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China’s actions have driven the evolution of the Quad

Posted By and on October 29, 2020 @ 06:00

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently told the People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps to ‘put mind and energy on preparing for war [1]’ as the United States announced plans to sell three advanced weapon systems to Taiwan [2], an island China considers to be its ‘lost province’ following the Nationalists’ defeat in the Chinese civil war. In his speech, given in Guangdong Province only a few hundred kilometres from Taiwan, Xi emphasised that the Chinese marines are an ‘elite amphibious combat force’ responsible for ensuring ‘territorial integrity’. The message was clear: the PLA Marine Corps would be vital in an invasion of Taiwan.

China has dramatically upgraded its military arsenal [3] in preparation for this and other maritime confrontations in the Indo-Pacific, alarming countries worldwide that have security and shipping interests in these waters. Beijing is showing with these actions that it is ready to challenge [4] a rules-based world order and pressure nations that do not accede to its will [5]. The global shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have helped unmask the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions to establish itself as a world power, but at the same time, the CCP also faces uncertainty over China’s chances of achieving Xi’s strategic targets [6] to ‘comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society’ by 2021.

Wary of a new world order revolving around China’s authoritarian regime, the US, Japan, Australia and India have reactivated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue [7] after more than a decade of somnolence. The Quad is an informal grouping that involves summits and information exchanges and this year will include combined military drills known as the Malabar exercises [8]. By inviting Australia to participate in the Malabar drills, New Delhi has upgraded its security relationship with Canberra, even though building such alliances antagonises Beijing.

The promise of ‘win–win’ solutions for all who participate in China’s peaceful pursuit of prosperity has been replaced by an extensive military build-up, growing control of global shipping lanes, and efforts to secure Chinese naval access in contested maritime regions. China has also been putting economic pressure on a number of nations, some of which have responded by banding together to stand up to its attempts at coercion.

The improving ratio of Chinese versus American warships, missile arsenals [9], nuclear reach [10] and technological capability sees China emboldened and ready to further assert its will over global affairs. The recent sabre-rattling over Taiwan is just another indication. China dangles the promise of access to the vast riches of its markets, but penalises nations that criticise it by imposing punishments including ultra-high tariffs, denial of market access [11], predatory economics [12] and even imprisonment of foreign citizens [13], among other coercive tactics.

Against this ominous backdrop, the Quad presents itself as having a positive agenda—a diplomatic network that assists democracies, as Australian Foreign Minister Payne [14] puts it, ‘to align ourselves in support of shared interests … governed by rules, not power’.

The Quad formed in 2006 as a discussion forum on the rise of China and India and maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific. It met once in 2007, but the informal alliance became dormant due to Australia’s and India’s reluctance [15] to undermine what had been healthy bilateral relations with China. Beijing’s moves since 2012, however, have altered the calculus in how much and how far to challenge China.

The US, Japan, Australia and India now share the common challenge of deteriorating relations with China. India faces border clashes in the Himalayas; Australia experiences economic and political coercive pressure; Tokyo is in dispute with Beijing over Chinese vessels [16] patrolling near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China claims [17]. Australia, Japan and the US have also spoken [18] out against China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and contested claims in the South China Sea. These nations’ relations with China are at rock bottom. But they can sink further; China has already denounced the Quad as an ‘elite clique’ attempting to contain its rise.

That China finds the Quad as such a challenge reveals a fragility to its ascendancy as it seeks to alter the world order to reflect its interests. For its part, the US has embraced the Quad as a way to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and to promote and retain a liberal world order, policy goals articulated in its 2017 national security statement [19]. In addition to these goals, Japan, Australia and India seek a balancing of approaches [20] to China’s coercive policies in the region.

As China rapidly rewrites international rules to better reflect its desires, it’s hardly surprising that others are responding by protecting their own interests. Already, geostrategic and military alliances beyond the Quad are being worked out. Looking ahead, a space alliance [21] between Quad members may also become feasible. The ‘Quad-Plus’—the four Quad nations and Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand—has already met to discuss coordinated responses to the pandemic.

Quad members and others must now confront a key decision: whether to have difficult conversations about and with China, or hope that win–win outcomes can still be achieved by effective diplomacy and mutually beneficial trade relations. At this stage it is apparent that the latter strategy has been ineffective and that stronger combined measures are required.

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URLs in this post:

[1] put mind and energy on preparing for war: https://xhpfmapi.zhongguowangshi.com/vh512/share/9464950

[2] weapon systems to Taiwan: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/10/15/taiwan-china-trump-tensions/

[3] military arsenal: https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/pentagon-releases-annual-china-military-power-report/

[4] ready to challenge: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7102532/#__ffn_sectitle

[5] do not accede to its will: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-04-20/dont-let-great-powers-carve-world

[6] Xi’s strategic targets: http://language.chinadaily.com.cn/19thcpcnationalcongress/2017-11/06/content_34188086.htm

[7] Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadrilateral_Security_Dialogue

[8] Malabar exercises: https://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/2020/september/8946-india-invites-australia-to-join-malabar-naval-exercise-along-with-us-japan.html

[9] missile arsenals: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/nov/25/long-range-missile-test-adds-to-growing-chinese-ar/

[10] nuclear reach: https://chinapower.csis.org/china-nuclear-weapons/#:~:text=The%20fielding%20of%20the%20new%20DF-41%20has%20the,range%20than%20any%20other%20missile%20in%20the%20world.

[11] denial of market access: https://time.com/5835561/china-block-australian-beef-imports/

[12] predatory economics: https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/securing-japan-from-chinese-predatory-economics/

[13] imprisonment of foreign citizens: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/world/asia/china-canada-kovrig-spavor.html

[14] Australian Foreign Minister Payne: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-07/mike-pompeo-only-one-of-three-other-allies-to-call-out-china/12738584

[15] reluctance: https://www.rand.org/blog/2020/07/the-quad-is-poised-to-become-openly-anti-china-soon.html

[16] Chinese vessels: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/07/27/national/china-japan-senkaku-islands/

[17] claims: https://asiatimes.com/2020/10/quad-gains-traction-as-unified-anti-china-front/

[18] Japan and the US have also spoken: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/08/11/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-hong-kong-china-arrests/

[19] its 2017 national security statement: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf

[20] balancing of approaches: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/diplomacy/story/20070611-the-quadrilateral-has-a-geopolitical-significance-indo-japan-748371-2007-06-11

[21] space alliance: https://intpolicydigest.org/2020/08/01/a-space-alliance-between-the-quads-the-united-states-japan-australia-and-india/

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