Written by Bawa Singh.
The Quadrilateral Initiative, consisting of four Indo-Pacific countries; Australia, India, Japan and the United States; was revived on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia Summit in Manila in November 2017.
The 31st ASEAN Summit 2017 was held in Manila under the theme of “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” The theme is relevant for the Association of South East Asian Nations in general and for India and China in context of realization of the Asian Century in particular. However, the message from the summit was contradictory to its theme. At the heart of this contradiction is the emergence of the Quad, which will create disunity between India and China.
Peace, stability and security are the main basis of the Asian Century. In the prevailing milieu, it is wishful to vouch for unity and cordial relations between India and China, given their bilateral irritants and the geopolitical environment.
The 21st century has been dubbed the Asian Century, and was conceived on the basis of development, economic cooperation, peace, stability and security of the region. To that end, for this to be achieved it is vital that China and India play a constructive and cooperative role. Given the circumstances, how will China and India extend economic and strategic cooperation to maintain peace at the bilateral level and facilitate and maintain regional and global peace, stability and security?
Cordial relations between India and China are fundamental to the Asian Century. Currently, these relations have reached a strained tipping point with major irritants like the boundary dispute, the supply of nuclear technology, military and diplomatic support to Pakistan, blocking Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and countering Indian efforts to have Jaish-e-Mohamed chief Masood Azhar named an UN-designated terrorist.
Moreover, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Doklam standoff saw India-China relations take a roller coaster ride throughout 2017. Given enormous economic, scientific and technological advancements, Asia has been passing through a historic transformation. The dream of the Asian Century has been anticipated in the background of the impressive economic history of India and China which, some historians have stated, date back over millennia.
Analysts have claimed that key Asian players like China, India, Japan, and mid-level powers such as South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia have the potential to dominate the 21st century. It was the phenomenal economic development of these countries that led thinkers, commentators, analysts and economists to anticipate that the 21st Century would be Asia’s.
Given their bilateral irritants, global leadership aspirations, new geopolitical alignments have trapped India and China in several competing situations, straining their cordiality. The Quad, revived recently, will create more mistrust between the Himalayan neighbours.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan had initiated the Quad in 2007 to check geopolitical and geostrategic concerns emanating from China, in consultation with the US, Australian and Indian leadership. However, the concept failed to take off then after Australian PM Kevin Rudd’s pulled out fearing Chinese wrath given the heightening geopolitical tensions between the United States and China in the Asia-Pacific.
The background to the revival of the Quad is the growing profile of China’s economy and strategic assertiveness. China has enjoyed double-digit economic growth over the past three decades, making it the largest economy after the US, which it is likely to overtake soon.
Chinese strategic posturing, including an expanding defence budget, military modernization, militarization of islands in the South China Sea, violation of international norms, expanding strategic and economic influence at the global level and aggressive irredentism have posed serious strategic concerns for regional and extra-regional powers. Such posturing has created serious geopolitical and geostrategic concerns not only for China’s neighbours like India, Japan, and Australia and even for the US.
The Quad was revived against this background with its major focus being to create a rules-based order wherein freedom of navigation and overflight, respect for international law, enhancing connectivity and maritime security would be the main elements of cooperation. A common position on non-proliferation and terrorism issues would also be synchronised.
In its 2012 report, Asia 2050: Realizing The Asian Century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has argued that Asia has been witnessing an historic transformation. The report says, “If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise six-fold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels today.” Since the introduction of liberalization, globalization, privatization (LPG), China and India have experienced rapid economic growth. The ADB has anticipated that by 2050, Asia would be in the dominant economic position it had enjoyed till 300 years ago, making way for the Asian Century.
However, increasing rural and urban income inequality, socio-economic problems like education, health, unemployment, starvation deaths, agricultural crises, corruption and ethnic problems remain major challenges for the Asian countries. The Quad could further dent the progress toward the Asian Century.
A wary Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang issued a calibrated statement about revival of the Quad saying, “the regional cooperation should neither be politicised nor exclusionary.”
Simply put, the Quad would damage the prospects of improved Indo-China relations.
Peace, stability and security are the main basis of the Asian Century. In the prevailing milieu, it is wishful to vouch for unity and cordial relations between India and China, given their bilateral irritants and the geopolitical environment. If both countries remain engaged in opposite geopolitical groups, particularly led by extra-regional powers, it means restricting their space for accomodating , cooperative and cordial relations. Realization of the Asian Century requires cordial and cooperative relations between India and China otherwise it will remain a dream.
Bawa Singh is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University, Punjab. He can be contacted at email@example.com. This article was first published on the South Asia Monitor and can be found here. Image credit: CC by U.S. Pacific Fleet/Flickr.