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Challenges of QUAD and US Indo-Pacific strategy on the peaceful rise of China

QUAD presents a convenient possibility to evolve into a security framework if Chinese designs get too aggressive for QUAD's liking. AUKUS, on the other hand, has clear, narrow objectives focused entirely on security and strategic containment of Beijing in the Indo Pacific. Australia has become the only Indo-Pacific power to openly demonstrate disdain for China's assertiveness through its actions.

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China’s rise as a challenger to US hegemony or its growing assertiveness in the Indo Pacific post-2009 has become a frequent topic of discussion in the western academic discourse. The US established two alliances to counter Beijing’s growing strategic presence in the Indo Pacific theatre. QUAD is more of an informal diplomatic grouping of three regional powers in Indo Pacific (India, Japan, Australia), with the US targeting no specific area in general. QUAD claims to work towards “a free and open Indo-Pacific” with a declared focus on safeguarding freedom of navigation in the region and protecting rules based on international and democratic values.

Four stated areas of cooperation under the QUAD framework include pandemic response, climate change, technology, and infrastructure. Though security is not an overtly stated area of cooperation, QUAD members have strengthened relations in this realm. The inclusion of Australia and the UK in the US-Indo Malabar naval exercises and participation of QUAD navies in the La Perouse exercises in the Bay of Bengal with France demonstrates the growing security dimension of the framework. Unlike QUAD, AUKUS is simply a security pact between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

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Under the framework of AUKUS, Washington, London and Canberra have pledged to produce eight nuclear-powered submarines jointly. After the acquisition, Australia will become the seventh member of the highly exclusive club of nations that own nuclear-powered submarines. USA’s main objective behind sharing its nuclear-powered technology is to equip Australia to defend itself against Chinese underwater drones, provide a platform for crewless vessels and contain China’s ballistic missile submarines in the Indo Pacific.

These alliances fulfill two different needs of the USA’s Indo-Pacific strategy

First, through QUAD, signals of an “us Vs. China” equation are projected while being careful not to elicit an aggressive response from Beijing. Despite desiring China’s containment in the strategic realm, Japan and India are pretty keen on maintaining economic ties with the country. Both fear that an anti-China security alliance could undermine trade relations. Hence to address the sensibilities, constraints, and interests of QUAD members, the alliance, at least on paper, only addresses the non-security issues in the Indo-Pacific.

Having said all of that, QUAD presents a convenient possibility to evolve into a security framework if Chinese designs get too aggressive for QUAD’s liking. AUKUS, on the other hand, has clear, narrow objectives focused entirely on security and strategic containment of Beijing in the Indo Pacific. Australia has become the only Indo-Pacific power to openly demonstrate disdain for China’s assertiveness through its actions.

By forming this alliance, the US demonstrated that it is ready to accelerate its efforts to stop the “rising China”, even if it means shifting its focus away from Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Euro-Atlantic region. From the Chinese perspective, the AUKUS and QUAD are nothing more than “Asian NATO” aimed at heightening a sense of urgency in the region. In the Chinese academic discourse and the ruling Communist Party’s narrative, the United States, fearful of losing its hegemony, simply resorting to the old politics of Cold War by dividing the region into two blocs.

Regarding the AUKUS pact, the Chinese believe that US actions are incredibly short-sighted and could cause nuclear proliferation and an arms race in the Indo-Pacific region. Chinese Foreign Ministry, in response to QUAD White House Summit, stated, “it should not target any third party or harm their interests….. to form exclusive cliques targeting other countries will not be popular and has no future”, the foreign ministry also called on relevant countries to “abandon outdated zero-sum game thinking and narrow geopolitical concepts.”

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The escalating US opposition to China’s rise should not surprise Beijing

The status quo power leaves no stone unturned to resist the revisionist power. Even while growing anti-China efforts spearheaded by Washington, Beijing has certain clear-cut advantages, at least in the short term. First off, QUAD is more of a high-level official engagement than a good platform with a dedicated mechanism and secretariat to enforce decisions. Despite converging to ensure “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” QUAD members have different ideas and priorities regarding which part of Indo-Pacific deserves the most concern.

For Australia, the Southern Pacific region is most significant; for Japan, the Chinese presence in the East China Sea is most concerning; for India, the Indian Ocean is of utmost importance while the US is focused on the South China Sea. All these QUAD members being financially coupled with China, seem wary and unwilling to provoke Beijing over their self-identified non-priority area in the Indo Pacific. Regarding AUKUS, the ensuing diplomatic row between the US, Australia, and France must have amused Chinese policymakers to no end.

The entire debacle demonstrated cracks within the broad anti-China alliance. For all its concerns regarding China’s growing assertiveness in Indo Pacific and its growing weight in the tech sector, Europe is unwilling to engage in any anti-Beijing grouping, whether diplomatic or security.

Furthermore economy remains China’s core tool to facilitate its “national rejuvenation.” Military and strategy are the corresponding instruments to revive her status in the world and achieve the ability to shape international relations and formulate international norms. For most global powers and alliances, including QUAD, AUKUS, and the superpower US, derailing China’s economic relations is not worth the risk. China’s economic alienation is impossible without sabotaging the entire liberal economic order.

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One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are not just economic instruments for facilitating infrastructural development in developing and underdeveloped countries; these platforms also enhance Beijing’s cultural, political, and diplomatic power, something US has yet to counter. Hence even with US foreign policy prioritizing the ” rising China threat” as the priority national interest and geopolitical goal, institutionalizing its rivalry through QUAD and AUKUS, China’s rise will continue, as US policy does nothing to address the critical source of Chinese’s national power-its economic clout in the prevailing world order.

 

The write is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. He can be reached at op-ed@hafeezkhan.com. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy