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The Quad – Part 4: Australia’s Role ; By Subramanyam Sridharan

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Image Courtesy: The Diplomat

Article 62/2021

A continent by itself, Australia enjoys a uniqueness among the QUAD members. It is the only country that has maritime borders with both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. It thereby exemplifies the phrase, Indo-Pacific. It is a very close ally f the US and its relationships with both India and Japan are strong and robust.

Is China a Wolf-Warrior State?

The phrase ‘Wolf Warrior’ has been used widely the world over since the second half of c. 2020, to refer to certain aggressive Chinese diplomats and spokespersons. This phrase is an out-growth of their arrogant behaviour. Even though the phrase may be new, such a Chinese behaviour is not a post-Covid development as it is a long-standing feature of China’s conduct.

Yang Jiechi who is considered as the Chief Architect of present-day China’s foreign policy served as the Foreign Minister (2007-2013) in the Hu Jintao Presidency. He earned a reputation for calmly managing nettlesome issues with other nations. He had served as the Chinese Ambassador to the US, before becoming the Foreign Minister. He is a product of the London School of Economics. He was elevated to the position of a cabinet minister (that is State Councilor) in c. 2013, a position he continues to hold. Since that time, he has been the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission. He holds the responsibility for determining China’s international relationships.

As we have already seen in Part-II of this series on the QUAD, the foreign policies of China had assumed aggressive proportions since c. 2008. A notable incident happened in c. 2010. The speech by the then US Secretary of State Ms. Hilary Clinton in the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Conference referencing the South China Sea made Yang very angry. He stormed out of the Conference only to return later and harangue the host nation, Vietnam. He thundered that China was a very big country and ASEAN nations were very small and that was a matter of fact. After delivering that punch, he stared long and hard at the Foreign Minister of Singapore. This was an unprecedented undiplomatic behaviour.

In a similar vein, Yang launched into a long diatribe of over 15 minutes against the USA in the presence of news reporters in the very first top-level contact between the new Biden-administration’s representatives of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan with him and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Alaska in March 2021. He was given a rousing welcome upon his return to China from Alaska. It was only a few days earlier that the Chinese President Xi Jinping had said, “Time and momentum are on China’s side; regardless of the challenges, Beijing is invincible.”

Such arrogant discourses are not new to China. The Chinese leaders used disparaging words against India, the US and Japan until the end of 1960s. They then restrained themselves considering their geopolitical and geoeconomics requirements. Such restraints have been slowly given a go-by since c. 2008.

Such incidents are also reflected by China in its relationship with Australia.

The Australia-China Issue

It was in c. 1941, that Australia recognized the Kuomintang government as the representative of China. Later, when Kuomintang fled the mainland and took refuge in Taiwan (Formosa), Australia recognized Taiwan as the real China. Since then, Australia recognized Mainland China as its security threat. Such an assessment was not surprising because the US, Australia’s closest ally, also harbored a similar opinion. After the US restored its relationship with Mainland China in c. 1972, Australia too recognized it as the real China. The Australia-China relationship also began to develop in the 1980s in consonance with the improving US-China relationship. There were fissures beginning to appear in the US-China relationship since c. 1993. These were caused by such issues as the terms of admission of China into the WTO, China’s illegal proliferation of nuclear material and equipment, human rights violations, labour rights, the Taiwan-USA relationship, the trade between the two countries etc. The results of the 1996 Taiwan elections, won by the pro-independent Lee, angered China which tried to coerce Taiwan by firing missiles across the narrow Taiwan Straits. As Australia raised its objection to such a coercive Chinese tactic, the Australia-China relationship got strained. But the talks that the Australian Prime Minister John Howard had with the Chinese President by the end of the year helped restore the relationship. Since the Chinese government is very sensitive, relationships have a tendency to be stressed very easily.

Both Australia and China signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in c. 2015. Almost 40% of the entire Australian exports reaches China alone. It was in c. 2007 that China became the largest importer of Australian goods. By c. 2020, China had become the largest trading partner of Australia with Japan left far behind. Compared to the total exports worth USD 150 B to China alone, Australia exported only USD 50 B worth to Japan in that year. Australia is one of the very few countries of the world to enjoy a surplus in its trade relations with China. The trade surplus for Australia against China in c. 2020 was USD 70 B. Trade cemented the relationship between the two countries.

In c. 2007, Australia joined the till then bilateral ‘Exercise Malabar’ between the navies of the USA and India. This was resented to by China. Realizing this and upon its pressure, Australia withdrew from these joint naval exercises with an assurance that it would not take part in future exercises too. The Indian anger against Australia was not only because the Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith assured China in the first Australia-China Strategic Dialogue in February 2008 that “Australia would not be proposing to have a dialogue of that nature” but he also said that only dialogue with the USA and Japan would continue. He repeated this assurance in Tokyo also, his next stop after Beijing.

It was no surprise that such a decision was taken under the China-leaning Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who was from the Australian Labor Party. An unnamed Indian official warned Australia of the consequences of this decision. The Indian ire had been increased also by the decision of the Rudd government to reverse the decision by the earlier government to sell Uranium to India. As warned by India, it took almost a decade for the India-Australia relationship to mend and that too only incrementally. We will see this later. In order to placate ruffled China, the Australian Navy immediately undertook a joint exercise with the PLAN in c. 2007 (along with the New Zealand Navy). It is because of these factors that India took its own time in restoring its relationship with Australia even though the USA and Japan requested it to allow a chastised Australia to re-join the Malabar Exercise. It is this one action by Australia that delayed the formation of the Quad by almost a decade. The India-Australia issue was a fine example of how it is not enough to simply have grievances with China that could unite the nations, but important for all the four members of the QUAD to have unanimity of view in order for the idea to progress. We will later see how step-by-step the India-Australia relationship improved to a strategic level.

Even while the trade relationship between Australia and China boomed, the political relationship between the two countries began to slide. In spite of the fact that in the immediate past few years the trade had increased by 20% year-on-year, no Australian Prime Minister had visited China in the past five years. Australia’s support for the arbitration by the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Laws of Seas (ITLOS) announced on July 12, 2016, in the case between the Philippines and China, angered the latter immensely. The then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull banned in c. 2018, the import of telecommunication equipment for 5G from Chinese entities such as Huawei and ZTE, citing security reasons. The then Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said that it was under pressure from China that Australia had earlier abandoned the idea of signing a ‘Free Trade Agreement’ with Taiwan.

As Australia felt that China was influencing its domestic politics, it brought in three legislations by 2018 to prevent interference by other nations in its electoral processes. These were the (Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, 2018), the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018, and the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2018. Through these laws, Australia hoped to control the donations of funds that the electoral candidates received for elections expenses from foreign countries and their state-owned enterprises (SOEs). These laws raised further anger in China. Later, a Chinese-Australian citizen who challenged these Laws lost his case at the highest Australian Court to a unanimous verdict. Australia arrested in October 2020, Di Sunh Duong, a Chinese Australian and a self-proclaimed leader of the ‘Oceania Federation of Chinese Organizations’. He was the first person to be arrested under the new set of laws. Ever since the enactment of these laws, the trade relationship between Australia and China began to suffer setbacks. It happened because of China’s policy of ‘Immediate Punishment.’ China began to discard imports of wine and agricultural produce from Australia. China imports sizeable amounts of iron ore, natural gas, coal, wheat, barley, and fish. The trade income for Australia also includes tourism from China and the enrollment of Chinese students in Australian Universities.

