The second ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is likely to be held in Tokyo early next month instead of at New Delhi as was speculated earlier. This meetcomes in the backdrop of Chinese aggression in Ladakh, large-scale Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) manoeuvres in western Pacific, a new prime minister in Japan, India-Japan-Australia supply chain network established, commencement of India-Australia-France trilateral dialogue, India-Indonesia-Australia trilateral dialogue in the offing, US-Maldives Framework Agreement, Germany joining the Indo-Pacific Cluband US presidential elections coming up in November. Amid ongoing India-China talks, PLA has consolidated its positions in Ladakh bringing forward additional troops that bodes moremischief and has mobilized troops all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India.
China has mobilized four Theatre Commands of PLA; Western against India, Southern overseeing South China Sea, Northern overseeing Korean Peninsula and Eastern overseeing Japan and Taiwan. Chinese jets intruding across the mid-line of the Taiwan Straits and military manoeuvres with live firing of missiles in the East and South China Seas demonstrate Beijing’s aggressive intent. China’s information warfare campaigns include clips from Hollywood movies while in Ladakh loudspeakers blare anti-government propaganda interspersed with Punjabi songs. Latter is big improvement from the three-hour daily propaganda using loudspeakers in Mandarin at Nathu La in early 1970s that none understood and troops joked about the sound with some hard boiled expletives.
Such large-scale PLA mobilization has promoted speculation that most of it is part of deception and distracting from actual intentions of President Xi Jinping, who is supposedly under pressure at home with sliding economy, rising unemployment and dissent. But Xi has ruthlessly and systematically eliminated dissent since he came to power in 2013 and only possibility of his removal could be revolt in PLA or liquidation, which are difficult propositions since he is surrounded by faithful. As for sliding economy and unemployment, most of the world is facing it because of the Wuhan Virus and China has recovered much faster from the pandemic than others. Xi is in a hurry to dominate the world. 20 years back Chinese officials had set the schedule to capture Taiwan by 2025. Xi would definitely like to advance that and what better timing than amid the pandemic, unless he plans releasing a deadlier version later.
Logically, Xi would want to attack one country at a time but why not two together which would divide reaction from the US and allies and others? After all, China has been exercising PLA to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously and the type of time-table Xi possibly has does not preclude war with the US at a future date. So why not now with US afflicted badly with Wuhan Virus and Americas internal chaos with downslide in economy, rising unemployment, racial discord with both blacks and whites killings, fires and cyclones and war of words between Republicans and Democrats? There is no NATO-like organization to fight China in this part of the world anyway. Could China open new fronts against India–Bhutan and attack Senkaku Islands simultaneously to gauge US reaction before attacking Taiwan?
Media reports indicate much before Japanese Shinzo Abe resigned, he had asked the military to evolve a doctrine for targeting mainland China using long-range weapons and cruise missiles, rather than relying on defending PLA air and sea attacks. Japan could possibly acquire American BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles having range of 2,500 km and progress towards a full strike package including targeting satellites and electronic warfare components. Whether politics within Japan would hinder acquiring such capability only time will tell but acquiring such capability would take time. The fact remains that China has emerged as Enemy Number One for all members of the Quad and that too an enemy that has gone completely rogue. The white paper on China’s National Defence released in July 2019 marks a change in China’s approach to global geopolitics. It is markedly assertive in recommending a muscular approach to be adopted by China without hiding its capabilities or willingness to use force. Therefore, mere symbolism in quadrilaterals like Quad as it stands today has little meaning in these testing times.
In the above backdrop, the second ministerial meeting of the Quad should be seized as a ‘strategic opportunity’ to coordinate responding to rogue China rather than fighting China individually, which is what Xi wants. It would be prudent to take a decision for Quad to include a military dialogue that should remain classified for discussing and coordinating issues like: likely offensive actions by China; response by Quad at land, sea, air and space; targets in mainland China that that Quad members can target using long-range weapons and missiles; response to use of tactical nukes by China; China-Pakistan biological warfare capability and measure to mitigate it; collective use of cyber and EMP capability in responding to Chinese attack, blockading Chinese militarization of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and; waging the Quad-version of unrestricted war on China as quid pro quo rather than only ‘reacting’ to Chinese aggression.
The above is not going to be easy because of political constraints in a country like India but it could be done under the garb of say trade –similar to India-Taiwan relations based on trade and permanent presence in each other’s capital.This is very much need of the hour; going beyond bilateral dialogues – relying on just one Quad partner would not suffice. Similarly, just discussing how China should be responded to on high seas is not the answer. No doubt the strategic effect of maritime operations may finally be measured upon land but then Robert Kaplan had written in his book ‘The Revenge of Geography’, “Pressure on land can help the United States thwart China at Sea”.
Collective response using collective resources is what will make China think again before attacking another country. Along with expanding the scope of Quad, thought must also be given to expand the membership ensuring that the ‘Indo’ part is given as much importance as the ‘Pacific’. Can the US propose Taiwan joining Quad to at least shock Beijing? Can Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Germany and France be given feelers in this regard? France was not amenable to join Quad earlier but geopolitical dynamics have changed since then especially after China bombed the world with Wuhan Virus.France, with several islands and vast exclusive economic zones already has strategic involvement in the Indian Ocean with naval assets in Djibouti, Comoros, Reunion, and Abu Dhabi.
Finally, in his article ‘Geographical Pivot of History’ published in 1904, H J Mackinder had written, “Chinese might constitute the yellow peril to the world’s freedom, just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region”. Intransigence of the US and world at large enabled China establish military bases in western pacific unhindered. Making the same mistake in the Indian Ocean will be a huge folly.