Currently the strategic and global nuclear balance develops on the basis of three factors which are closely interwoven. The first one is related to Europe, which is marginalized after the end of the Cold War and will remain so for the years to come.
Today the European Union, both the Euro area and the EU-28, has not an overall strategy for the future. It has no credible nuclear weapons outside NATO, not even for the French-British duo, which stems from well-different considerations and interests.
Europe is destined to bad integration, because it lost the particular “third world war” called globalization, with the Middle East and the Maghreb region which will be for the EU the equivalent of what Southern Europe’s economies and societies were at the beginning of the unification process of the Eurasian peninsula, which was functional only to put pressure on the USSR and its military pact.
Indeed, President Barack Obama’s new geopolitics, which will certainly be maintained and followed by his successor to the US presidency, is to encircle the Russian Federation – hence the new strategic alliance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – and finally China.
In fact, China will be the next global competitor for the United States, both at Euro-Mediterranean level and in the Pacific region, which will be increasingly important for the United States.
NATO shall be rethought in this context, because it can no longer be the coalescence point of two strategic axes which are progressively distancing each other, namely the European Union and the United States.
Rethinking the Atlantic Alliance means, above all, to reformulate its nuclear threat.
This means NATO, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations themselves, namely all the pillars on which the post-war world peace has been based so far.
NATO was designed for a final nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact, thus playing a defensive role in relation to a wide invasion from the ground.
At the beginning there was no linkage between the Central European defense and the protection of the link between the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Nevertheless the Warsaw Pact has always considered nuclear weapons as an effective weapon system as any other, in relation to the magnitude and goals of the struggle for conquering Europe – the action that Raymond Aron called the “battle for the large Central European plain”.
The second factor of geopolitical renewal regards Asia, where the regionalization of geopolitical tensions and theories is growing.
China wants the security of its near seas and full control over the terrestrial area stretching from Xingkiang to Afghanistan and reaching up to the point of contact between the Heartland and the largest regional sea in the world, namely the Mediterranean, which will be the pivot of future global development.
In China’s logics, Land and Sea – the two axes of Carl Schmitt’ strategic thinking – are a continuum, not an opposition between Anglosaxon Thucydidean “thalassocrats” and European and Roman-Germanic chthonic forces.
Furthermore China will have ever more serious conflicts with Japan, which has started a timid rearmament, still scarcely effective at theoretical level, which, however, is a way for Japan to put an end to the mindset imposed on it by the winner MacArthur, after the end of World War II.
Both Russia and China have turned the “world without nuclear weapons” proposed by US President Obama during the current Summit held in Washington into the idea of a world without non-US nuclear weapons.
China wants either full security towards the Taiwan area, with a military projection onto the Pacific, or the de facto integration of the Republic of China into its region.
This will inevitably lead to very strong tensions with Japan, but we do not know to what extent it can acquire the US support in this new Asian scenario.
As already mentioned, the third factor of the global geopolitical transformation is related to the Middle East.
It is military divided between Sunnis and Shiites after the Cold War leaving it deprived of safeguards and controls. Nevertheless none of the two regional powers of reference, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia, is able to manage a unified geopolitical project for the whole region on its own.
Integrating the Middle East chaos into an area without global geopolitical guidance, except for the oil blackmail, and with now obsolete weapons, as is currently the case for the EU, is an invitation to wage war, not to reach peace.
Moreover, today oil is causing tensions on world markets both because its price is driven by sectoral futures and because the costs of the Sunni or Shiite armed projection cannot be managed by the same actors, due to the ever smaller oil reserves and the need for internal social stability within the two countries.
If Iran and Saudi Arabia expand themselves, they acquire new energy sources, but precisely in doing so they destabilize the market of their buyers and depress the oil barrel price to pay military expenses.
Not to mention the US and Canadian shale oil and gas industry, which is currently undergoing a deep crisis because of the oil price, but which, in the future, could at least support the North American domestic market consumption.
Hence tensions which, in the Greater Middle East, are bound to remain so for a currently unpredictable lapse of time.