However, after Corona began spreading worldwide from China, the relationship between the two countries broke down completely. The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, while speaking to G-20 leaders, said that there should be a thorough investigation into how the Coronavirus spread from Wuhan all over the world. An angered China not only condemned this statement severely but also immediately launched punitive measures against Australia. It not only imposed a tariff of 80% for the barley imported from Australia but also completely banned the import of beef from that country. It also issued a travel advisory to Chinese citizens not to travel to Australia because of ‘racial tensions,’ thereby hitting the tourism industry of Australia. An Australian citizen who had been in Chinese custody over drug-related charges was suddenly awarded the death sentence.

The Chinese Ambassador to Australia warned Australia about the repercussions it will face now. In order to increase its security, the Australian government allocated more funds for its armed forces and launched the process to buy ballistic and hypersonic missiles. In May 2021, Australia announced its decision to review the 99-year lease of the Darwin port to a Chinese company awarded in c. 2015. It also joined the other four nations of the ‘Five Eyes’ group, by the end of that month, in releasing a joint statement condemning the Chinese actions in Hong Kong. It also supported the immigration of Hong Kong citizens to Australia. The Chinese Foreign Office spokesperson, ‘Wolf Warrior’ Zhao Lijian said that China did not care whether they had five or ten eyes as they would be all blinded by China. In June 2020, an ‘Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China’ of sixteen nations was setup to keep a close eye on developments in China and Australia was co-opted as one of its members. On July 7, 2020, Australia joined Japan and the US in warning that no nation must do anything either to increase tension or alter the status-quo in the South China Sea (aka Indo-China Sea) or the East China Sea. Though India was not part of this joint statement, it must be considered as a warning from the QUAD to China. On July 23, Australia went several steps ahead when in a note to the United Nations it said that China could not claim the Paracel and Spratly islands of the SCS. It was the first time that Australia had resiled from its neutral stance over the SCS issue and openly took an anti-China position.

By September that year, the Australia-China relationships deteriorated even further. The trouble for China came in the form of Shaoquett Moselmane, a Labour Party MP in the Australian Parliament. This MP, who had visited China several times, was a strong pro-China voice in the Parliament. He was investigated under the 2018 legislation which banned interference of foreign nations in Australia’s domestic politics. It was on September 15, 2020, that the Chinese Consul in their Sydney Embassy, Sun Yantao, was also included in the investigations into Shaoquett Moselmane. In the meanwhile, Shaoquett Moselmane was temporarily suspended from the Australian Labour Party. His political advisor was John Zhisen Zhang, an Australian of Chinese descent. The Australian Police claim that the United Front Work Department, the Chinese government’s propaganda and influencing unit, penetrated the Australian political system and influenced Shaoquett Moselmane through Sun Yantao and John Zhisen Zhang. These charges immensely angered China. Under its ‘Immediate Punishment’ attitude, China imprisoned an Australian news reporter working in China. The other Australian reporters in China were also subjected to police investigation and they had to flee China fearful of their safety. In c. 2017, the Labour Party MP Sam Dastyari had to quit politics after he was subjected to investigation on charges of accepting bribes from the Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo in order to help his construction business in Australia and also for taking positions on the South China Sea issue that were contrary to those of the Australian Government.

The foreign ministers of the QUAD met at Tokyo on October 6, 2020. Within two weeks of the deliberations, India agreed, on October 19, to allow Australia to formally  join the ‘Malabar Maritime Exercise’. It was a significant forward movement in the QUAD. Within the next two weeks, China tightened its import restrictions further against Australia, by either banning the import of or significantly enhancing the tariffs on wine, wood, coal, copper, and fish. For example, the import duty on Australian wine was increased by 200% for the next five years. China has been importing USD 800 Million worth of Australian wine every year. This was a further manifestation of its ‘Immediate Punishment’ regimen. The Australian government is determined to take these unjustified Chinese actions to the WTO. However, WTO would take at least three years to arbitrate on this matter and give its judgment which gives China a tactical victory over Australia and impacts the latter’s economy adversely. China believes that it can overcome its political crises through economic coercion of other countries.

