Why QUAD Has Rattled China?
China turned a page in it’s historical evolution in 1980s when a socialist communist country started opening up to take a capitalist avatar. The progress that followed was brisk and awesome. Development and sky high aspirations were fuelling each other. China entered a phase of transition in 1990s when its GDP growth has averaged almost 10 percent a year. Thanks to China’s good fortune it didn’t had to handle too many challenges when a few did come, they were dealt with complete authoritarian way. While problems appeared genuine, Chinese response to them were shockingly outrageous. That China could absorb such actions is another story. Solution to massive population was a draconian one child policy including putting stiff fines for non-compliance; for opposing a democratic movement by student protestors, China declared martial law and moved Army Tanks to Tiananmen Square massacring thousands on 4th June 1989; feeling ashamed about beggars on the streets of Beijing, overnight this entire class of people were flushed out of city limits; to address the perceived threat of radicalisation among Uyghur Muslims millions were illegally arrested and tortured. Each of the Chinese methods were more terrifying than the previous one, dangling way below the bare acceptable international laws of human freedom.
China’s evolution and continued regressive ways were horrific, wherein human rights agencies incessantly flagged serious abuses. But China being China, it will have none of them. Slowly by beginning of 21st century as China continued its astronomical rise the noises against Chinese human rights records became very muted. What came next was a perilous development, the incarnation of Xi Jinping in March 2013 as 7th President of China, which firmly set China onto a path of confrontation across it’s neighbourhood. Xi Jinping never hid his intent to mark himself in the history books on the lines of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping. The National People’s Congress, it’s highest state organ and decision making body or a Chinese equivalent of Indian Parliament took a string of decisions that would seal the place of ultimate authority for him. Xi swiftly transformed himself from General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party & Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012; to it’s President in 2013; and then as the potential lifelong ruler in 2018. Xi was now an undisputed leader in China having unquestionable authority. Xi effectively manipulated places of power and people of choices. Before anyone could fathom this high speed development Xi has already authorised himself with ultimate powers, which would put many a dictator to shame. Having sealed his authority within China, Xi now wanted glory for himself in the modern history of the world.
Emergence of Quad
The rise of Xi and waywardness of China has been intricately correlated. As early as in November 2013 barely eight months of Xi into the President’s office China declared an expansive air defence identification zone over the East China Sea. That initiated Chinese military assertiveness followed with a string of audacious claims of sovereign space by Chinese patrol crafts and PLAAF. The actions weren’t a strayed one, these were taking place under express authorisation by President Xi. The actual extent was to be orchestrated as a well-rehearsed symphony in years later. So maritime violations transformed to ingress into territorial waters, patrol crafts gave way to naval vessels, monitoring of airspace was followed up with airspace breaches. The trajectory of absurd persisted with it’s escalatory moves. It made equally absurd claims over Senkaku island of Japan and expanded EEZ by integrating Paracel island as part of Chinese territory. The claims of extended EEZ based on interpretation of nine dash lines were swiftly negated by International Court of Justice in a 2016 verdict. But then again China being China, it simply refused to acknowledge the verdict, let alone abide by it. As if these weren’t enough China decided to expand westward directly challenging India and Galwan intrusion was executed. It was an unexpected and impudent moment when the world skipped a breath; what followed was something even China never factored. China received a graphical bloody response from gallant Indian soldiers and pushed on back foot with tit for tat ingress. What shook the world’s conscious was China’s unabashed belligerent behaviour and it’s scant regards for a rules based order. These developments reenergised Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad) comprising India, US, Japan & Australia in March 2021 almost more than a decade from it’s actual emergence in 2007. The Quad reaffirmed “a shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” and a “rules-based order in the East and South China seas”. The mandate of Quad was kept purposefully wage with a strategy to maintain high operational flexibility while not pitching it directly against any one country. However, the defining contours laid bare it’s clear agenda to force China towards better mannerisms and conduct.
Inspite of China’s provocative statements targeting Quad and it’s intentions, Quad would not define it’s clear objectives. It continues using all the diplomatic jargons which actually amounts to nothing. But then that’s how the strategies are designed to deceive the adversary, but again Quad wouldn’t say if China is an adversary either. One may get tempted to ask here, that if Quad isn’t an adversary to China then what the Quad is here for? Certainly No one is here for wasting time, each of the Quad members have very serious differences with China ranging from hegemony to existential threat. As China continues aggressively to redefine rules of international engagement the impact will be felt first in the Indo-Pacific region. Quad appears to establish itself as an in your face challenge to whatever China does and that’s a nightmarish scenario for China. China fully knows combined capabilities of Quad, far outwits it’s own. Take the case of net worth; Quad is 43% higher than China in terms of GDP; it has 70% larger annual military spending; it’s cumulative annual trade is 30% greater; and population is 23% bigger. But Quad’s real counter to China is execution of an elaborate web of resistance and it’s already in motion as we speak. Quad has laid out action plans from military intervention to developmental projects, aids to countries in the Indo Pacific region and various measures to further enhance it’s influence through an expanding soft power. Aim is to squeeze out strategic space for China to do anything positive and offer an attractive alternative which is more transparent, more tempting and much more reassuring. A critical aspect where China is all on a slippery slope.
Fuelling The Fears
The Quad’s sudden re-emergence post Galwan has sent shockwaves in China. In a September 2021 op-ed the Global Times equated Quad as a ‘sinister gang’ aiming to ‘encircle China’. While Chinese policy makers have termed Quad as a long term threat, it’s foreign office spared No effort to discredit it in the same breath. China appears in shallow waters as it complains like a school kid. How on earth can China expect No resistance to it’s ludicrous actions. They should have known, that’s not how geo-politics works. The steps undertaken by Quad is only fuelling their fears further. It’s just the beginning, among multi-layered counteractions; military counter is being led by the US. It’s aggressive patrolling of the South China Sea, sending reassurances to Taiwan, aiding with advance intelligence on Chinese air and naval manoeuvres, reinvesting militarily in the region. On socio-economics, Quad has pledged increasing access to safe vaccines; high-standards infrastructure; combatting the climate crisis; and collaborating on emerging technologies. While investments are led by Japan and Australia, India is leveraging it’s expansive capacities by being the centre piece of Quad’s infrastructure development model. India also remains the only Quad nation which shares a land boundary with China, it’s resolute response to Galwan hasn’t gone unnoticed either. These are Quad’s current subtle responses to China, which will graduate to laying down of outright Red Lines and later to aggressive interventions. China’s policy makers are huddling to measure the Quad’s projected impact in the Indo Pacific power calculus and they must. There’s much more at stake, a failing of this magnitude could just initiate change of system for good and the change is what China fears most. If China doesn’t mend ways, the impact will be devastating; akin to fall of once all powerful Germany under Hitler the similarities are just too obvious to be ignored!
– Ravi Srivastava