Quad revival worries China, say observers

China is worried about the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) of the United States, India, Australia and Japan, said an SCMP report.

Credit : Air Power Asia

China is worried about the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) of the United States, India, Australia and Japan, said an SCMP report.

In March 2018, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had called the alliance “sea foam on the Pacific and Indian oceans”. The initial trashing of the apparent anti-Chinese grouping was based on the indications at the beginning of the Quad.

The statement had been made as the China-India month-long border stand-off appeared to be easing. China’s trade dispute with the US was sounding rhetorical. China and Japan were readying to celebrate 40 years of their bilateral peace and friendship agreement.

Currently, Australia, India are at loggerheads with China. They are taking more interest in the Quad. The quadrilateral cooperation seems to be progressing. Australia’s willingness to participate in the Malabar naval exercise, in which Japan and the US would take part, has upset China. Such exercise is the first, in which the four countries would join.

“At the beginning, the (Quad) mechanism was not only about security, it also had an economic dimension in the Indo-Pacific region. But recently, it has become more and more focused on security, with China as the potential rival,” said China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies (a think tank) president Wu Shichun.

Macquarie University, Sydney senior lecturer Lavina Lee said Australia’s affirmation to the naval exercise “certainly should make China less dismissive of the Quad”. China and Australia are witnessing strained ties over alleged spying, the COVID-19 pandemic origin and trade.

Lee said India was initially skeptical to join the alliance as it thought of any retaliatory move by China. “New Delhi has realised that China will continue to push to change the status quo on its border with India, and previous attempts by India to smooth over relations have not changed this aim.”

Senior fellow William Choong from ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, said the Quad revival coincides China’s strained relations with the US, which has been active behind the move in the recent past.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had appealed to democracies at the Tokyo Summit to resist Communist China’s “exploitation, corruption and coercion”. Other nations did not mention China. Observers said this could worry China.

“That’s the general principle – that China has suspicions over any multilateral arrangement involving major powers surrounding China – and the Quad would tick all the right boxes,” said Choong. China’s concern over US Indo-Pacific strategy, the Quad was apparent, when Chinese deputy foreign minister Luo Zhaohui called the Quad as “an anti-China frontline” or “mini Nato” last month. This reflected America’s “cold war mentality”, he said.

Wang publicly criticized the Quad last week in Kuala Lumpur calling it “Indo-Pacific Nato”, which he warned would severely undermine regional security.

Rand Corporation senior defence analyst Derek Grossman said China’s criticism indicates its growing unease that “the Quad could actually wind up amounting to a military alliance that would cause China trouble in future combat”.

He said, “On the other hand, and to be more cynical, Beijing may not be worried about the Quad at all, but it nevertheless makes sense to play up the threat – especially using the term ‘Nato’ to describe it – to fuel China’s containment narrative and convince others of the Quad’s ill intentions.”

Analysts said the formalisation of the grouping as a military alliance depends on China. The Quad countries are worried about the increasing influence of China, its aggressive moves in the region.

Such multilateral treaties can be dubbed as “not a choice but a national security imperative” to rein in China, said Observer Research Foundation’s Delhi head Harsh Pant.

He said, “If China’s foreign policy trajectory remains what it is, then the future of Quad is quite bright. There is a wider pushback against China across the region, and Quad is just another manifestation of that trend.”

The presidential poll in the US would decide the Quad’s fate, said Choong. “If the polls are right and Biden becomes president, I think the new administration will put some time into re-evaluating the Quad and Indo-Pacific strategy in general, and how the US will work with allies and partners on the issue of China,” he said.