Thursday, September 21, 2023

The QUAD summit arrives amidst pressing times in the Indo-Pacific 

Himalayan Paths

By Aditya Vashisht

The in-person QUAD summit of this year comes at a time when concerns of security have reached a considerable level. While Russia is engaged in the invasion of Ukraine, the issues regarding the Indo-Pacific region have taken a turn which has increased the need for US and its allies to up their game. Japan is seeing a rapid development of an axis against it as well as its American ally and India is finding the current scenario apt to enforce its professed policy of multialignment.

To start with, the pact between the Solomon Islands and China last month has succeeded in creating rumblings throughout Canberra and Washington DC. The agreement, by its nature, is potentially making a Chinese naval base near Australia a reality, or as considered so by Canberra. Beijing through this move had rattled the outgoing administration of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was one of its critics, which had undoubtedly affected his image.

The secrecy regarding the agreement has raised a question about the presence of equality between the two nations, since it is being touted as a dictation rather than an agreement. Nevertheless, the deal with Honiara has shown the intrusion which China has successfully made in the Pacific region. In terms of security pacts, Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Samoa and Papua New Guinea already feature on that list, though these treaties are limited to training and arms provision. Moreover, the total trade between China and the Pacific island nations is more than that of Australia. While the Western allies provide these nations money in the form of grants, Beijing favours investment which has helped to secure its feet in the region properly.

The relationship which China has managed to build is a work spanning some years and thus taking cue from this, it’s pact with the Solomon Islands was an opportunity for Beijing to show to the USA and Australia the level which its engagement with the region has reached and that their concerns as well as solutions are mostly words whereas it is gradually building up its presence with concrete actions. It would not be a mistake to remark that China is trying to build an area of influence and this is one of the major issues which QUAD might seek to tackle.

Apart from the situation in the Pacific islands, East Asia is also progressively witnessing a bifurcation in terms of security blocks between China and the USA. The Russian attack on Ukraine has some important consequences, one among them being that the friendship between Moscow and Beijing is ready to go further. If it is observed closely, North Korea has been frequently conducting missile tests and it is being widely anticipated that a nuclear test is also on the cards, the last one being conducted in 2017. South Korea is facing considerable strain in tackling an again aggressive North and its policy isn’t showing signs of consistency. While the former President Moon Jae-in favoured close engagements, the newly elected President Yoon Seok-youl is advocating a hard line approach, which is only to increase tensions further.

In its entirety, the placements are like these, that South Korea is looking towards the USA to strengthen its commitment and that Washington backs it in its policy towards North Korea. Japan is increasing its defence spending and Japanese leaders are seeking to bolster their security plans and the small island of Taiwan desires that its relationship with the West becomes deeper. On the other hand, Russia isn’t possessing pleasant feelings for Japan in any manner, which can be largely owed to the island kingdom’s implementation of sanctions in response to its Ukrainian invasion as well as the territorial dispute regarding the Kurile Islands/Northern Territory. North Korea is finding the current security dynamics an apt moment for the further development of its arsenals as the US is engaged in a different sphere, thereby defying Washington and Seoul. It is also assured of a tacit Chinese support. To top it all there is China on whose fingers the strings are attached. Thus, two alliances of like-minded countries have come into existence and this forms an important part of the background amidst which the in-person QUAD meeting is taking place. 

While its true that the QUAD has a common aim in the form of tackling China and its growing influence, the concerns of its members seem to be divided. To talk particularly about India, it finds itself in a peculiar situation. It is, without any qualms, a close partner of Russia and its dispute with China is of a seemingly different nature when compared to US and its allies. While the USA is seeking India as means to tackle China, New Delhi has ambitions of its own and that it is fully aware that staunch partnership with any party isn’t amenable. A respectful distance has to be maintained with its fellow nations. This only explains the muddle which QUAD finds itself in. It wants to act as a counteroffensive to Beijing, but the biggest question is through what manner? For India, the QUAD is an extension of a deeper engagement with the US and its allies and a means through which the freedom of the seas is maintained but is QUAD worth for fulfilling the aims of the United States?

The answer is not wholly optimistic since the United States has a security pact with Japan in which it would assist the nation in case it is attacked, and it had recently concluded the infamous AUKUS submarine agreement with Australia. On the other hand, India is building its relationship with Europe and its engagement with European countries seems to be on a level at par with its engagement with the USA. What one can expect from this meeting is that allies with similar goals shall come together for ensuring that their relationship maintains the same posture. To expect any big change isn’t on the horizon, at least for now.

(Author is student and blogger based in Lucknow. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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