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Quad leaders to meet again in Japan after a year, as POTUS postpones trip to Australia

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Japan hosted the second in-person Quad summit in Tokyo a year ago. Owing to the recent turn of events, it turns out that the archipelago is poised to host the leaders of the four nations – India, Japan, Australia and the United States – yet again in the second consecutive year, in another historic Japanese city – Hiroshima – where this year’s G7 summit is taking place from May 19 to 21.

The previously planned rendezvous for the third in-person summit of the four-nation grouping was Sydney, scheduled for May 24, which now stands cancelled with an announcement by the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this week, the reason being the absence of the leader of the most powerful and influential member in the grouping – the President of the United States.

Washington’s “reliability” as a trusted and preferred partner in the region has been negatively affected with the postponing of visits to Oceania and its resultant cancellation of the Quad summit. Earlier this year, in March, the four foreign ministers of the Quad met in New Delhi on the sidelines of G20 meeting, laying the groundwork for the summit in Sydney, instead of which the leaders will meet in Hiroshima on the sidelines of the G7 summit.

Domestic pressures amid strategic rivalry

Soon after the Hiroshima summit, President Joe Biden will head back to Washington without touching down in Sydney or Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, as heated negotiations with the congressional leadership on the controversial issue of debt ceiling, to ward off the possibility of Washington defaulting on its national debt, are currently underway. This latest episode of political polarisation in the U.S. would mean a self-goal for American foreign policy in the fast-changing game of regional geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific.

In the last two years, the Chinese diplomatic influence and geoeconomic engagements in the region had been gathering momentum and intensity at a rapid pace. As the strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China, both at the global and regional levels, remain high on the one side and the Chinese posturing in maritime Asia and the Pacific turning more and more belligerent on the other, President Biden’s visit could have reinvigorated Washington’s security ties in the region and could have also assuaged the apprehensions of some regional countries surrounding the AUKUS deal recently forged with London and Canberra.

While Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has cancelled his visit to Sydney in the wake of announcement of President Biden’s inability to attend the summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will go ahead with traveling to Sydney as planned, as he has bilateral-level engagements with the Australian government. Prime Minister Modi will also visit Papua New Guinea for the third summit of the Forum for India–Pacific Islands Cooperation and then will be going on a state visit to the U.S. in June.

From September 2019 to March 2023, the Quad foreign ministers have met six times in person and once in virtual mode. Two leaders’ summits were held in Washington and Tokyo in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Cancellation of the Sydney summit is a diplomatic point scorer for Beijing as Washington’s opportunity to reassure its allies and partners in the Pacific has been thrown under the bus, at least temporarily.

Chinese disapproval

Ever since the Quad took off in its new avatar in November 2017 after a decade of inactivity there has been an allegation that the U.S. has been calling the shots in the grouping. But the participation of a multi-aligned country like India, which simultaneously engages in forums led by China and Russia such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) can be cited as an example of the “openness” of the grouping.

The perceived “China-balancing” character of the grouping is due to the “strategic insecurity” that Beijing poses to the four countries and also to several other countries in the region. China poses a strong strategic competition and systemic challenge to the U.S. as the former’s military continues to modernise rapidly, while its diplomatic and economic engagements with countries in the region continue to be astutely dynamic.

China’s initial reaction to the Quad was to denounce it altogether by stating that it would “dissipate like sea foam”. Later, as each year passed, Beijing doubled down its criticism of the grouping  and dismissed it as an “exclusive clique” or a U.S. strategy to “contain” its rise and an attempt to create an “Asian NATO”. The Chinese foreign ministry has frequently called for the U.S. to abandon its “Cold War mentality” and correct its approach of bloc confrontation.

Despite these strongly-worded allegations, the fact remains that the Quad is still not a military alliance and its areas of cooperation are largely non-security in nature, ranging from emerging technologies, maritime data sharing, educational cooperation, sustainable infrastructure, cybersecurity, supply chain resilience, countering disinformation and humanitarian relief. At the same time, the fact that a domestic issue in the United States is capable of forcing the grouping to cancel its highest level of engagement is a testament of the level of influence and power Washington yields on the grouping and in setting its overall agenda.

Disappointment in the Pacific

The last few years have seen the U.S. and China building up diplomatic offensive against each other in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly after China struck a security agreement with the Solomon Islands last year. One of the key agendas of the Quad is to offer middle and smaller powers in Southeast Asia and the Pacific better economic and infrastructural alternatives to the ones offered by China by pooling each other’s resources and strengths together like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) launched last year.

Lying north of Australia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an island nation of 9.4 million people, which is courted by both Beijing and Washington for geostrategic reasons. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Papua New Guinea five years ago, in 2018, in the first ever visit by a Chinese leader to the island state, while Biden hosted the Pacific Island leaders at the White House in September, last year.

President Biden was expected to sign the U.S.-PNG Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), which would have been the foundational framework for security cooperation between the two countries. PNG’s capital Port Moresby have been also preparing for the visit by a sitting U.S. President – first in the nation’s history – for the past six months, including the declaration of a national public holiday.

Despite the cut down on the Quad summit, the future prospects of co-operation in the grouping need not be seen as grim, as cooperation at the ministerial and working levels are making progress from year to year. Characterised by its flexible and functional inner dynamics, the Quad continues to evolve from a loose coalition of like-minded democracies to a much more solid forum by adding new layers of cooperation each year, after each summit, not only in terms of cooperation among the members themselves, but also to engage with all key regional actors in all ways possible.

Bejoy Sebastian is a doctoral candidate in international relations at the Central University of Kerala, India. His area of research includes contemporary geopolitics and regionalism in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region in light of IR theory. His articles and commentaries have appeared in Delhi Post (India), The Kochi Post (India), The Diplomat (United States), and The Financial Express (India), and some of them were re-published by The Asian Age (Bangladesh), The Cambodia Daily, the BRICS Information Portal, and the Peace Economy Project (United States). He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi, where he acquired a post-graduate diploma in English journalism. He has qualified the Indian University Grants Commission's National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) for teaching IR in Indian higher educational institutions in 2022. He holds a Master's degree in International Relations with First Rank from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, India. He was attached to the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India) in New Delhi, as a research intern in 2021, and has also worked as a Teaching Assistant at FLAME University in Pune, India, for a brief period of time.

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East Asia

Mongolia To Strengthen Transparency Through Constitutional Reforms

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The Government of Mongolia has this week made efforts to strengthen the governance of its legislature and increase transparency by passing into law a number of changes to the country’s constitution. The country hopes to create more opportunities for civil society representation by moving to a mixed electoral system.

Representatives in the country’s parliament, the State Great Khural, debated and approved reforms that will increase the number of members in the parliament from 76 to 126, with nearly 40% of the MPs now being elected through proportional representation. The Government is also shortly due to introduce separate proposals that will increase the representation of women in the parliament. All these changes are set to be in place in time for the next set of general elections in 2024.

Mongolia’s political system is centred on the sharing of executive power between the Prime Minister as the head of government, and an elected President. The country’s Constitution was adopted in 1992, with amendments made in 1999, 2000, 2019, and 2022. Recent changes have focused on securing political stability in the country, through for example limiting the maximum term of the presidency from two four-year terms to one six-year term, and amending the number of parliamentarians who can hold ministerial positions. 

The increase in the size of the State Great Khural will address the rise in the number of voters represented by each parliamentarian, which has increased from 27,000 in 1992 to 44,000 today. Alongside the move towards a more proportional electoral system, the reforms are designed to bring parliamentarians closer to the people they are elected to serve by enhancing the scrutiny given to new laws.

A separate amendment to the country’s constitution creates a role for Mongolia’s Constitutional Court in reaching a final decision on citizen petitions alleging breaches of civil rights and freedoms, including equal rights between men and women, freedom of thought, speech, and peaceful assembly.

Commenting on the proposed changes to the constitution, Mongolia’s Prime Minister, L. Oyun-Erdene, said:

“I strongly support these proposed changes to Mongolia’s Constitution. They represent a further step for our country in the direction of a more inclusive and democratic future. Through increasing the representation in our parliament and broadening input into the law-making process, we will be better placed to meet current challenges and ensure that we continue to make progress towards our Vision 2050 goals, improving the livelihoods of people across Mongolia.”

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East Asia

Taiwan’s International Status: “A Country Within a Country”

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. (Photo: Taiwan's Presidential Office)

In California, a recent meeting was held between the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, and the U.S. House Speaker, Mr. Kevin McCarthy, which holds political significance. This aforementioned meeting facilitated a negative shift in the bilateral relations between China and Taiwan.  The latent hostilities between China and Taiwan possess the potential to escalate into full-scale armed conflict at any given juncture.

The proposal

The incongruent dynamic existing between China and Taiwan has persisted since 1949, when Taiwan made the conscious decision to separate from mainland China.

From 1949 onwards, China and Taiwan have been embroiled in a geopolitical imbroglio pertaining to their respective territorial integrity and claims of sovereignty. The Chinese government asserts that Taiwan is an integral component of its sovereign geography. On the contrary, Taiwan is assertive of its autonomy as a distinct, self-governing entity that operates independently and is no longer subject to Chinese jurisdiction.

The discordant relationship between the two sides which has escalated over the preceding biennium, potentially heightening the likelihood of military confrontation.

Over the course of the past two years, there have been several instances in which China has deployed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct military maneuvers in close proximity to Taiwan. The aforementioned initiative was aimed at preventing any activities fueled by Taiwan that could have been construed as provocative and potentially encroach on China’s claims of rightful control over Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial boundaries

The persistent geopolitical tensions between China and Taiwan since 1949 can be attributed to diverging opinions regarding the formal recognition of Taiwan, in particular, the contentious matter of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Tensions will continue Between China and Taiwan until Taiwan becomes independent or recognizes its self-identification as a constituent part of China.

Since 1949, the China has exerted persistent pressure upon Taiwan to acquiesce to the notion of reunification or the incorporation of Taiwan into the mainland territory of China. Nevertheless, it appears that Taiwan’s internal political circumstance and dynamics persist in maintaining its political choices and ideology as a democratic and self-governing entity.

The prolonged inability of both parties to develop a more extensive and adaptable resolution or methodology to address the matter implies that the aspiration to “normalize” relations between China and Taiwan continues to exist solely within the realm of rhetoric.

In order to achieve the objective of unification under the the idea of the “One China Principle” or One China Policy and to surmount the political divergence concerning Taiwan’s official position, has engendered several propositions by China aimed at resolving this issue. A proposed approach adopt the implementation of a “one country, two systems” protocol akin to that employed in Hong Kong and Macau.

The Chinese government has expressed that the policy is exceedingly permissive and capable of surmounting the distinct system variances that exist between the mainland region of China and Taiwan.

The proposal of “special administrative region” attributed to Taiwan enables the continued preservation of its economic, social, and security system that they have built so far, while attenuating or obviating any undue influence or interference by China. Nonetheless, the aforementioned proposal appears to be insufficient in instigating political transformation in Taiwan, given the persistent refusal of Taiwanese individuals and governmental officials to endorse unification and uphold their desire for independence.

In view of China, safeguarding Taiwan and accomplishing the complete unification of the country is not solely a matter of fulfilling its constitutional obligations, but also serves the purpose of preserving its stature as a dominant and revered nation on the global stage.

In contrast, Taiwan persistently endeavors to establish diplomatic and cross-strait relations through a range of diverse strategies and approaches with multiple nations across the globe. The clear objective is to secure the hearts and compassion of the global populace. Taiwan undertook this action with the aim of restoring its position in the global arena and paving the way for its eventual recognition as a self-governing entity with full political autonomy.

“Country within a country”

Again, the China-Taiwan issue is rooted in a territorial and sovereignty perspectives. In the global arena, China maintains a comparatively advantageous position. China, is a prominent participant in the United Nations, the most extensive intergovernmental organization encompassing numerous states worldwide, Positioning itself as a powerful participant in the direction and reflection of global politics. Furthermore, China belongs to “the distinguished” member of UN Security Council’s five permanent members, which has so far strong and great influence on world politics.

On the other hand, the international position held by Taiwan is considerably intricate. The question regarding the statehood of Taiwan remains a matter of unsettled dispute, given the absence of any universally recognized body empowered to render definitive judgments regarding the status of a nation-state.

Since the adoption of Resolution A/RES/2758 by the UN General Assembly on October 25, 1971, Taiwan has lost its international “stage”. This is because the resolution affirms China as the sole legitimate representative of China to the United Nations and consequentially nullifies Taiwan’s membership from the organization.

It is a well-documented reality that numerous nations have forged informal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, particularly in the realm of trade and investment. The United States, for instance, has solidified such relations through the Taiwan Relations Act. To the present day, a limited number of 22 nations have formally acknowledged and established official diplomatic intercourse with Taiwan. A notable aspect is that the majority of these nations lack any substantial sway or significant leverage on the international political sphere. Specifically, countries of comparatively small size in the African and Latin American regions, namely Haiti, Belize, and Tuvalu.

Taiwan has indeed met the three constitutive elements or absolute requisites deemed necessary for a country as exemplified by the 1933 Montevideo Convention. These components include the presence of a defined territorial boundary, a functioning populace, and a duly constituted government. However, Taiwan lacks a crucial element in its diplomatic status, namely the recognition from the international community through a declarative act.

The restricted global acknowledgement of Taiwan undoubtedly carries considerable political and legal ramifications. Recognition is widely regarded as the key component in modern international politics that has the potential to enhance the legitimacy and sovereignty of a given state.

Taiwan faces formidable challenges in achieving recognition. In order to attain successful governance, Taiwan must display adeptness in efficiently managing both internal and external political dynamics. Otherwise, the current state of affairs will persist, leading to Taiwan’s classification as a “subnational entity” Or “A country within a country”.

Ultimately, the resolution of the China and Taiwan conflict proves to be a formidable challenge. In order to mitigate potential future crises and uphold regional and international stability, it is necessary for China and Taiwan to refrain from engaging in provocative actions. It is imperative to adopt a cooperative approach through negotiations and concessions that are all-encompassing and pertinent, in order to attain a sustainable resolution that caters to the interests of both China and Taiwan’s populace of 23 million, while acknowledging and adapting to their respective challenges and circumstances.

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East Asia

The Sino-Russian-led World Order: A Better Choice for the Globe?

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Photo: Grigoriy Sisoev, RIA Novosti

International forums, which were once established to promote cooperation and dialogue among the world’s states, are now increasingly being used as platforms for confrontation and accusation. The recent example of G20 and G7 summits, where China and Russia faced criticism and isolation from Western countries over the Indo-pacific and their actions in Ukraine, plus India’s accusation of Pakistan as a terrorist sponsor state in the SCO summit, illustrate these trends. Instead of working towards finding a solution to pressing global problems, these meetings have devolved into platforms for airing grievances and pointing fingers – this shift in focus has undermined the effectiveness of these forums in addressing the very issues they were created to solve.

At their recent summit in Hiroshima, Japan, the G7 leaders issued their strongest-ever condemnation of Russia and China. They accused them of using economic coercion and militarizing the South China Sea and urged them to push Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Furthermore, at the G7 summit, leaders of the significant democracies pledged additional measures targeting Russia and spoke with a united voice on their growing concern over China.