The ‘Wolf Warrior’ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian listed on November 7, 2020, the seven major areas of disagreement in the China-Australia relationship. He said that Australia was solely responsible for the disagreements due to its decisions in the past few years. These were criticizing China’s policies on “core interests like Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan,” including attempts to “initiate or participate in joint actions against China on Xinjiang-related issues,” allegedly meddling in Hong Kong, and endorsing Taiwan’s bid to participate in the World Health Assembly, accusing China of “infiltration,” and banning Chinese 5G products, restricting Chinese investment, conducting “arbitrary searches of Chinese media reporters in Australia, and advocating for a “so-called ‘independent international inquiry’” of COVID-19. Zhao Lijian further said, “Whoever hung the bell [on the tiger’s neck] must untie it” referring to the unpreparedness of China to make the first move in normalizing the disrupted relationship. That same day, the Chinese Consulate in Sydney sent a note to the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ newspaper citing seven more reasons over and above what Zhao Lijian had mentioned. These included attempts by the federal government to torpedo the “Victoria’s Belt and Road” deal, failure to take action by the federal Australian government against “unfriendly or antagonistic” reports on China by independent Australian media, government funding for “anti-China” research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute [ASPI], thinly veiled allegations against China on cyber-attacks without any evidence, to condemn China in the UN against its actions in the SCS without Australia having any presence there at all, outrageous condemnations of the governing party of China by Australian MPs, and not acting against racist attacks against Chinese or Asian people. Dismissing them all, the Australian Government said, “The Federal Government believes the complaints are unreasonable and misrepresent Australia’s position.”

A Chinese Foreign Office official, while referring to the deteriorating Australia-China relationships, said, on November 12, 2020, that Australia’s excessive accusations against China which crossed all boundaries were the sole cause for such a downturn. Another reason attributed by the Chinese was the banning of several large Chinese investments in the Australian economy over fears of them compromising Australian security, based on incomplete and baseless information. This directly referred to the Australian government banning the Chinese telecom companies of Huawei and ZTE from participating in building the 5G infrastructure in Australia and stopping the deal of China’s Mengniu Dairy from purchasing Australia’s biggest dairy products manufacturer, Japan’s ‘Lion Dairy & Drinks’. That same month, in a coordinated action, the members of the ‘Five Eyes’ temporarily suspended the ‘Extradition Treaty’ between them and China citing the grave issues resulting from the implementation of the draconian ‘Hong Kong National Security Law’ by China which teasingly was promulgated on 30 June 2020, coinciding with the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China by the British. That was when the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Office, the ‘Wolf Warrior’ Zhao Lijian said, “It doesn’t matter whether they have 5 eyes or 10 eyes, if they dare to damage China’s sovereignty, security, and development, they should be careful, or their eyes will be plucked out.” Amidst all these, Australia partnered with China in establishing the ‘Regional Comprehensive Economic Programme’ (RCEP) along with eleven other countries of Asia in November 2020.

As the Australia-China relationship deteriorated further, Australia announced its decision to design in collaboration with the US, newer missiles and set apart USD 1 Billion for that effort. It is believed by Australia that until the 2030s, when newer attack submarines and frigates join the Australian Navy, these missiles would offer them the required protection. Australia is fitting on its F/A-18 and F-35 aircraft precision missiles that can destroy ground-based targets 900 K.Ms. away and ships 400 K. Ms away. It is also collaborating with the US in designing hypersonic missiles.