Furthermore, the United States have recently increased the funds for updating the nuclear arsenal by over 1 billion US dollars. This implies inserting nuclear weapons in high-precision carriers, in a strategic perspective which sees the new nuclear weapons operate in correlation with conventional military structures.
For example, the US Ohio-class submarines, which are the most efficient ones at nuclear level, will be fully renovated in 2012.
The newly designed non-nuclear US weapons are already being tested on the ground.
And this happens both in the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as in China.
Today we have reached the “second nuclear age” and it is almost useless to talk about old nuclear arsenals without connecting the reductions to the new geopolitical and technological environment which, like it or not, today is multipolar in itself.
Therefore the Chinese fears of a new arms race are well-grounded.
The new arms race, however, would take place in a context which is strategically diversifying itself, whereas the traditional global contact points are de facto obsolete.
Nevertheless the fourth Nuclear Summit of 2016, with more than 56 participating nations, excluding Russia, which did not accept the invitation, is a turning point for redesigning the nuclear potential.
Yet it is worth recalling that the world has really changed.
Russia has regarded President Obama’s proposals and the US policy in the Middle East as potentially hostile actions against its security, not to mention the new deployments of North American weapons and soldiers at the European borders of the old Warsaw Pact.
Russia does not want to be regionalized and China suspects that the new NATO and US encirclement of Russia is the second line of a forward defense, the primary goal of which is China’s containment along the terrestrial axis.
An encirclement which would reach South Asia’s regional seas, up to the US, NATO and even EU defense lines, as well as Japan’s (and South Korea’s).
But, within this framework, how can we regard the North Korean nuclear issue and its inclusion in global equilibria?
North Korea has nuclear capacity for many reasons: 1) to raise the price of its possible reunification with South Korea, but also 2) to ensure its autonomy after the definition of borders inside its peninsula, and finally 3) to marginally support both Russia’s and China’s defensive nuclear potential.
North Korea has never really relinquished the idea of an “anti-imperialist” linkage with Russia and China, but now the situation has changed and the two former big Communist countries operate on their own.
Furthermore Russia has freed for itself the axis between Ukraine and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
It is well-known that North Korea carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and even in January 2016, although it is unlikely for the device to have a thermonuclear nature, as maintained by North Korea.
Therefore, North Korea cannot reasonably use its nuclear arsenal for security in the North, where China continues to support Kim Yong Un’s regime, albeit in an ever more lukewarm way.
North Korea does not need to secure its regional sea, where the only hypothetical threat is connected to a linkage between a South Korean ground offensive and a US missile action.
Such an action would immediately trigger off the reactions of China, Russia, India, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, threatened in its areas of reference by the warheads responding to the US ally’s attacks against North Korea.
It is an option which, for the time being, has to be certainly ruled out.
The Kim Yong Un’s Nodong missiles have a range of 1,300 kilometres and the Musudan missiles have a range of 4,000 kilometres,while the Taepodong 1 and 2 missiles have a range of 2,000 and 8,000 kilometers, respectively.
A global threat from a country like North Korea is not a real threat, but rather insurance on the long life of that regime.
If the regime melts in the globalization of its “capitalist” South, Kim Yong Un will be willing to retain the role of armed contact between South Korea and the Central Asian landmass.
Conversely, if North Korea remains a sort of Marxist-Leninist Shangri-La, its nuclear potential will be useful to obtain better economic and political treatment and conditions from China and Russia, which would have an interest in integrating a reluctant North Korea into their continental set-up.
In a not too distant future it would not even be impossible to think of “fluidifying” the North Korean Armed Forces in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which could eventually be useful also for some Western countries.
As is well-known, the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States started in 2003, immediately after North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The finalization of talks and the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula are no longer an effective project.
Moreover, unlike what happened in 2003 – and this implies a specific North Korea’s interpretation of US actions against the jihad in Central Asia – today all participants in the talks have nuclear diversified, and sometimes conflicting, strategies.
