Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quadrilateral Initiative: The View from Beijing and Beyond

India’s participation in the Quadrilateral Initiative marks a major shift in its foreign policy. Since its independence in 1947, India’s policy has been governed by the principles of not aligning itself with either of the power blocs. India’s principles of non-alignment however sound they may have seemed during the period of Cold War are no longer relevant today. Today, India’s inclusion in the 4-nation grouping is the recognition of India’s geo-strategic importance and the role that it can assume and play in the power game of South East Asia. According to political observers, the idea of a quad cooperation was revived in the aftermath of the tsunami and the relief efforts which were based on the cooperation of the navies of US, Australia, India and Japan.

The Quadrilateral Initiative serves to further and secure US interests in Asia-Pacific region. The US sees the growing Chinese influence on the littoral states of the region as a potential challenge in the future. Therefore the US seeks to contain China in much the same way China itself has sought to contain India and Japan.

What are China’s concerns?

China’s relationship with the South East Asian states and particularly the two main political actors in the region, viz. Japan and India is not very cordial. The Chinese are more concerned about a militarily assertive Japan than of a rapidly developing India.

The Beijing Review[1] in an article – “A Broader Asia Without China” has expressed concerns over the forging of a new 4-nation alliance comprising the US, Australia, India and Japan. According to it this alliance is aimed at China. The article attacks the former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe for this new grouping and states that the former PM’s vision of quadrilateral grouping aimed to expand Japan’s diplomatic frontiers and to marginalize China by citing common democratic values and besiege the country geopolitically.

According to Li Yan, a scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR): "Abe's attempts to promote 'value-oriented diplomacy' and construct a 'four-nation alliance' are apparently directed at China.” Li pointed out that the United States is concerned that Japan's quadrilateral initiative may provoke China into fierce reactions, which could harm Asia-Pacific security and stability. The United States needs to cooperate with China on a series of issues such as the North Korean nuclear issue, the Iranian nuclear issue and anti-terrorism, he said. Provoking China is not in the interest of the United States, he added. Liu Jiangyong, professor at the Institute of International Studies of Tsinghua University, while agreeing, stated that the United States has no intention to shape a strategic alliance against China today, although it made such futile attempts during the Cold War, he said. American national interests demand that the United States collaborate with China instead of running into conflicts with the country.

The Chinese have been suspiciously watching as different aspects of India’s strategic relationship with the US has been evolving and are quite concerned about the quadrilateral grouping between the US, Japan, Australia and India that clearly spans China's borders along the Asia-Pacific rim. During the trip of Indian PM to China last year, the Chinese had clearly indicated that it clearly did not want a strategic alliance, formal or informal, between Japan, India and the US. Though India was initially reluctant to be drawn into any kind of strategic partnership with the US, Australia and Japan, the then PM Abe’s diplomacy seemed to have persuaded India to join the grouping.

What is interesting is that while China was not aligned with either the US or the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it has played a key role in the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization[2]. According to Western observers the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or (SCO, for short) was formed as a counter balance to NATO. (Interestingly, India has an observer status in SCO along with Mongolia, Pakistan and Iran). The SCO is primarily centered around its member nations' Central Asian security-related concerns, often describing the main threats it confronts as being terrorism, separatism and extremism. Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization during a summit held in June 2006 forcefully asserted their right to regulate affairs in Central Asia. A declaration signed by the heads of state of all six-member states, including Russia and China, was widely viewed as placing the group in direct opposition to the United States in the regional geopolitical contest. This coupled with the rejection of a US application for membership in the SCO is viewed as a bloc aimed at countering the US in Asia. Whether the Quadrilateral Initiative was formed to counteract the SCO, only time will tell.

[2] The Shanghai Five grouping was originally created April 26, 1996 with the signing of the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai by the heads of states of Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. April 24, 1997 the same countries signed the Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in a meeting in Moscow. In 2001, the annual summit returned to Shanghai, China. There the five member nations first admitted Uzbekistan in the Shanghai Five mechanism (thus transforming it into the Shanghai Six). Then all six heads of state signed on June 15, 2001, the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Source Wikipedia