Australia, the UK, and the US together dramatically formed a new security alliance called AUKUS on September 16, 2021. Australia plans to build eight nuclear-propelled submarines, called SSNs, through this security alliance. They will carry long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles. Australia withdrew from the 2016-signed agreement with France to build twelve Shortfin Barracuda-class conventional diesel-electric submarines in order to build these SSNs. It is believed that the AUKUS would add more teeth to the QUAD. Among the QUAD nations, nobody except the US has SSNs at present time. These SSNs are essential in order to confine the PLAN’s submarines within the South China Sea. It is imperative for the other QUAD nations to also possess these SSNs even though the US has a preponderant number of fifty-five such SSNs. But, because of the repair and overhaul schedule and their deployments at various spots all over the world, it becomes necessary for the other members of the QUAD to possess this asset. The pacifist Constitution of Japan prevents it from building and deploying such nuclear-powered vessels. Since India has just started designing these boats, they are not expected to join the Indian Navy before the 2030s. But the security threats to India are such that these cannot be spared for deployment in the South China Sea even after they are built. It becomes necessary, for these reasons, for Australia therefore to possess these SSNs.

The first apex summit of the QUAD took place on March 12, 2021, and announcing that with happiness to the Australian Parliament, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison equated that with the historical 1951 ANZUS agreement. He also termed the QUAD meeting as an event that would transcend generations.

On How the India-Australia Relationship Laid the Foundations for the QUAD

Australia has been a close ally of the USA and the closeness of the two militaries had developed since the First World War. In c. 1951, Australia, New Zealand and the US inked the trilateral “ANZUS Treaty’, through which Australia gets protection under the nuclear umbrella of the US. Australia is also an important member of the intelligence-gathering and sharing pact of ‘Five Eyes’ which binds Australia, the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. Australia also hosts an American naval base and in international diplomacy and politics, it usually follows the American lead.

India and Australia have had a long history of friendship. The policy of ‘non-alignment which India practiced had created suspicion among the anti-Communist Western nations. Even though both India and Australia had been key members of the Commonwealth, the Western-aligned Australia also had a similar suspicion about India. The visit of the Australian Foreign Minister to India in c. 1985 laid the ground for improvement in the relationships. As the India-US relationship began to improve in the 1990s following the end of the Cold War 1.0 and the liberalization of the Indian economy, Australia also began to improve its relationship with India. The two nations set up India-Australia and Australia-India Councils in their respective countries in order to further the relationship. But Australia’s tough stance on nuclear proliferation introduced certain irritants in the relationship at times. This led to Australia taking diametrically opposite stances against India in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations as India refused to sign these Treaties terming them as ‘discriminatory.’ The CTBT which Australia sponsored in the UN in 1996 was targeted against India. A sense of bitterness crept in the relationship between the two nations as a result. Such blatantly discriminatory practices and the ‘Entry into Force’ option of the CTBT forced India to conduct the Pokhran-II tests in 1998. Australia also looked nervously and suspiciously at the growing capabilities of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). The Australian Navy and its air assets used to tag the Indian Naval platforms in the IOR.