China has an all-out military nuclear capacity, which will gradually be extended in view of protecting its economic and strategic expansion.
The United States, too, have a comprehensive nuclear system which, however, does not sufficiently differentiate between high-risk areas and areas in which a reduction of the US military pressure would be useful, because this nuclear system is the result of the Cold War and of a sort of compulsion to repeat it.
Russia wants a nuclear system to protect its South and its oil areas, as well as to project its power onto the orphans of the Warsaw Pact and design a new strategic, but peaceful, expansion towards the Mediterranean basin and the Indian region.
Hence, with a view to reducing the North Korean threat, it is useless to unite the so called “six parties”, which reach an agreement at night and then quarrel during the day.
Furthermore nuclear talks should be combined with the talks on chemical and biological weapons, as well as with any discussion held at the Summit on the new weapon systems being tested.
If North Korea accepted a curbing of its nuclear potential, it would immediately be tempted to expand – covertly or not – its research and actions on the rest of non-conventional weapons.
We must avoid so by creating comprehensive talks.
So global talks, but with a basic idea: we must, first and foremost, ensure the sovereignty of North Korea, an old useless remnant of the Cold War, namely the post-war period in which the USSR decision-makers thought they could wage and spread many regional wars.
The issue lay in fomenting military clashes in the whole region stretching from Iran to northern Vietnam, so as to weaken NATO and US forces and de facto encircle, with a domino strategy, the European region and neutralize it against the Warsaw Pact.
Moreover, Indochina’s destabilization would directly threaten Japan, isolate US bases in the Pacific and finally bring the Communist threat up to California’s coast.
A pincer movement which succeeded only partially and only for Vietnam, which was the central axis breaking the so-called US “pearl necklace”, with the possible Communist control of the Straits of Malacca from the ground, from the “liberated” South Vietnam.
Thus ensuring North Korea’s national autonomy to dilute its N and BC potential at first along the Russian axis and then along the Chinese one.
In fact, the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea seem to mainly damage the Russian strategic interests.
Russia, however, is also fed up with North Korea’s nuclear actions and tests, which isolate the Korean peninsula and severely undermine Russian plans for controlling the routes from the Persian Gulf to China and South East Asia, where Russia still has wide interests which will be even wider in the future.
Furthermore Russia still regards South East Asia as the base for the military security of the Southern part of Siberia and hence has no interest in destabilizing the Korean peninsula.
Hence Russia’s interest in stabilizing North Korea’s NBC arsenal is very great and should be fully used.
Therefore no more six-party talks, but rather a tripartite mechanism between China, Russia and the United States, in which the United States would ensure North Korea’ safety from US attacks from the US soil or bases, while Russia could project part of its nuclear missile arsenal to protect the North, thus gradually defusing North Korean carriers.
Finally, China could back part of North Korea’s economic development, by ensuring its North-eastern borders and expanding the Korean “Special Economic Zones” (SEZs), which have always been floundering in deep crisis.
The first North Korean SEZ was Razon, the first one built in the Raijn-Sombong area in 1991.
It is strategic because it could link the inland areas of the Chinese borders to the sea.
Sinuiju was founded in 2002 on the Yongbion river but, shortly after its creation, the Sino-Dutch businessman who ran it was put under investigation for fraud in China, while the SEZ project in the region is going on without great success.
The Kaesong SEZ, at the border between the two Koreas and spreading on the territory of both of them, is not yet operating in full swing and, at the time, the two leaders which created it, namely Kim Jong Il and Roo Moh Youn, were already planning a new SEZ in Haejou, along the coast.
Then we have the most recent SEZs, namely Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa, on the islands bearing the same name, with even fourteen new economic zones that the North Korean regime has planned to create.
The linkage is simple, namely the one between a transfer of N and BC potential and the expansion of North Korea’s old and new SEZs, mainly supported by China, while the Russian Federation, in a tripartite initiative with China and the United States, would support the North Korean uranium and plutonium cycle, with criteria similar to those adopted before and after the JCPOA with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Otherwise, the forgotten old Cold War between the two Koreas could overheat, ignite and set fire to the link between the Greater Middle East and the Central Asian Heartland – a disaster which is no good to anyone.
The Taliban seek cooperation with China?
How to deal with Afghanistan after the removal of US forces has become a subject that many countries are grappling with. And because Afghanistan and China are linked through Xinjiang, the Afghan Taliban aspire to cooperate with China. According to sources, on July 28, Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s Political Committee, visited China and met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
During the meetings, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a personal plea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, expecting that the Taliban would draw a line with terrorist organizations like the East Iraqi Movement and actively battle them, removing barriers to regional growth and cooperation. Since the United States made it apparent that it intends to withdraw its troops, China’s position toward Afghanistan and the Taliban has become the center of all countries’ attention.
Prior to that, China simply repeated its long-standing foreign policy of non-interference in domestic matters, — in other words, China does not intervene in Afghanistan’s internal problems and expects Afghans to handle their own internal affairs. China, on the other hand, is very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. China has not only made substantial investments in Afghanistan, but it has also sponsored several dialogues in China between Afghan parties.
Only because of the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan does China lack a clear answer. China has stated its particular needs more explicitly this time than in the past. China has far too many considerations when it comes to Afghanistan. However, in comparison to the behavior of many other nations, China’s demands for the Taliban this time have been well thought out, fair, and controlled.
First, China has maintained its previous favorable policy. Despite the fact that the Afghanistan problem is unique, China has not broken its foreign policy of non-interference in internal matters. On the basis of this strategy, China has had interactions with all parties in Afghanistan, ensuring that participation is not only voluntary, but also sufficient to ensure that all parties understand China’s position in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Second, China has stated its opinion on the subjects that most worry it. China has no space for compromise when it comes to national security. China has not raised this matter in the past, but it still needs to voice its viewpoint at the proper moment. As a result, China has the guts to demonstrate its stance, which will aid in the resolution of the situation.
Only when this issue is settled will future collaboration between China and Afghanistan be simple. The Taliban further said that no troops will be allowed to utilize Afghan territory to conduct activities that harm China. Atta regards China as a reliable ally and thinks that China would contribute to peaceful rebuilding.
Furthermore, China has not permitted certain ill-intentioned groups throughout the world to flourish. Following the withdrawal of the US troops, there was speculation in Western culture that China might become engaged in this issue and become the next growing power to enter the “empire’s tomb.” The Indian army’s recent intervention in Afghan politics appears to demonstrate that, as a powerful country around Afghanistan, it is hard to stay out of the issue.
China avoided the urge to intervene and managed its interactions with all sides sensibly, laying the ground for the next phase in the development of China-Afghan relations. So far, China has not fallen into the West’s trap, nor has the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan harmed its relations with all parties.
As China expands its global presence, it will eventually come into contact with nations with very difficult political and economic situations, such as Afghanistan. However, China will not flee because of obstacles, because the majority of the world’s developed countries are Western countries with strong biases against China, and those wanting to have good relations with China are frequently developing countries with varied challenges. nation. As a result, China has no option.
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance to contain the Soviets. His visit culminated in the U.S. agreement to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China instead of Taipei, going back on the promise he had made to the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, merely one year previously that Taiwan would never be abandoned by the US. The realistic American diplomat may have never thought that one day Taiwan, once ruthlessly forsaken by the US, would become the latter’s most important strategic fortress in East Asia to contain a rising China.
In 2018, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act encouraged more high-ranking American government officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa1. The US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach landed in Taiwan two years later, rendering him the highest-level State Department official to visit the island since 19792. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced the cancellation of all restrictions on official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan in January 20213 – an action that was vehemently denounced by the Chinese government as Trump’s “last-ditch madness” that would “push the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return”4.
