By Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
The intergovernmental military alliance between 30 North American and European countries called North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under virtual leadership of the US was formed post-World War II in 1949 to provide collective security against Soviet Union aggression. As per many, and rightly, it can said that NATO was an organization of democratic and capitalist countries against socialist Soviet Union, which had then exhibited expansionist tendency as seen now in Chinese approach towards her neighbours –majority of them are democratic countries- that democratic countries world over detest and oppose tooth and nail, and which led the world to Cold War lasting for more than forty years with devastating impact.
Post-Mao Zedong era, the first paramount leader of People’s Republic of China (PRC), and till Xi Jinping ascended on the same position after gap of four decades, it can be rightly assumed that China’s economy and military prowess had a peaceful rise. But, perhaps, Japanese former PM Shinzo Abe was not ready to accept that Communist China’s economic and military rise during the period was for durable peace in the region in particular and the whole world in general. Also, he was apprehensive of threat to democracies in the region from the Communist China. Might be due to this fear, Mr. Abe, while delivering a speech in Indian Parliament under the title “Confluence of the Two Seas” on August 22, 2007, show intent to form a “Strategic Global Partnership” with India –the two largest democracies and economies in the region- ‘in which the two countries are going to expand and fortify their relations’. Going further, Japanese PM told, “Japanese diplomacy is now promoting various concepts in a host of different areas so that a region called ‘the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity’ will be formed along the outer rim of the Eurasian continent. The Strategic Global Partnership of Japan and India is pivotal for such pursuits to be successful. By Japan and India coming together in this way, this ‘broader Asia’ will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia. Open and transparent, this network will allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely.”
Whether PM Shinzo Abe had a glimpse of that Chinese economic and military rise under aegis of Western capital and technologies, which were looking for large outlet with commercial intent, was not for future world prosperity and peace is a different matter, but his speech as quoted above found right resonance post-Xi Jinping ascendancy as the paramount leader of China in 2012-13.
Prior to Abe’s talk in Indian Parliament, on December 29, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that India, the U.S., Japan and Australia would set up an international coalition to coordinate the massive effort required post-Tsunami to rescue those trapped in the waters, rush relief, and rehabilitate those made homeless, and to restore power, connectivity lines as well as infrastructure like ports and roads. Note: President Bush ignored China, the largest economy and military power in the region in his scheme of things post-Tsunami. Apart from this, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first off the block, voicing his long-standing idea of a tighter maritime framework, with Japan, the U.S. and Australia, which were already close military allies. The plan for a meeting of the Quad was firmed up when India PM Manmohan Singh visited Tokyo in December 2006. In fact, the Quadrilateral or Quad was envisaged to set up an “Asian Arc of Democracy” including Central Asian, Mongolia, South Korea and South-East Asian countries, mostly in the periphery of China.
The above said moves have led some critics such as former US State Department senior official Morton Abramowitz to call the coming together of big four excluding China in Indo-Pacific region ‘anti-Chinese move’, while others have called it ‘a democratic challenge’ to the ‘assumed Chinese century’. While China has traditionally promoted Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) comprising Asian+ Russia, the Quad was considered as an ‘Asian NATO’ by many watchers of Asian politics. But, as per Daniel Twining, the Director of Washington DC based Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States ‘the arrangement could lead to military conflict’ or could instead ‘lay an enduring foundation for peace’ assuming that ‘China becomes a democratic leader in Asia’.
As the idea grew, it encountered growing concerns in Communist China. As a result, China sent diplomatic protests to all Quad members. However, as per the US urging, Australia PM participated Quad inaugural meeting held in Manila in 2007. Following this meet, Australia joined Quad Naval exercise called Malabar Exercise in Bay of Bengal in September 2007. After Chinese speaking Kevin Rudd replaced John Howard as PM of Australia, island nation’s demurring against Quad became most specific with former saying ‘Oceania can’t afford another Cold War’. Even Australia stopped participating in Malabar Exercise from 2008. Contrary to public perception, Australia wasn’t the first to demur. Later, due to other aspects in Asian geopolitics, the U.S. felt that angering China, which has compared the ‘arc of democracies’ with Indo-Pacific ocean foam, with the Quad would hamper larger strategic efforts under way, including the move for sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, and the six-nation talks on North Korea, the two nations pursuing for their nuclear ambitions.
But, the Chinese blatant rejection of The Hague based international tribunal’s 2016 order in favour of Philippines which approached the same in 2013 after People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) encroached upon strategic reefs and atolls within her Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and which are also within China’s unilaterally demarcated 9Dashline in South China Sea. The tribunal declared that “although Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other states, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources. “The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.”
Reacting to the order, Chinese president, Xi Jinping, said China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” in the seas would not be affected by the ruling, which declared large areas of the sea to be neutral international waters or the exclusive economic zones of other countries, while the Philippine foreign affairs secretary, Perfecto Yasay Jr, said the country welcomed the ruling and called for “restraint and sobriety”. Besides, the US State Department under Barack Obama presidency called on ‘both parties to comply with their obligations’, according to a statement from spokesman John Kirby, but that have no impact on Xi’s policy of salami slice in South China Sea.
Now, the situation has come to such a state in the region that China questions free navigation for naval fleets of other countries in South China Sea, and at the same time, PLAN naval fleets are found violating EEZ of SCS’s littoral countries. Sabre-rattling of economic activities and sinking of littoral countries’ fishing boats by PLAN have been found very frequent these days. And now China has allowed China Coast Guard to use lethal weapons against other countries economic activities in her made disputed geography that is East and South China Sea, which are world’s major sea-based trading route, and which provide major connectivity to world’s fasted growing economies from Chennai in South Asia to Vladivostok in East Asia comprising world’s second, third and fourth largest economies in dollar terms and first, third and fourth largest economies in PPP terms.
Today, PRC questions non-Chinese naval fleet navigations in ECS and SCS; tomorrow, it may question commercial ship navigation in the same water bodies. And what is the guarantee that she when achieves the super power status (as per plan of Xi Jinping, PLA has to achieve the strength of modern military to fight and win war anywhere in the world by 2049, the centenary year of foundation of PRC) overtaking the US –already as per several strategic study papers, PLAN is largest naval power in the world- may not claim the same right over the Pacific Ocean? In that case, the time tested United Nation Convention for the Law of the Seas(UNCLOS) will be reduced to a laughing stock. Will the community of countries or civilized world afford the violation of the laws of the world by powerful, and that too by an undemocratic authoritarian regime? Therefore, this author forecast with aggressive Biden Administration in the helm of world affairs, Quad is fast moving to be Asian NATO to give collective security to the democratic countries in the region and save them from Xi Jinping’s belligence like NATO saved its member countries from Soviet Union’s belligence even if it leads to Daniel Twining forecasted ‘the arrangement that could lead to military conflict’ and Kevin Rudd’s fear of unaffordable Cold War II.
(Author is Assistant Professor of Management Studies at Bhubaneswar based Trident Group of Institutions. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)