There is growing public anger across the world against China over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, suppression of democratic rights of its own citizens and its unabashed display of territorial hegemony in the region and beyond. It is no surprise that the latest survey of 14 countries, conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center, found a majority of the respondents having a very unfavourable view of China and its role in world affairs. Again this backdrop, the Foreign Ministers of a four-member grouping, Quadrilateral Initiative — informally called the Quad with the United States, Japan, Australia and India as members – met in Tokyo to step up cooperation in the face of a rapidly rising China. The first in-person meeting since the outbreak of the pandemic comes at a time when the US, India and Australia have all seen growing tensions in their relations with Beijing, be it the stand-off in the Ladakh region or the build-up in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. The Quad is a geopolitical necessity for the four members to strive to make the Indo-Pacific region free, open, prosperous and inclusive based on their shared values. The members of the Quad feel threatened by China’s growing sense of entitlement and militarisation in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Rim regions. The issue of free navigation is central to the agenda of the Quad. China has not been sincere in following the arbitration of international organisations, nor is it accommodative of the interests of other smaller countries in the region.
The Quad has the potential to emerge as a formidable bloc of democracies, some sort of an ‘Asian Nato’ arrangement against authoritarian China. However, it needs to expand its scope from narrow security issues to broader political and economic cooperation to create a parallel supply chain network with trade and investment linkages. However, the economies of the Quad are tied to Chinese economy, and attempts to decouple them would entail significant economic and political cost. Beijing’s disdainful dismissal of the Tokyo meeting as ‘exclusive clique’ reflects its desperation. Even during the height of the pandemic, Chinese behaviour showed little respect for the international community and international law. Rather, it almost seems as if China is using the preoccupation of countries with the pandemic to increase its belligerence in a bid for global status. For India, the border tensions in Ladakh add greater complications at the bilateral level, pushing it to further consolidate its own interests with like-minded democratic nations. The informal grouping, championed by Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was largely viewed as an attempt to counter China’s growing domination. The Quad members need mutual cooperation to counter Beijing.
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