Updated: Feb 2
Image Courtesy: Asia Society
Is the QUAD a Concert?
Even though the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had, as far back as c. 2007, envisioned the QUAD as the instrument for “freedom and prosperity” in the Asia-Pacific region against China without mentioning it by name as such, and even though he had also later referred to the QUAD nations as the ‘democratic security diamond’ against coercion, it is no exaggeration to say that the root of the QUAD has been and will remain the USA. However, after the initial discussions and the joint maritime exercise among these nations in c. 2007, there was no further perceptible movement by the QUAD until c. 2017.
The US continues to maintain a 23% share in the global economic output for several decades now. It is really difficult for an advanced economy to retain its place like this. On the other hand, the developing economy of China which had just a 3% economic share at the time of c. 1979 when the US-China relationship thawed, has now raised it to 17%. The US is the sole superpower in the world today though China has developed enough to take the second spot. The American sheen began to dim for various reasons, including the Afghanistan War following the events of 9/11, the Iraq War, the financial crisis that followed the bankruptcy of the world’s biggest financial services firm, the Lehman Brothers in c. 2007 et al. Seizing this opportunity, China began to fill up spaces vacated by the US. It began to feel that its ideology and governance were superior to those of Western democracies. The sarcasm that China directed against these countries during the Covid pandemic of 2020-2021 is but a manifestation of such a belief.
American President Trump referred to China as the ‘strategic competitor’ of the US. His successor President Biden said, upon assuming power, that he would not let China become, ‘the leading, the wealthiest and the most powerful country on his watch’. The triple acts of the new Biden administration, namely, reference to the importance of the QUAD by the new National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan within the very first week of the inauguration of the new administration, the virtual meeting of the four QUAD leaders within the next two months announcing important decisions through the first joint statement ever by the QUAD leaders, and the conduct of the in-person meeting of the QUAD leaders in the White House within the next six months, that is by September 2021, showed clearly that the importance and role of the US in the QUAD would not change even with changes in the administrations.
Ever since the American market was opened up for the Chinese products in 1979, the American companies had started investing heavily in China. The US allowed unhindered access to American universities for Chinese students making them the largest student community in the US. It strengthened immeasurably the Chinese diplomacy by enabling it to get membership in important world bodies (for example, the US asked China to bring a Resolution 1172 in the UNSC, condemning India’s Pokhran-II tests in c. 1998). Such actions by the US allowed China grow in stature tremendously on the world stage. As China realized that only the US could help it grow exponentially in this manner, it followed Realpolitik and temporarily gave up its overt anti-US stance. Such an about-turn did not in any way endanger its strategic autonomy.
China characterizes its international relations into five tiers. At the lowest tier is ‘Cooperative Partnership’ with the one just above it, the ‘Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership’. The next higher tier is ‘Strategic Partnership’ with the fourth being the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’. The apex tier is the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership’. With the emerging QUAD developments in the back of its mind, China successfully wooed the ASEAN to elevate its partnership, central to the Indo-Pacific, to Tier Four, ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Peace, Security, Prosperity and Sustainable Development’ in June 2021. Beyond these five tiers, China has unique relationships with Pakistan and Russia. The China-Pakistan relationship is denoted uniquely as ‘All-weather Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership’ while with Russia it is called, ‘Priority Partnership’. Between 2013 and 2021, the Russian President Putin and the Chinese President Xi Jinping have met each other an unprecedented 25 times and call each other as ‘dear friends.’
Both the USA and China practice realism in their foreign policies, especially the US which has not hesitated to change its policies, friends, and enemies. In International Relationship Theory, this approach is called ‘Realpolitik’. Even though China may not act so swiftly, it is not far behind the USA in practice of this aspect of statecraft.