Just when the world thought of Joe Biden’s ascension to power as a harbinger of softer attitudes toward Beijing, especially regarding Taiwan issues, the diplomatic muscle flexed by the newly elected US president is as eye-tingling as his aviator shades – first, his Secretary of State, Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Austin made an explicit announcement of the U.S. support for Taiwan; second, he sent former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg and former senator Chris Dodd to Taiwan in honor of the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
America’s incremental interest in the island is not confined to actions from its executive branches, but it has permeated its legislative system. The introduction of the confrontational “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” in April signals the anti-Soviet-style containment of China which was backed by The Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This bill echoes the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released by the Biden Administration in March, and it emphasizes the urgent need to “achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific” and back closer ties with Taiwan5. With strong bipartisan support, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and to serve as a legislative compass to counter China at all levels. In that respect, Taiwan Strait is more likely than ever to become “ground zero” by the U.S. and China.
On the other hand, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement under the new National Security Law by Beijing proved to be successful due to the limited backlash received from the West. On top of that, Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang cotton issue seems to have managed to incite nationalism among Chinese people on a short notice to boycott “anti-China forces”6. With a record of 380 incursions into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese air force during 2020, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong and Xinjiang were “guinea pigs” used by Beijing to test its capability for the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, the probability of which has been enhanced by Xi Jinping’s attempt to seek reappointment and Beijing’s need to divert domestic attention away from the escalating social conflicts brought about by the stagnant economy.
So, the pertinent question is: if the fourth Taiwan Crisis does break out, when will it happen? It could be sometime after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games7 as it is unlikely for China to discard the opportunity to showcase its image and test its comprehensive strength8. This could be déjà vu in light of Russia’s successful Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which occurred only three days after the end of Sochi Winter Olympics. However, China is not the only one who can learn from history. When the rest of the world anticipates China’s intent with regard to Taiwan, preemptive precautions will be taken. The game-theory-type strategic interaction may hence spur China to launch its attack before the upcoming international sports gala.
Another critical timing could be prior to the 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022. Xi Jinping’s abolishment of term limits through constitutional amendment may pave the legal foundation for his reappointment, but the “widespread opposition within the party”9 renders the legitimacy of his extended tenure unlikely. That is why some may find it hard to conceive of Xi’s attempt to “start an unnecessary war with Taiwan” before his re-appointment10, but his insatiable desire for a 3rd term may push him over the edge. For the time being, Xi seems to be seduced by his burgeoning self-confidence that China is charging into an epoch of opportunity where “the East is rising and the West is declining,”11 and what time is better than now to consolidate his authority in front of dissidents with a military show-off targeting Taiwan?
As Henry Kissinger12 said, “The historical challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.” When the leaders of the two greatest powers both see their own countries as the future “Leviathan” of the world, the definition of failure can no longer be merely confined to internal mismanagement, but being surpassed by international competitors. Kissinger may have overestimated some leaders’ senses of honor to bear the responsibility of the “historical challenge”, but he can be right about the catastrophic consequences of their failures. But this time, failure is not an option for either side across the Taiwan Strait nor across the Pacific Ocean
- Chen, Y., & Cohen, J. A. (2019). China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements. University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review, 14(1).
- Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
- Hass, R. (2021). After lifting restrictions on US-Taiwan relations, what comes next? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/11/after-lifting-restrictions-on-us-taiwan-relations-what-comes-next/
- Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
- Zengerle, P., & Martina, M. (2021). U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-lawmakers-look-advance-sweeping-bid-counter-china-2021-04-21/
- Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
- Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
- China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
- The Guardian. (2020). China’s Xi Jinping facing widespread opposition in his own party, insider claims. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/china-xi-jinping-facing-widespread-opposition-in-his-own-party-claims-insider
- Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
- Buckley, C. (2021). Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/asia/xi-china-congress.html?_ga=2.178218534.2000768907.1619749005-1359154941.1599697815
- Kissinger, H. A. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-will-forever-alter-the-world-order-11585953005
Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries
The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.
The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.
Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.
This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.
Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration
The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.
There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.
It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-China nature of the Quad.
In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.
Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.
In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.
China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.
China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.
Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.
Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.
The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.
However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.
At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.
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