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Can Quad be Effective against Incremental Encroachment of China in Indo-Pacific Region?

Gen. Shashi Asthana

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The ‘Incremental Encroachment Strategy’ of China exhibited in South China Sea (SCS) is a serious concern not only to the countries directly affected by losing their influence  over overlapping EEZ, but also to rest of the world as China can exert illegitimate monopoly over SCS global Sea Lane of Communication (SLOC).  The countries directly affected do not have adequate muscle power to stand up to China; hence will have no choice but to succumb to one sided arrangement like China driven “Code of Conduct” (COC).  Chinese adventurism therefore needs to be checked by other prominent maritime powers in global interest.The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) which groups Australia, India, Japan, and the United States isoften being looked at as a potential instrument to check further adventurism of china in Indo-Pacific, however it currently does not have requisite teeth and traction.  The fact that China could convert features into military base in SCS despite presence of US Navy indicates that it does require global condemnation and effort of higher order to ensure that SCS does not become ‘China’s Lake’.  Although Quad may not have requisite teeth as of now, but there is no other alternative but to have potential arrangement of this kind between likeminded maritime powers having common strategic interests in Indo-Pacific Region in relation to freedom of navigation (FON), flights and rule-based order.

Differing Perceptions regarding Role of Quad

The Quad has repeatedly been subject of varying perceptions regarding its role, viability and prospects. Quad by nomenclature is a security dialogue forum and not a military alliance; hence the expectations from Quad have to be appropriately restricted for the time being.  Media often traces the Quad back to the expanded Malabar Naval Exercise in September 2007, that originated from the U.S.-India bilateral relationship, wherein ships of all four Quad countries participated for the first time, which was held off the Japanese island of Okinawa. It appeared to be a military and maritime arrangement revolving exclusively around four democracies. The initial impetus/usefulness of Quad it in fact emerged following the devastating tsunami in Indian Ocean back in 2004 as the so-called Tsunami Core Group, which came together to fashion a credible Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) response to it. This role for Quad, along with anti-piracy was noticed and counted, as such a role was much easier to sell to the world community including the stakeholders, which were excluded in the grouping.

Many give the credit of the idea of Quad to Prime Minister Abe who mooted his proposal within the framework of the “confluence of the two seas”, joining the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. This would enable a “broader Asia” to emerge, which would encompass the Pacific, where Japan felt that partnership with the US and Australia would be integrated into its ambit besides Japan – India strategic partnership. The four democratic countries of the Quad project themselves to be committed to an open and transparent network which “will allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely”. Quad is therefore yet to acknowledge that it has a role to check the adventurism of China in Indo-Pacific region and could ever operate jointly as a military force for it. In fact, Quad has chosen to be diplomatically correct to say that it is not directed towards any particular country.

Problems/Divergences

To take the dialogue forward, the Quad needs to urgently converge existing divergences regarding their individual definitions of the Indo-Pacific. While Indian and to some extent Japanese focus would be to include western Indian Ocean touching Africa and Gulf countries along with the Eastern Indian Ocean, Northern and Eastern Pacific, which perhaps other members of Quad would see as the main focus of attention.

 All Quad members have different threat perceptions in the Indo-Pacific. This impacts their prioritization in dealing with challenges in Indo-pacific as well as the areas of focus. It also includes their approach towards dealing with flash points like SCS or upholding the freedom of navigation along the sea and air routes of communication, connectivity and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific. An important issue for effective maritime security cooperation amongst the navies of Quad is while three of the navies (Australia, US and Japan) operate within NATO military alliance framework, India is not part of any military alliance, although a strategic partner of two of them. The trilateral dialogue between the three NATO allies is continuing since 2002 without India. India is the only country amongst Quad members which has unsettled land border with China; hence will have a different approach in dealing with China. This does create some apprehension in mind of the rest three partners as China -India relations keep fluctuating between tension and harmony with incidents like Doklam, Wuhan and reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir. This brings up the question of military decision-making by the Quad as a group.

The centrality of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific has been emphasized by the Quad, hence their inclusion into it is another debatable issue, due to Chinese influence over them. There are differences within ASEAN in response to Chinese claim over nine dash line in SCS (based on its unilateral interpretation of history), between the countries which have overlapping EEZ and the ones not facing such problem. Generally, some of the affected ASEAN countries have occasionally raised a feeble voice against Chinese aggression (Philippines, Vietnam), expecting world powers to check Chinese adventurism, without themselves standing up against the Chinese might. They have generally tried to get the best of US and China without being seen to be taking sides. This has emboldened China to continue incremental encroachment in SCS and the region up to a point that it has become a global concern. China has also tried its best to deal with each of the country in this region on bilateral terms and lure/influence it through ‘Chequebook/Purse/Infrastructure diplomacy’.

Strengthening/Upgradation of Quad

It is being increasingly realized that equal participation of all four Quad countries in maritime security cooperation is crucial for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific region’. Between 2007 to 2017, meetings of Quad officials were extremely limited, that too at Joint Secretary/equivalent level. 2017 onwards it had four meetings, the last one being at Foreign Minister level, indicates the incremental seriousness of the countries involved in such engagement. Increasing convergence in focus and roles is also being noticed. In last meeting hosted by US earlier this year, besides ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ to ensure freedom of navigation; maritime security cooperation; connectivity; good governance; countering terrorism and proliferation; HADR; promoting a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific; and cyber security were some common areas of interest. Concerns like use of global commons in international water and nuclear adventurism of North Korea were also subjects of discussion. Consensus on centrality of ASEAN was also a sign of convergence.

The common focus of Quad to implement its idea of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific on a “rules-based” legal framework to secure freedom of navigation in the global SLOC in Indo-Pacific needs some introspection and strengthening. Three members of Quad namely Australia, India and Japan, have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOSIII), however US is yet to ratify the same. This ratification will be necessary to have a moral high ground to implement the same. It is still not sure that any legal framework can compel China to accept it in SCS in future, as it had rejected the PCA’s decision earlier. This is a serious global concern because China continues to make/improve infrastructure in SCS, with a view to convert features/atolls into military bases, expect others to accept them as islands and apply ‘Baseline principle’ under UNCLOS-III to claim its 200 nautical miles of EEZ to conveniently convert SCS into ‘Chinese lake’ over a period of time. If it is not resented by global community, it may lead to some restrictions like ADIZ on SCS which is a global SLOC.

Considering the prevailing international strategic scenario, China is reasonably confident that US or any other country will not use military force to dismantle their infrastructure made in SCS. It is also increasing its naval capability as part of its comprehensive national power (CNP)to make best use of inaction by other countries in Indo-Pacific. In this context it is necessary that Quad strengthens itself beyond Malabar exercises and forum for dialogue and gets some teeth in the form of maritime capacity building of its members, further improvement of interoperability and dominate choke points sensitive to China. Chinese adventurism of recent intrusion like Vanguard episode in Vietnam waters need to be taken seriously.

Quad members must continue freedom of navigation exercises and military posturing in Indo-Pacific as China continues to do so. Global community must continue to condemn Chinese encroachment in SCS and conversion of features into bases. These features should never be recognized as islands in consonance with PCA decision. If the strategic situation worsens there may be a need to position ‘UN Maritime Military Observers Group’ in future, which must be thought of, as prevention of accidental triggering of conflict is possible in a region having high density of combat ship on FON missions. Some of the countries whose EEZ is being compromised by Nine dash line claims must start speaking for themselves before expecting other powers to help them. The countries who have their SLOC passing through Indo-pacific should also be consulted in finalization of China driven Code of Conduct (CoC)as they also have stakes in SCS. Any action by any country to restrict freedom of navigation/flight or violation of rule of law must be challenged in UN Security Council. Support of other navies like France for free and open Indo-Pacific is  encouraging step in this direction. Quad in its present form may not be effective enough to check Chinese adventurism, but it certainly has potential to become one of the effective instruments to do so, provided the affected countries and the global community also plays its role against common concerns.