Similarly, in Feb 2023, at the G20 finance minister’s summit held in Bengaluru, Russia and China declined to sign a joint statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and of course, as a sovereign state, Russia has the right to defend its territory and combat threats that pose a danger to its survival. These are just a few instances that illustrate how the Western world reacts to the actions and policies of China and Russia on the global stage.

Consequently, this recent condemnation and blaming at the Hiroshima summit demonstrate that international forums can no longer address serious global issues; instead, they have become arenas for blaming and accusing one another. This shift in the nature of international forums has significant implications for global governance and cooperation – It highlights the need for the failure of the current global system dominated by the Western bloc.

Besides, accusing states such as China and Russia at international forums is not a solution to global problems; instead, it can exacerbate regional tension and promote anti-sentiment against influential states. Furthermore, instead of promoting cooperation and dialogue, such accusations can foster an environment of mistrust and hostility, making it more challenging to find common ground and work towards resolving global issues.

In one of my previous papers, I argued that “the contemporary geopolitical landscape is characterized by escalating tension between the United States and its allies and China and Russia. This can be attributed to the absence of transparent and inclusive unipolar world order that effectively addresses the interests and concerns of all nations.

I further elaborated that the US and its allies are not inclined to recognize the emergence of a Sino-Russian-led world order, as evidenced by the recent summit development. The West has frequently chastised China and Russia for their autocratic governments, breaches of human rights, and expansionist ambitions. Such claims, however, are based on a skewed and obsolete understanding of the global system that ignores the two countries’ legitimate interests and aspirations. Instead of making allegations, the Western world should be grateful for the Sino-Russian-led international system, which provides a more democratic, multipolar, and peaceful alternative to the US-dominated regional hegemony.

To begin with, the Sino-Russian-led international order is more democratic than the Western one since it recognizes the globe’s diversity of political systems and cultures. China and Russia do not push their ideals or ideologies on other countries but instead encourage them to exercise their sovereignty and self-determination. They also reject any influence or intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries, particularly by the United States and its allies. In contrast, the Western world has frequently employed economic and military force to compel or remove governments that do not share its interests or tastes. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, and Iran are a few examples. Such operations have breached international law and generated insecurity and misery in several places.

Second, the Sino-Russian-led international order is more multipolar than the Western one because it balances the strength and influence of many global players. With expanding economic, military, and diplomatic capacities, China and Russia have emerged as crucial powers in the twenty-first century. They have also formed strategic alliances with other growing nations, including India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Iran. They have joined forces to oppose the US-led unipolar system and call for more egalitarian and inclusive global governance. On the other hand, the Western world has attempted to preserve its domination and hegemony over other countries, particularly in regions such as Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa. Many countries seeking greater autonomy have expressed displeasure and hostility to such a system.

Third, the Sino-Russian world order is more peaceful than the Western one because it values discussion and collaboration above confrontation and war. China and Russia have settled their historical differences and formed a comprehensive strategic alliance based on mutual trust and respect. They have also collaborated on several regional and global concerns, including counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, climate change, energy security, and pandemic response. They have also backed international institutions and procedures such as the United Nations (UN), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and others. In contrast, the Western world has frequently instigated or intensified tensions and disagreements with other countries, particularly China and Russia. A few examples are NATO expansion, missile defense deployment, sanctions system, and commerce.

Finally, international forums have the potential to promote cooperation and dialogue among nations; however, their effectiveness is hindered when they become platforms for confrontation and accusation. In contrast, the Sino-Russian-led world order is a superior choice for the globe to the Western one. It is more democratic because it values diversity; multipolar because it balances power; and more peaceful because it promotes dialogue – thus, rather than criticizing, the Western world should commend the international order led by Sino-Russian cooperation.

In conclusion, while international forums have the potential to promote cooperation among nations, they are increasingly being used for confrontation. In this context, the Sino-Russian-led world order offers a more democratic and peaceful alternative to the US-dominated hegemony and may be a better choice for promoting global cooperation.

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