Re­newed talks rock Bei­jing’s boat

The Australian - - WORLD - ROWAN CALLICK CHINA COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The res­ur­rec­tion this week of USIn­dia-Ja­pan-Aus­tralia quadri­lat­eral talks has gen­er­ated con­sid­er­able cov­er­age in In­dia — whose me­dia tend to por­tray In­dia as en­gaged in con­stant ri­valry with China — but less in­ter­est in the US and Ja­pan.

The term “Indo-Pa­cific” rou­tinely used by For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop has this week be­come iden­ti­fied with the re­form­ing of this in­for­mal group­ing.

The most prom­i­nent cov­er­age in Chi­nese me­dia was a com­men­tary by for­mer Aus­tralian am­bas­sador Ge­off Raby pub­lished in the English ver­sion of the Global Times. Raby says the group is “a bad idea, a very bad idea” whose orig­i­nal pur­pose was “to con­tain China”. “It is a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous re­sponse to China’s as­cen­dancy, and flies in the face of more than 30 years of Aus­tralian pol­icy en­gage­ment with China,” he says.

Un­der the weight of the geopo­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties, he says, “and the in­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tions of the quad” its first it­er­a­tion a decade ago “dis­ap­peared, along with Abe, Bush and Howard”.

Bei­jing, he says, still “can­not fathom why a coun­try that has ben­e­fited so much from China’s pros­per­ity would wish to join a group, as Bei­jing sees it, in­tended to con­tain China”.

When he was first Ja­panese prime min­is­ter, Shinzo Abe ini­ti­ated the con­cept, de­liv­er­ing a speech to the In­dian par­lia­ment in 2007 ti­tled “A con­flu­ence of the two seas”. He later named the US and Aus­tralia as po­ten­tial part­ners, “span­ning the en­tirety of the Pa­cific Ocean”. Af­ter Kevin Rudd be­came prime min­is­ter four months later Aus­tralia started to re­ject the con­cept.

The day af­ter Mr Abe re­turned to power in De­cem­ber 2012, he wrote an ar­ti­cle com­mend­ing again “Asia’s demo­cratic se­cu­rity di­a­mond” and has be­gun to pro­mote it more ac­tively re­cently.

This week of­fi­cials of the four coun­tries met in the side­lines of the ASEAN meet­ing in The Philip­pines, and the lead­ers of the US, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia met briefly, be­fore In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi ar­rived.

Mr Modi, while de­vel­op­ing a close re­la­tion­ship with Mr Abe, has ap­peared re­luc­tant to test China with which In­dia is a part­ner in the Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China, South Africa (BRICS) group­ing, and with which a dan­ger­ous bor­der con­fronta­tion was re­cently set­tled.

In­dian For­eign Min­istry spokesman Raveesh Ku­mar said when ques­tioned about the quad: “In­dia is open to work­ing with like-minded coun­tries on is­sues that ad­vance our in­ter­ests and pro­mote our view­point. We are not rigid in this re­gard.”

He said that In­dia was in­volved in sev­eral tri­lat­eral groups al­ready, in­clud­ing with Rus­sia and China, with Sri Lanka and the Mal­dives, with US and Ja­pan, with Ja­pan and Aus­tralia, and with Afghanistan and Iran.

China’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang said fol­low­ing the of­fi­cials’ quad meet­ing that re­gional vi­sions and pro­pos­als “should be open and in­clu­sive, and con­ducive to en­hanc­ing win-win co-op­er­a­tion. Politi­cised and ex­clu­sion­ary ones should be avoided”,

He said: “We hope that such re­la­tions would not tar­get a third party,” im­ply­ing China.

Doug Paal, the vice-pres­i­dent for stud­ies at the Carnegie En­dow­ment, who was di­rec­tor of Asian Af­fairs for US pres­i­dents Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge H. W Bush, said in Bei­jing that “so far, the Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy seems a hol­low slo­gan”.

He said that the Indo-Pa­cific con­cept seek­ing to en­list In­dia to bal­ance China “im­plies you’re ei­ther with us or against us, and peo­ple in this re­gion don’t want to be asked such a ques­tion”.

He be­lieved that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had “grabbed the idea be­cause they’re short of thoughts within the sys­tem” about de­vel­op­ing Amer­ica’s re­gional role.

“How the US main­tains its se­cu­rity com­mit­ments to its al­lies in a se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment where it is no longer dom­i­nant is an enor­mously chal­leng­ing prob­lem. I’d an­tic­i­pate that a bal­ance of power will be one out­come,” he said.

But he ruled out the prospect of the de­vel­op­ment of a NATO­type ar­range­ment in the re­gion op­posed to China.

If China’s be­haviour be­came re­ally un­ruly or dif­fi­cult they will band­wagon against it, but ab­sent that their com­mer­cial link­ages with China will be too great to con­sider an­tag­o­nis­ing Bei­jing.

Pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor Ro­han Mukherjee at Yale-NUS Col­lege said that the quad seemed like an ef­fort to pass on the costs of con­tain­ing China to re­gional ac­tors. “With­out greater con­struc­tive lead­er­ship from Wash­ing­ton, the ‘free and open Indo-Pa­cific’ is likely to re­main a catchy slo­gan whose time has passed.”

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