World

Why India must exercise the Quad option

ANI | October 15, 2020 12:32 PM
Representative image.

New Delhi [India], October 15 (ANI): In the middle of the 19th century, British statesman Lord Palmerston famously said in the House of Commons: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."

At the end of the second decade of the 21st century, India's interests demand bonding with powerful friends, which can change the economic and military balance of power vis-a-vis China. That is where Japan, Australia and the United States, which together with India form the Indo-Pacific Quad, come in.

Why is countering China so important? Buoyed by its economic rise, and wanting to supplement its wealth with global political pre-eminence, China has silently slipped into its default Middle Kingdom mode. Since 1000 BC, China has perceived itself as the superior Middle Kingdom surrounded by inferior tributary states.

Since antiquity, Chinese emperors had conceived and often formed an eco-system with tributary states, which nourished and sustained the Middle Kingdom. In return, imperial China, which mirrored itself as a civilizational state, was obliged to protect its vassal states. "The fact that the Chinese regard themselves as superior to the rest of the human race, and that this belief has a racial component, will confront the rest of the world with a serious problem," predicted Martin Jacques, the author of the 2009 bestseller, "When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World".

Among China's current crop of intellectuals Peking University academic Jiang Shigong, has been the leading advocate for China's rise at the centre of a "world empire". "As a great world power that must look beyond its own borders, China must reflect on her own future, for her important mission is not only to revive her traditional culture. China must also patiently absorb the skills and achievements of humanity as a whole, and especially those employed by Western civilization to construct world empire," says Jiang as quoted in Reading the China Dream, a website that translates works by Chinese intellectuals.

The revival of the Middle Kingdom imagination, the kernel of China's exceptionalism, has now become a threat to international peace and security. Resorting to exercise of raw military, economic and diplomatic power, China has threatened India, potentially a rival civilisational state, with the war in Ladakh.

It has also challenged India's regional heft in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. Its Belt and Road Initiative has become the vehicle for exporting China's influence in India's immediate and extended neighbourhood, which includes Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka Maldives and the Gulf countries.

India alone is not the victim of Beijing's visible expansionism. Chinese warplanes and naval ships also continue to threaten Taiwan, which has become another major flashpoint primed for a military conflict. Traditional rivals, China and Japan are at loggerheads over the Senkaku islands, and with Indonesia, Beijing is feuding over the Natuna Islands. Other ASEAN countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei are quite literally on China's radar on account of rival claims over maritime boundaries in the resource-rich South China Sea. After the COVID-19 outbreak, China's relations with Australia have gone precipitously south.

The regional turbulence in the Indo-Pacific has naturally drawn in the United States, which has been the underwriter of rules of trade, commerce and regional balance of power, into a situation of confrontation with China. The Trump administration has virtually declared a new Cold War with China. In a major address on July 23 at the Nixon Centre, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the futility of 40 years of engagement with China following former US President Richard Nixon's famous visit to Beijing in 1972.

It is important to note that India is not facing China on the frontiers alone. A great game between the two neighbours, with each trying to intrude and undermine each other's interests runs across geographies of the Indo-Pacific, covering ASEAN in the east and the African coastline in the west. But countering Chinese hard and soft power intrusions, especially through its BRI is expensive. Given the urgency of the task, India has to quickly build credible financial and military muscle. To accomplish this herculean task against a formidable and implacable rival, New Delhi has no choice but to embrace the Indo-Pacific Quad. By dithering to do so, India risks burying its civilisational self-esteem under the overwhelming weight of a 21st century Pax Sinica.

By partnering with the Indo-Pacific Quad, does India lose its strategic autonomy? Not necessarily. The Indo-Pacific Quad essentially represents a partnership of Middle Powers bonding with one superpower, but which has experienced a relative decline in its power. As it stands the Quad, on account of its internal power configuration, demonstrates a high degree of economic and military inter-dependence, rather than a slavish hierarchy lorded over by Washington. Recognising that the Middle Powers need to cooperate but reserve strategic space for themselves, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Beigun acknowledged during a New Delhi address on October 12 that "the model of the last century of mutual defence treaties with a heavy in-country US troop presence," is not necessarily the Quad's future.

Instead, the US official proposed a loose "alignment on how best to equitably address strategic threats while accounting for changes in capabilities and respect for one another's sovereignty".

With clear cut roles assigned to the areas of operation, backed by logistical agreements among the four, which are already in place, there is no reason why the Indo-Pacific Quad cannot mount robust joint operations in the future, without entering into a formal old-style military alliance.

Yet, nothing is cast in stone. Pivots by nations big and small happen, in tune with significant changes in geopolitical circumstances. Ultimately the longevity of the Quad will be decided by Palmerston's dictum--the permanence of interests. If these for some reason change in the future, so would the fate of the Indo-Pacific Quad. (ANI)

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