Saturday, May 28, 2022

Will The Quad Summit Dare Mention China?

Beijing appears wary of the first appearance of US President Joe Biden with Indian, Australian and Japanese PMs at the March 12 summit

Will The Quad Summit Dare Mention China?
File Photo

The “Quad” Summit on March 12 when US President Joe Biden will make his first appearance with Indian, Australian and Japanese prime ministers was described by the White House as “one of his earliest multilateral engagements” that would speak on “the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific”.

The Quad has strong Indian connections which nobody remembers now.  It was first proposed by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Indian Parliament on August 22, 2007, with his “Confluence of Two Seas” speech. The session was chaired by former Vice-President M.H. Ansari, Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Abe recalled the visit of his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit India in 1957 and how he was treated with great dignity by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru despite being the leader of a defeated nation. He told our parliament with pride that he had heard stories as a little boy from his grandfather how Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru “brought my grandfather to an outdoor ‘civic reception’ at which tens of thousands of people had gathered, introducing him to a crowd energetically saying, "this is the Prime Minister of Japan, a country I hold in the greatest esteem."

Kishi was also the first Japanese prime minister to start the “Official Development Assistance” (ODA) despite being a poor country. “At that time, the country that had accepted Japan's ODA was none other than India. My grandfather never forgot that fact either”.

Unfortunately, the Quad went into a stupor from 2008 for 10 years when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd withdrew to mend fences with China. Only some infrequent military exercises went on. However, China challenged Quad when it was revived in the present form in 2017.

There is a feeling in East Asia that the amorphous structure of Quad which nowhere mentions the real purpose of its existence is the reason for confusion. For example, the communique issued by our Ministry of External Relations after the last Quad ministers’ meeting hosted by US Secretary of State Antony J.Blinken on February 17, 2021 mentions almost every subject like political democracies, market economies, pluralistic societies, rules-based international order, territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes, ASEAN cohesion and centrality, Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination programmes. It nowhere mentions China.

Even the White House statement on March 9 described it as “formed in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and formalized in 2007, the Quad has met regularly at the working and foreign minister level. However, Friday will be the first time that the Quad is meeting at the leader level.” The Associated Press quoted White House press secretary Jen Psaki on March 9 that “the leaders are expected to discuss everything from the threat of COVID-19 to economic cooperation between the nations and climate policy”.

However, China has, as usual, attacked it on March 8 as an “Empty Talk Club” and water-testing" by the US “to sound out” its Asian partners' attitude toward forming an "unbreakable alliance" to counter China's rise. It also insinuated that part of the reason for its failure is the members’ "all-for-itself" agenda, and they “won't tie themselves to the US' scheme”.

Even in November 2020, China had mentally prepared how to deal with a revived Quad. It had warned that President Biden would most probably convert the Quad, of “four sleeping partners to turn bilateral military alliances between the US and other countries into a quadrilateral one” as an “Asia-Pacific multilateral Alliance”. The idea would be to encircle China “with NATO expanding to the East until it is right on China’s doorstep”.

Global Times (9 November 2020) recommended even military action to guard China’s core interests like Taiwan and South China Seas, asking Beijing not to make “slightest compromises”. It wants China to improve relations with South Korea, New Zealand and ASEAN members to prevent the US from forging new military alliances. It also wants China to build up relations with Japan and India as neither of them wants Washington to interfere with their relations with China.

Is China daring the Quad to speak out openly that they are meeting to counter China?

{The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. Views expressed are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine}