The quadrilateral group is a stick better seen than used for best results vis-à-vis China
The first thing the quadrilateral group of countries, including India, Japan, Australia and the US, must do is get the nomenclature right. The grouping needs to evolve into a formal alliance, even a strategic one. Secondly, all four countries need to define the putative alliance’s strategic objective which must not be China-centric though naturally given the size and might of that country it must formulate its policies without ignoring the move made by Beijing in the Indian Ocean Region and in relation to South, East and South East Asian nations. If done right, the Quad would be an exemplar of the ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ approach which refers to the ability to use force and/or confrontation as a weapon of last resort if necessary but the whole idea underpinning this approach is that it would not be necessary; indeed, it would encourage interlocutors to avoid aggression by behaving cautiously. Whatever our views on Beijing’s domestic policies, structures and governance model, the fact is that global real-politik and the national interests of all four countries in the Quad require the proto alliance to confine its dynamic to engaging exclusively for the foreseeable future with China’s external policies — its expansionist impulse, desire to gain strategic depth as a rising world power and quasi-hegemonic ambitions. To do that, members of the Quad also need to control anti-Beijing hotheads within precisely because a conformation with China is in nobody’s interest while international cooperation with an effectively contained Beijing certainly is.
As the Indian and Chinese Defence Ministers began their bilateral talks in New Delhi on Thursday, these are the thoughts that should be upper most in the Indian establishment’s mind. The as many as 20 policy recommendations of four Quad think-tanks — Sasakawa Peace Foundation (Japan), Vivekananda India Foundation, Australia National University and Sasakawa Peace Foundation (US) — released on the eve of the talks are an interesting and useful contribution to the discourse. Their emphasis on urging the Quad countries to oppose the establishment of permanent Chinese military bases in the strategically vital IOR, proposing coordinated security and economic policies wherein political alignments with regional objectives are given primacy, including alternatives to massive Chinese investments especially in infrastructure projects in nations under Beijing’s influence which have turned into debt traps and encouraging more active and astute participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. But what must precede these and other such recommendations is the need for the Quad to first come up with a policy which balances their bilateral issues with China and what the grouping’s attitude towards it ought to be. For example, New Delhi and Beijing have not only a longstanding, live border dispute as the Doklam crisis illustrated, there is still the Aksai Chin issue and Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh to resolve quite apart from the support extended to terror-exporter Pakistan by China. Washington has been wrestling with the economic stranglehold exerted by Beijing which owns a massive portion of the US national debt as well as China’s role in peace moves in the Korean peninsula apart from its growing military heft and tactical understanding with Russia in various theatres, including West Asia. Tokyo, too, has long been wary of Beijing’s role in undermining its security concerns vis-a-vis North Korean adventurism and Canberra is concerned about Chinese economic might undermining Australia’s ability to take independent security decisions. These are the issues the Quad countries must first internally come to a consensus on before it becomes a viable counterbalance to China.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer