Geopolitics

Is the QUAD Winding back the Clock of History?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Oct , 2020

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While the stated strategic objective of the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue [QUAD – Japan, the US, Australia and India] is to safeguard a free, open, rule based order in the Indo-Pacific region as against the one based on power, China’s interpretation of the QUAD is – a big underlying security risk. It is commonly understood that the QUAD seeks to defend against the rise of China and its growing influence in the region, however in China’s interpretation the QUAD by design prolongs the US hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region which was established since the end of Second World War through multiple security alliances [Japan, Philippines, and South Korea]. According to Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his five-nation tour to ASEAN, “In essence, [the Indo-Pacific strategy] aims to build a so-called Indo-Pacific NATO underpinned by the quadrilateral mechanism involving the United States, Japan, India and Australia….what it pursues is to trumpet the Cold War mentality and to stir up confrontation among different groups and blocs and to stoke geopolitical competition. What it maintains is the dominance and hegemonic system of the United States.” He further added that, “this strategy is itself a big underlying security risk. If it is forced forward, it will wind back the clock of history”[1].

Chinese Foreign Minister’s interpretation of the QUAD is not devoid of logic. At a time when the locus of global power is shifting away from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region and the prospects of an Asian century knocking on the door, Asian powers remain divided over the emerging security architecture and somehow envisage a near-permanent role for extra-regional military power – the US. Both India and Japan in principle recognize and encourage a prominent US role as a security provider in the region. The US-Japan security alliance and the budding Indo-US strategic, defense and security relationship identify with this fact outside the quadrilateral framework which includes Australia and perhaps more nations in the future – Vietnam and Indonesia.  In sum, at least when viewed within a military security paradigm the idea of an Asian century is perhaps but a prophecy that will struggle to come into existence in the 21st century. An Asian century inherently implies the coming in-vogue of a world order that reflects Asian values and approach towards global governance and economy, conflict resolutions, human rights, traditional and non-traditional security etc…. and most importantly the future direction of the human civilization itself. The world order that’s now in-vogue is of European (Western) origin and apart from the remarkable achievements it has produced, the fact that it has been brutal and violent at its core cannot be refuted.

The geo-strategic disposition of the QUAD members itself is a testimony to the fact that QUAD is designed for continuity. It is primarily a coalition of significant naval powers that seek to address the growing politico-military-economic clout of a continental power located on the Eurasian landmass – Republic of China. Geo-politics as it emerged during the fag end of the 19th century when multiple powers [Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and Russia] were on the rise simultaneously was primarily concerned with the impact of Russia’s rise as a continental power located on the Eurasian landmass.

The structure of the in-vogue world order can be defined in terms of the relationship between Asia and Europe. The beginning of the west dominated world order began taking shape when this relationship was reversed in favour of maritime nations in 15th century and provided it with the impetus to undertake capital intensive projects such as democracy, revolution in military affairs, and industrial revolution. Since this time – Britain (British-India), Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and Japan became a ring of outer and insular bases for sea power and commerce, inaccessible to the land power of Euro-Asia[2].The relocation of trade and commerce through sea-lanes of communication is perhaps the most crucial signature of the west- led world order. Since it is the sea and not the land that connects us all, it must remain free and open to support an – order – of a global scale – a key organizing principle of the quadrilateral engagement between Japan, the US, Australia and India. Early geo-politicians were very clear in their hypothesis – disproportionate concentration of power with any nation located on the Eurasian landmass along with significant investments in its naval capability was a threat to the world order based at sea[3].

In the 21st century, the relationship between Asia and Europe is once again reversing. According to President Xi Jinping, China and West European nations are now – neighbors. Rail-road networks connecting Chinese industrial centers to Western Europe relocates the sea based trade and commerce to land. The Asian century is not just about the rise of Asian powers (China), but the reversal of the relationship between Asia and Europe. This is the cause of ongoing strategic discomfort among the great powers in the 21st century. Japan and India are perhaps right in safeguarding an order based at sea through its support for extra-regional military power in the Indo-Pacific region, but this will come at the cost of postponing the emergence of an Asian century and continuity of a west-led order. China too is facilitating this delay by insisting on the territorial issues left over by history with India, Japan, and ASEAN. It is for Asian countries to rise up to the occasion and work towards an Asian century in the interest of the future of human civilization.

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[1]Bhavan Jaipragas and Tashny Sukumaran (2020),” ‘Indo-Pacific NATO’: China’s Wang Yi slams US-led ‘Quad’ as underlying security risk at Malaysia meeting” SCMP, 13 October, 2020. Available at https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3105299/indo-pacific-nato-chinas-wang-yi-slams-us-led-quad-underlying [Accessed on 17 October, 2020].

[2]On 25 January 1904, at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, Halford Mackinder (18611947) presented a paper entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History”, where he classified Eurasia into “Heartland” and “Rimland”. H J Mackinder (1904), “The Geographical Pivot of History” The Geographical Journal, Vol. 170, No. 4, December 2004, pp. 298–321.

[3]Sundaram Rajasimman (2019), “The Relevance of History and Geography in the Maritime DomainIndian Defence Review, 06 October.

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About the Author

Dr Rajasimman Sundaram

teaches history, politics, and culture and a member of the BRICS Advanced Studies Institute at Sichuan International Studies University [四川外国语大学] (The People’s Republic of China).

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