The Free Press Journal - - FRONT PAGE -

The flux in the world or­der has picked up fur­ther mo­men­tum fol­low­ing Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise ten­ancy of the White House. The leader of the free world seems in a hurry to with­draw from the world, look­ing in­wards in the mis­taken be­lief that it would help ‘make Amer­ica great again’. That it would do noth­ing of the sort he is un­likely to ap­pre­ci­ate given his ten­dency to set­tle for sim­plis­tic so­lu­tions for very, very com­plex prob­lems. But a di­min­ish­ing role and in­flu­ence of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and eco­nomic power in the world would cer­tainly en­cour­age an ag­gres­sive and in­creas­ingly in­ter­ven­tion­ist China to fill in the re­sult­ing vac­uum. Al­ready, an eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily strong China is be­gin­ning to men­ace its neighours and stak­ing ques­tion­able claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The Chi­nese have con­temp­tu­ously re­fused to heed the ver­dict of the Hague Tri­bunal in favour of the com­plainant, the Philip­pines. China re­fused to rec­og­nize the sovereignty of Philip­pines over the wa­ters and ar­bi­trar­ily built mil­i­tary-grade is­lands. In­deed, China claims some 90 per­cent of the mar­itime ar­eas span­ning nearly 35 lakh square kilo­me­ters in vi­o­la­tion of the es­tab­lished sea laws de­spite the law­ful claims of Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Ja­pan, Malaysia, etc. Aside from mil­i­tary use, the Chi­nese eye th­ese wa­ters for oil and gas re­serves. Nearer home, as the re­cent stand-off with In­dia in Dok­lam, Bhutan, sig­ni­fied, the Chi­nese have left no doubt about their in­ten­tions. But, thanks to the ad­vent of Modi as prime min­is­ter, the squishy ap­proach to­wards our in­tran­si­gent north­ern neig­bu­our has given way to a wel­come prag­ma­tism. It is in this con­text that the prime min­is­ter’s meet­ing on the side­lines of the ASEAN sum­mit in Manila as­sumes fur­ther sig­nif­i­cance. Barely leav­ing any­one in doubt as to who Modi had in mind when he told the In­dian com­mu­nity that In­dia did not be­lieve in ‘snatch­ing’ oth­ers’ ter­ri­to­ries and rather be­lieved in ‘giv­ing.’ Given the Chi­nese an­nex­a­tion in the South China Sea, and its ag­gres­sive claims in the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute with this coun­try, it was not hard to no­tice that China loomed large at the sum­mit.

In his hour-long meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump too the sub­stan­tive theme was the re­vival and re­ac­ti­va­tion of the Indo-Pa­cific Quadri­lat­eral. Top diplo­mats and se­cu­rity ex­perts of the US, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and In­dia met in Manila in the back­drop of the sum­mit to de­vise a com­mon strat­egy to counter the as­sertive­ness of China in the wider re­gion. The in­ward-look­ing Amer­ica has lent a sharper edge to the Quad, an idea first mooted more than a decade ago, but which failed to take off till now due to the Ja­panese am­biva­lence and the Amer­i­can wa­ver­ing. With Shinzo Abe back in the sad­dle with a re­newed man­date and Trump mak­ing the US pol­icy trans­ac­tional, and the Chi­nese un­der ‘em­peror’ Xi Jin­ping de­ter­mined to play the hege­mon in Asia and fur­ther afield, the need for the Quad can­not be ex­ag­ger­ated. Prime Min­is­ter Narasimha Rao had first talked of the Look East Pol­icy back in the early 1990s, but lit­tle was done by his suc­ces­sors to flesh out this nec­es­sary re­set of the for­eign pol­icy which seemed bogged down in the post-Cold War rhetoric with Pak­istan tak­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ately large mind space of the pol­icy elite.

With Modi at the helm, and ready and will­ing to de­fend na­tional in­ter­est, the Quad has found two com­mit­ted helms­men in him and Abe. The US now rec­og­nizes the key role In­dia can play, even as it seeks to cut costs of play­ing the lone global po­lice­man. Trump’s pub­lic praise for Modi might also be a grate­ful nod for the Prime Min­is­ter shed­ding the ear­lier squeamish­ness about co­op­er­at­ing with other like-minded na­tions in the se­cu­rity sphere even if it risked China’s an­noy­ance and anger. As it is, the Chi­nese are miffed that thanks to the Trump-led Amer­ica, they are now in­creas­ingly call­ing it the In­doPa­cific in­stead of their pre­ferred Asia-Pa­cific. That the Chi­nese in­tran­si­gence is a threat is not in doubt, with the Philip­pines un­der the con­tro­ver­sial Ro­drigo Duterte al­ready sur­ren­der­ing his bona fide ter­ri­to­rial claims de­spite The Hague ver­dict fully up­hold­ing them. His logic that as a small neigh­bor he can­not fight a gi­ant like China might show this feck­less for­mer ac­tor for what he is, but other lead­ers with pa­tri­o­tism and self-re­spect flow­ing in their veins can­not ab­di­cate the rights of their cit­i­zens so cav­a­lierly. The Quad is not aimed as much against China as it is aimed at de­fend­ing the ter­ri­to­rial and mar­itime sovereignty of the na­tions in the re­gion against un­law­ful usurpa­tion by hos­tile pow­ers. This is a le­git­i­mate ar­range­ment and ought to be strength­ened fur­ther.

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