As we have already seen, India did not approach Australia after it exited the Malabar Exercise in 2007 following Chinese pressure. However, the two nations drafted a security agreement in c. 2009 when the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited India. The Quadrennial Defense Review of the US recognized India in c. 2010 as a ‘net provider of security’ in the IOR. The annual strategic review meeting between the US and Australia in c. 2010 insisted on deepening their relationship with India. In a speech delivered at Chennai in c. 2011, the US Secretary of State Ms. Hilary Clinton invited India to take a leadership role in the Indo-Pacific. That same year, Australia withdrew the ban on export of nuclear-related material to India. The Australian Prime Minister Ms. Julia Gillard, while visiting India in c. 2012, suggested that the two nations must start a full-fledged naval exercise between the two navies. Negotiations on nuclear-related issues began between the two nations in c. 2013. The Australian Foreign Minister, Ms. Julie Bishop who visited India in c. 2013 declared Australia’s support for India joining the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) as a regular member. The Indian Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, who visited Canberra in c. 2013 announced that the naval exercises between the two nations would commence from c. 2015. The Strategic White Paper that Australia released in c. 2013 detailed the capabilities of the Indian Navy and argued as to why the Australian Navy must have an in-depth contact with it. The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who visited India in c. 2014 signed a civil nuclear agreement with India. Australia, the world’s largest producer of Uranium, agreed to sell Uranium to an India which had until then been struggling to operate its nuclear power stations at full capacity because of Uranium shortage. Prime Minister Modi visited Canberra in 2014 and signed an agreement to deepen the defence and security relationship between the two nations. The following year, c. 2015, the trilateral dialogue between India, Japan and Australia took place in New Delhi. It was decided in that meeting that the three nations would consult and cooperate in all matters relating to the maritime domain of the Indo-Pacific. The visit of the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to India in c. 2017 led to a series of agreements between the two nations, one of which was to start the ‘AusIndex’ naval exercise between the two navies from c. 2018. It was also announced that the Special Forces of the two nations would also start their exercises from c. 2018. This meeting, one can say, laid the foundations for the full-strength meeting of the QUAD leaders on November 12 that year on the sidelines of the ASEAN and the 12th East Asia Summit at Manila when Modi, Abe, Trump, and Turnbull met. In August 2021, India and Australia agreed to upgrade their relationship to ‘Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement’. The trade between the two countries remains very poor at USD 12 Billion annually (2020-2021 figures). The very next month the two countries conducted their first ‘2+2 Dialogue’ involving their respective Foreign and Defence ministers on September 11, 2021, at New Delhi. The follow-up meeting between the Commerce ministers of the two countries conducted in New Delhi on September 30, 2021, saw an agreement being reached to conclude the CECA before end of c. 2022 and an interim agreement signed before end of c. 2021.

How nations can build step-by-step a successful and strong relationship is exemplified by India and Australia in their last decadal history.

Australia – Japan Relationship

In Part-III, we had seen how strategic relationships between Japan and Australia had improved step-by-step. It is important for other countries to manage the relationship very carefully because of the historically complex interplay among Japan, China, and South Korea. In c. 2013, Japan announced its National Security Strategy. As a result of this, Japan announced in April 2014, for the first time since World War II, its decision to sell military hardware to foreign countries. An Australia which was at that time evaluating options for replacing its existing submarine fleet, showed a keen interest in the technologically advanced and silent Soryu-class submarines of Japan. Yet, it had to choose the untested Shortfin Barracuda submarines from France as it did not want to get entangled in the Japan-South Korea wrangles.

But the June 2021 joint statement after the annual ‘2+2’ format meeting between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of both Australia and Japan shows that they have an unanimity of view with regards to China. The two nations expressed deep concern over negative and worrisome events, especially the tendency to militarize disputed areas of the South China Sea and attempts to stop the littoral nations from exploiting their own maritime resources through the forceful use of Coast Guard and maritime militia. The two nations expressed fears over the unilateral attempts by China to alter the status quo in the South China Sea. The two nations also expressed concerns over the human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. They both urged China to allow neutral observers and the UN Human Rights advisers a free access to Xinjiang. They demanded that China must establish peaceful conditions in the Taiwan Straits. Dismissing all these accusations, China said that it has sovereignty over the entire South China Sea including Diaoyu (Senkakus to the Japanese) while Xinjiang and Hong Kong were its internal matters. It said these accusations were thrown at China with the sole objective of discrediting them and therefore it can only reject them.

Australia-America Relationships

The Australia-US relationships are very deep and strong. Australia has fought on the side of the US in both World Wars I and II. Under the ANZUS Treaty signed among the US, Australia, and New Zealand in c. 1951, the US protects these two nations under its nuclear umbrella. The relationship solidified further in the 1960s when Australia was included in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence program of the US. The Foreign and Defense Ministers of both nations have been conducting formal talks annually under the ‘2+2’ arrangement since c. 1985. In the November 2014 trilateral dialogue among the US, Australia and Japan in which Barack Obama, Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe participated, it was further decided to deepen this relationship and thereby contribute to the stability, security, and the prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. They noted that this partnership rests on the unshakable foundation of shared interests and values, including a commitment to democracy and open economies, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