The author is a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst; he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India.

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East Asia

China is doing. Are you?

Syed Nasir Hassan

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It is certain now that the COVID-19 pandemic has winded the whole globe. What started from just one city, has now shadowed the whole world. As the words penned down the cases increase in the world. However, there is a country whose defiance against the Covid-19 pandemic has been successful.

Despite the fact that the virus’s epicenter was Wuhan, China still managed to control it while the rest of the world still crippling to get hold of the loosen cords of the Covid-19.Thoughthe rest of the world is still in a quarrel with the pandemic, life in China is cautiously returning to normalcy. Even in Wuhan, the city worst hit by the pandemic, infection-free zones are feeling the resurgence of life. All of this has not been achieved overnight for this whole of the country faced excruciating measures including a major blow to its economy. Whole country unified against the pandemic. Purchasing managers index (PMI) which measures the economic activity based on orders company place to suppliers in a country. For the Chinese industry, the index reported 35.7 for the month of February which is the lowest since the index was created. To clarify further, the figures below 50 imply a recession.

China is not only combating Covid-19at home but abroad as well in the form of sending aid even though it has faced a fall in its economy. Italy, Iran, Serbia, Pakistan and many more are on the list that is getting direct assistance from Beijing.

While China is playing a responsible global role in the fight against this pandemic, Washington seems to be gambling with the lives of people of its own. Lately, Washington post revealed that intel reports from January and February clearly warned about the pandemic.  While deaths in the US are nearing to 500, Trump administration seems to be engaged in playing its political cards on the deck of the corona. Blaming China and tightening the sanctions seems to the top priority rather than engaging resources on fighting the pandemic. Recently CNN reported that Trump rolled out 33 false claims in the first two weeks of the month of March regarding the corona crisis. It reported that overall trump made 71 false claims in past two weeks. Out of these 71, 33 were related to coronavirus. This clearly shows the gravity regarding the situation of the pandemic, in the Oval. 

World is face to face with global non-traditional threat while Donald Trump seems to be solidifying his election campaign as cost of blaming China.  Trump calling Covid-19 as China’s virus seems to be true because what the evolving scenario depicts seems that Washington has withdrawn from its global role and China is the only one concerned globally with this pandemic. Despite taking global initiatives for cure, Oval seems to be doing parochial politics over the global pandemic which clearly shows how ignorant is the Trump administration towards the global health crisis. Furthermore, Trump even tried to buy exclusive rights from a medical company in Germany on the antidote of Covid-19 in order to capitalize on the remedy. By tightening sanctions on Tehran and not letting It to do the due course to save lives what oval seems to be doing is bringing more agony to global misery.

As the xenophobic and racist attitude of Washington continues globe is being driven into more dark realms. Furthermore, Oval’s mouthpieces at Fox News and other media outlets have adopted the same manner as their masters are doing and repeatedly have claimed that China should apologize. On the other hand, the world is all praise for China, including the President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, on how has China fought the novel virus and has successfully reduced the number of new cases of the disease to zero.

It is high time to appreciate China by putting political difference aside and learn from their experiences as they are the one with most experienced and have successfully battled. Whatever has caused this pandemic China has been successful in curtailing it and countries which are finding themselves paralyzed by this disease shall use assistance from China to overcome this global malady.

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The Thucydides’ Trap: the Avoidable Destiny Between the US and China

Yuan Jiang

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The controversial “Thucydides trap” argument has sparked a heated debate since 2013, when President Xi Jinping of China told a cluster of western guests: “We must all work together to avoid Thucydides’ trap.” Later, this concept was elucidated by Professor Graham Allison in his articles, talks and famous book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap. So, what exactly is this Thucydides ’trap?

The phrase originates from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides who had observed that the Peloponnesian war (431BC-404BC) was caused by the growth of Athens, the rising power, and the corresponding fear of Sparta, the ruling power. Currently, this historical scenario is applied to discuss the relations between China, the emerging power, and the United States (US), the established power. The rise of China and the relative decline of the US allude that a gradual power imbalance may repeat history and lead to war. In fact, 12 of the 16 historical power shifts have resulted in catastrophe. More importantly, this narrative, to some extent, suggests the current dominant power is taking preemptive measures against the rising one. In reality, the US-initiated Sino-American trade war reflects this precautionary attitude.

The world may argue that although China has become more assertive than before, this war is the consequence of President Donald Trump’s radical foreign policy. Consequently, Trump started this war even though it may harm the Sino-American economic ties, leading to a negative economic impact on both sides. As a matter of fact, the Sinophobic turn in Washington is essentially a bipartisan consensus that realistically considers the economic facts thanks to strategic thinking. Based on the research of Alyssa Leng and Roland Rajah, the US had been at the helm of world trade until 2000, trading with over 80% of countries worldwide. However, in 2018, this number has plummeted to just 30%, as China has replaced the position of the US in 128 of 190 countries. Thus, “this bipartisan shift may have coincided with Trump’s arrival but the very fact that it is bipartisan demonstrates that it was not Trump who created it. Like a rooster at dawn, his crowing simply called forth the inevitably rising sun”. This situation raises the following questions: which side suffers the least? If the US achieves its goal of putting down China, who will win? According to Bruno Macaes, “in the end, the question of whether a new world order will be born, or the status quo preserved is less important than the question of whether the outcome will be determined peacefully or whether China and America are destined for war”.

This does look like the inevitable Thucydides’ trap, but where is the solution? It is conceivable that the trade war is just a sign that might follow more fierce disputes militarily. As historical determinists, Professor Graham Allison and Professor Jonathan Holslag both believe that the strategic transformation of structural forces between China and the US are doomed to conflict that has already emerged and will transpire more dramatically, ineluctably reshaping the global geopolitical landscape. Currently, China is not strong enough to compete with the US in general and “the balance of power could continue to be in America’s favor for quite a long time into the future.” It is then justifiable for the US to want to suppress China’s growth right now. However, I argue that the reality is far more complex than the aforementioned circumstance and there indeed exists some way to avoid this “inevitable” trap.

First, diplomacy and leadership in the US and China play pivotal roles in avoiding this dilemma. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd argues that political leaders and elites are not “simply some kind of puppet of anonymous structural forces”, but can change the historical tendency, to some extent. He proposes “constructive realism” as a solution by saying, “agency—what leaders decide, and those elites who advise them shape— actually determines the future course of history”. By suggesting that based on reality, the leaders of both sides should differentiate between the non-negotiable and negotiable national interests, thus managing the Sino-American strategic competition. In this context, the China-represented authoritarian capitalism versus the US-led liberal capitalism, is able to compete without one devastating the other and finally let the winner prevail.

Similarly, Chinese prominent scholar Jin Canrong suggests that when drawing on the wisdom of the Chinese and American leaders and diplomats, the two countries should neither have a “Hot War” nor a “Cold War”. The first may result in total planetary destruction with the example of the two World Wars during which great losses were suffered due to militaristic action worldwide. The later might bring about a deconstruction of the entire international trade system. Because of today’s economic globalization, a “Cold War” would devastate our internationally integrated economy, specifically, the existing Sino-American interdependent economic connections.

Nevertheless, Professor Jin proposes that the two sides should have a “Chess War”, as a metaphor of playing chess, which denotes that the two sides should be more transparent, reveal their strategic capabilities and intentions and reasonably bargain with each other. This is analogous to Rudd’s approach of distinguishing clearly between the non-negotiable and negotiable national interests of both parties. Furthermore, Jin argues that when China develops to a certain level, it will comprehensively compete with the US in all aspects. The US, as a commercial and pragmatism-centered empire, will compromise and accept China’s position, thus forming the global bi-core leadership and co-governing the world. He argues that the new global system is akin to the Concert of Europe/Age of Metternich, the balance of European powers between the Napoleonic War and World War One. The notion is to forgive France, the war initiator, and invite it to be part of European leadership, maintaining peace in Europe for a whole century.

The second plausible approach to this dilemma can be taken from the angle of a third party. Facing the increasingly Sino-American tension and the potential outbreak of a proxy war, Professor T. V. Paul advocates for “Soft Balancing”, meaning small-scale countries relying on “international institutions, limited ententes” to unite and enhance their strength. Uniting smaller countries thwarts the threatening behavior of the rising or ruling powers through economic instruments or moral and legal condemnation, thereby avoiding the Thucydides’ Trap. By comparison, the military capabilities or “Hard Balancing” of a country, remain important, but are clearly not as cost-effective as the institutionally driven “soft” method. Taking the ASEAN states’ soft balancing strategy toward China as an example, in addition to aligning with the American navy as hard balancing tactics, the ASEAN has involved diverse institutional engagements such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, and South Korea), the Chiang Mai Initiative and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. These measures not only benefit the ASEAN countries from the economic rise of China, but simultaneously limit China’s territorial claim in the South China Sea by the united voice of ASEAN. To some extent, this strategy alleviates the Sino-American hostility and competition for leadership in this area, allowing the countries involved to have a fighting chance in the race for power.

To summarize, both approaches are aimed at constructing the scarce asset through frequent diplomatic communication: trust. In the anarchical international system, due to the fact there is no central authority to enforce laws, international actors, in the course of interactions, are always suspicious of each other’s real intentions. Indeed, human beings are distrustful and forgetful, repeating 12 identical mistakes throughout history. As the Western philosopher George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Similarly, the Chinese poet Du Mu wrote about how a destroyed dynasty vanished before it could reflect on its mistakes. Du details that the later generations of the dynasty felt the impact of this failure, yet did not learn from the past, continuing the cycle of collapse. While Graham Allison believes that the US and China may be destined to a violent collision, his relevant Ted Talk leads one to believe that the last two power shifts of the world were peaceful. Between the US and Soviet Union power shift from the 1940s to the 1980s, and the UK, France and Germany power shift from the 1990s until now, demonstrated how we are able to break the cycle of destruction. Especially, the European power shift proved the importance of diplomatic leadership. Hopefully, as time progresses, mankind may learn to draw lessons from a series of historical tragedies. When the political leaders of the world face irreconcilable conflicts of interest, they will look into the dark and bottomless chasm in front of them and say, “that is indeed a very deep hole which we should not fall into.”

From our partner RIAC

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A story of resilience: China’s revival against Covid-19

Arsim Tariq

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A nation that embraces resilience in catastrophic times can retaliate and cope with any calamity that comes their way. A resilient nation is able to gather their abilities in the face of adversity and utilize their resources and strengths to cope and recover from unprecedented hardships and challenges. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, China has curbed the deadly pathogen, after a formidable fight, with courage and conviction. The joint, and globally lauded, efforts of Chinese officials and health professionals along with its unprecedented organized and proactive dynamics of disaster management has provided an abundance of assistance in restraining the pandemic.

The epicenter of Covid-19, Hubei province of China, has recorded zero new cases for the consecutive four days, 19th to 22nd March, contrary to the 15,000 cases reported on 13th February 2020. From the recovery and discharge of 70 percent out of 80,000 patients in the overflowing hospitals of China to the completion of world’s first lung transplant of a Covid-19 patient by ingenious and committed doctors; and the construction of two 1000-beds hospitals, Huoshenshan and Leishenshan, in two weeks, China’s efforts to intercept the pandemic have proven to be extraordinary, heroic and unforeseen.

