned, then it would give China the opportunity to step up its military preparations, and the Quad countries would want to avoid direct confrontation which would lead to a military showdown. The United States then would have to bear the greater responsibility for both the military expense and involvement. The three other countries in the grouping – India, Japan, and Australia – would not involve themselves directly in a military conflict with China. The American military responsibility has been accepted explicitly by the US when President Biden declared that America would take military action if China were to try and take Taiwan forcibly. The Americans, however, said that they believed in ‘One China’ policy, implying that if Taiwan were to merge with mainland China voluntarily then it would have nothing much to say about it.

More than the Taiwan question, what worries America as well as the other three members of the group is the possible hurdles that China could create in the South China Sea for free movement of ships and trade. China deems South China Sea to be its territorial waters whereas it is an international seaway. There is also the economic motive of wanting to restrict China’s economic hegemony in and around South China Sea as well as in the Pacific islands farther east. That is why, the Quad has come up with the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA), to combat illegal fishing and natural disasters. And they have allotted $50 billion for the purpose. Then they have also initiated, mainly an American move, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).

Russia and the war in Ukraine were hovering in the background. Though the US, Japan and Australia are agreed over the stance on Ukraine and condemnation of Russia, India stands apart. But the Quad has not allowed the disagreement with India to come in the way of strengthening the anti-China formation. The Americans feel that India’s presence in the bid to contain China in

the region is vital. But President Biden made it clear that Russian invasion of Ukraine could be a precedent for a similar development in the Indo-Pacific, and, therefore, the need to prepare for it.

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