It is expected that by c. 2040, there would be a shortfall in financing global infrastructure projects to the tune of USD 15 trillion. It is impossible to meet this shortfall with only public sector financing, necessitating therefore large-scale private sector involvement also. At the same time, such financing must ensure that the infrastructure is built with quality international standards, and with transparency, while complying with the Paris climate agreements and sustaining the financial, social, and environmental requirements. This is the idea behind the ‘Blue Dot Network’ (BDN) that the US, Japan, and Australia have agreed upon and which was launched on November 4, 2019. The BDN initiative was taken by the Trump administration and was announced in the 35th ASEAN meeting at Bangkok in November that year. These three nations would certify global infrastructure projects on the basis of the vision of the Blue Dot Network and funding will be made available after that. It is expected to be an alternative to the unitarily functioning Chinese ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. India is showing a keenness to join the BDN. There are great possibilities for India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) to complement the BDN. The negative aspects of the BRI, such as ‘debt traps,’ unnecessary and unviable infrastructure, high cost, and projects that violate environmental considerations would be avoided by the BDN.

The relationship between Australia and the US deepened further in c. 2014 when as part of the US President Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ re-balancing of the military, Australia and the US signed the ‘Force Posture Agreement’. This enhances the interoperability of the two militaries. The Darwin Naval Base already hosts 2500 American troops for six months each year which enables joint exercises between the two forces. Since c. 2005, the two nations have been conducting an elaborate joint military exercise biennially called Talisman Sabre. India is also likely to join the Talisman Sabre part of these exercises in the coming years. It was significant that the UK, Japan, and South Korean militaries joined these exercises for the first time in c. 2021. India and France participated in them as Observers. Does it confirm the speculation that South Korea, the UK, and France would become part of the ‘QUAD +’ in the future?

Australia imports most of its military hardware from the US. In the period between 2016 and 2020, Australia was the fourth largest importer of military hardware in the world. Out of its total imports, 69% came from the US alone. In c. 2005, Australia and the US signed a Free Trade Agreement. Compared to the Australia-China trade of USD 232 Billion by c. 2020 (before the 2020-2021 trade sanctions by China), the Australia-US trade is only USD 37 B (c. 2020 estimates).

The two countries have shown enormous interest in forming the QUAD and making India a member of that. As we have already seen in Part-III, India was hesitant in accepting Australia as part of ‘Ex. Malabar’ after the bitter incidents of c. 2007.

In the midst of these developments, Australia, the UK, and the US announced a new security initiative on September 15, 2021, called the AUKUS. This was an alliance that was formed entirely on the development and supply of military hardware. Its first aim is to increase the capacity of the Australian Navy. For this purpose, the three nations are jointly planning to manufacture eight SSNs (nuclear propelled attack submarines) for the Australian Navy. Under the AUKUS Security Alliance, the US and the UK agreed to transfer technology to Australia to build the SSNs, build them in an Australian shipyard, supply Australia with the critical Naval Nuclear Reactors (NNRs), supply the reactors with the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), and to install the American Combat Management System along with the long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles in them. China naturally opposed the deal claiming it would destabilize the peace and stability of the region and lead to an arms race. The AUKUS alliance would also collaborate in the cutting-edge technologies of Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, and Quantum Physics.

It is quite obvious therefore that Australia has determined that at least in the short run of the next thirty or so years, by which time China hopes to be the most prosperous nation in the world with a ‘world-class military’, there is a slim chance of improvement in the Australia-China relationship and that it must have deep security alliances with major powers in the region and beyond while simultaneously building up its military capacities.

This Part-IV describes how it became inevitable for Australia to assume a membership role in the QUAD.

(Mr. Subramanyam Sridharan is a Computer Scientist by profession and a member, C3S. His areas of interests include strategic and security studies, analysis of Indian Foreign Policy and has expertise in China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The views expressed are personal and does not necessarily reflect the views of the C3S)

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