In calling out China as an aggressor both in Ladakh and Taiwan, the Trump administration is not only offering support to its key partners in Indo-Pacific but also laying foundation to long term relationships with the middle-powers in the region.
While not much has come out of the path-breaking October 6 QUAD security dialogue in public domain, Hindustan Times learns that China was indeed the elephant in the room and its actions whether in Ladakh, Taiwan, South China Sea or Senkaku Islands were sombrely assessed to understand the new rising global power.
That the QUAD partners chose to hold a physical meeting with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne going into a 14-day mandatory quarantine after her return from Tokyo, indicates the seriousness of the dialogue. It is quite evident that the dialogue is there to stay with all the four democracies quite comfortable with each other even though each has a different score to settle with Beijing. If Ladakh’s military standoff is a threat to India, the Chinese aggression on Taiwan are a matter of serious concern to both Japan and US with Australian at the receiving end on trade issue with Beijing.
While former US president Barack Obama’s much promised Asian pivot never fructified, the Trump administration has been able to open diplomatic doors in the Indo-Pacific with QUAD partners and key ASEAN nations. In contrast, Beijing’s wolf warrior diplomacy has hardly yielded any friends except for client states like Pakistan, Cambodia and North Korea. Even though China is the second largest importer of defence hardware from Russia, the latter is deeply suspicious of Beijing’s intrusion into Moscow’s traditional area of influence like in Central Asia, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and continuing friction with an old and firm ally India. New Delhi is the largest importer of Russian defence equipment.
To complicate matters, China has expressed concern over Russia supplying S-400 missile system to India while at the same time asking for the latest S-500 missile system to protect its borders. While the range of S-400 system is 400 kilometres, the S-500 has 600-kilometre range and it is not difficult now to fathom China’s adversaries across land and sea.
While India, Japan and Australia do have a power differential with China, events of the past eight months have fundamentally changed the relationship of QUAD partners with Beijing. Even if there is a change of administration in US next month, America has taken a 180 degree turn from the days of Richard Nixon-Mao Zedong bonhomie. The Chinese aggression in Ladakh in May this year has ensured that informal dialogue diplomacy at the apex level has come to an end for a long time to come with India not afraid to name the adversary and stand up to it. The QUAD meeting made it clear that Japan under Yoshihide Suga and Australia under Scot Morrison have no intentions of succumbing to Chinese pressure.
Under the circumstances, it won’t be surprising if India invites Australia for the Malabar naval exercise in Bay of Bengal next month with Japan and US being other participants. China has only itself to blame for pushing the QUAD partners to join hands.