The strategic trajectory China has adopted to curtail the outbreak is threefold. During the first phase, the approach was to block the transmission and contain the source of the virus, therefore abating the further spread of the infection; the main strategy was to prevent importation and exportation of the virus in and from the Hubei province, respectively. On that account, about 50 million people were put under lockdown in Wuhan and other cities of Hubei, consequently diminishing the number of cases. For the diagnosis, The National Medical Products Administration of China, in collaboration with biotech companies, developed sufficient and reliable diagnostic kits for all fever clinics and hospitals in the country within two weeks. The testing was, publicly made free and easily accessible.

Fever clinics – especially designed clinics used in 2002-03 for containing SARS epidemic – were re-established to isolate, triage and test the patients; the health professionals and workers in PPE were/are employed to treat the affected patients. Additionally, laboratory testing and epidemiological researches were conducted accompanying the initial management of contact tracing. The use of contact tracing to track every potential individual infected by the virus has been a critical tool for China. For instance, in Shenzhen city as of 17th February 2842 contacts were traced, out of which 2240 completed the medical testing and among those, 88 were found to be infected. This technique was used in every part of China with officials militantly and steadfastly tracing every single individual that had come to contact with Covid-19 patient. In an interview, Dr. Bruce Aylward of World Health Organization (WHO) has said that he was impressed by the speed of carrying out the procedures and the key to containing the virus from proliferating depends on your ability to “swiftly detect and isolate the infected patients and trace their close contacts.”

In the second phase, the foremost approach was to lessen and limit the intensity of the pandemic. The active treatment of the patients was conducted in Wuhan and other provinces; the aim was to reduce the number of deaths and further enhance the prevention of exportation of the infection, therefore redlining mass gatherings and other public transport activities.

The guidelines to educate people of the basic precautions and updates regarding the Covid-19 was enhanced nationally. In six weeks, the national knowledge on how to take care of an infected person was expanded by six times. To tackle the spread of disinformation, Chinese social media outlets such as WeChat, ten-cent, and Weibo shared centralized, accurate and reliable information and blocked the misleading keywords on the internet. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has issued a statement that if a website or an individual would misinform the public, they would have to face legal consequences. Moreover, food delivery services were, efficiently, activated by the country to facilitate the citizens and the non-urgent medical cases were consulted online by doctors and medical consultants.

The third phase of the outbreak bring out new technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence to thoroughly control the pandemic; contact tracing was strengthened. The deployment of facial recognition cameras and phone tracking technologies in public places helped Chinese officials to detect elevated temperatures and track close contacts. In Zhejiang province, health QR codes were established: the red code is for 14-days self-quarantine; the yellow code requires 7-days self-quarantine; the green code authorizes you to travel freely. Additionally, scientific and medical research was conducted to develop relative vaccines and medicines.

Furthermore, other provinces have also sent help to assist Wuhan’s administration, for example, 42,000 doctors and other related staff were sent from other provinces to Hubei. Even at the individual level, the people of China have adhered to the measures given by the government, whether it is the lockdown or travel restrictions; the Chinese populace came out as a resilient and dedicated nation. They endorsed the sense that the duty is ours to help the country in catastrophic times.

Where the exemplary response by China is being commended and deliberately studied globally, China is dedicated to helping other infected countries as well to surpass this pandemic. It is nearly impossible for the developing and resource-less countries to deal with an unprecedented pandemic. Hence, China is continuously sending millions of masks, medical supplies and other related and much-needed items to Italy, Serbia, Spain, Belgium, Iraq, Iran, United States, France, and Pakistan; It is also sending doctors and medical teams to these countries with the constant help and funding of Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba.

Concisely, Chinese people’s dedication and its visionary leaders’ untiring and zealous efforts have helped China revive its stability inside and outside the borders.

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