The hundred-year period of c. 1815 to 1914 CE is referred to as Pax Britannica for the stability it brought to the world order just like the earlier Pax Romana which lasted from 27 BCE to 180 CE. Xi Jinping now believes that the time has come for Pax Sinica. It is Xi Jinping’s intention to replace the existing Liberal International Order (LIO) based on the 17th century Treaty of Westphalia-defined Sovereignty, Democracy, Human Rights and International Laws, Codes and Conventions with his own idea of a ‘Community of Common Destiny’. Xi is yet to describe the contours of such a new order. At the same time, many believe that a concert of nations is needed now in the Indo-Pacific in the same way that such a concert established peace and stability in Europe after Napoleon (d. 1821). In the Indo-Pacific, which has become the focal point of the world today, besides the official QUAD, and now the AUKUS, the ‘QUAD Plus’ is also taking shape. Besides these, the 27-member European Union also officially announced its ‘strategic approach’ to the Indo-Pacific in September 2021. Some even refer to Pax Britannica as the ‘Concert of Europe’. In the ‘European Concert’, the then five major powers of the UK, France, Russia, Prussia and Austria were the members. Is the QUAD a similar ‘Concert of Asia’?
Cold War 1.0 and the Chinese Narrative
Even though the US and the Soviet Union allied together to defeat Hitler in World War II, the two not only fell apart at the end of the War but began to oppose each other due to differing ideologies. Even though this split did not lead to a full-fledged war, the two nations became leaders of two opposing blocs. The two competed against each other to gain superiority in such areas as Science and Technology, Military might, Politics, Space Science, Economics, Trade et al. This competition extended to such ‘soft-power’ fields as arts and literature. The American President, as far back as March 1947, listed the reasons for the Cold War as follows: “One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms. . . The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.” This underlined the roots of the Cold War. This race lasted from c. 1949 until 1992. Even though it was described as the ‘ideological war’ between Capitalism and Communism, it must be treated more as the battle between Democracy and authoritarian Communism. The unsustainability of the latter led to the process of ‘Demokratizatsiya’ reform under President Gorbachev in the single party ruled Soviet Union. In the same vein and in the same period, it manifested in the Tiananmen Square incidents on June 4, 1989, in the single party ruled Communist China too, as student demands and protests. Deng Xiao Ping suppressed this with an iron hand. Hundreds of students were killed in the violent suppression of this revolt.
However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) protected itself from further fallouts, unlike its mentor, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). The most important lesson that the CCP learnt from the failure of the CPRF was that the CCP must accumulate all powers within itself and rule in a way that such radical thoughts as Democracy do not take roots among the people of China. The most important challenge that Gorbachev faced upon assuming power in c. 1985 was how to strengthen the economy. So, he introduced the economic restructuring process of ‘Perestroika’. The reform was attempted in the belief that the free and open market economy of the Western countries was a better model than the command economy of the Communist country and ‘Perestroika’ would raise USSR’s economy to Western levels. Since it also required an openness in governance in order to successfully implement ‘Perestroika’, he also introduced ‘Glasnost’ (transparency). Even though these reforms bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize upon him, the Soviet Union was beset only with more problems than before.
Since the CCP felt that the collapse and the disintegration of the USSR happened only because it introduced ideas contrary to Communism, it became imperative for China to introduce modern ideas without weakening the fundamental principles of Communism. It is with this understanding that Xi Jinping has infiltrated the CCP in everything, from military to economy. The reason why the Chinese Communist leaders make repeated references about how the CCP ‘defeated’ Japan, expelled it from China and saved China from the humiliation of foreign occupation, is to drive home the point to the Chinese citizens that there is nobody else who can provide stable and strong governance. At the same time, its claim that China won against the ‘Fascist forces’ in the Second World War is to emphasize the CCP’s historiography to the rest of the world that China has been a leading player in the establishment of a ‘New World Order’ (NWO). As we already saw in Part-I of this series, this is yet another instance of entwining the foreign and domestic policies into a hegemonic false narrative. After the March 20,2021 meeting between the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers, the position that these two countries took was that the existing world order under the US leadership has lost the confidence of the international community and they instead offered a better alternative model of global governance which, they said, only both of them could lead.
It is the combined wisdom of the Chinese Communist leaders that such actions do raise its prestige among the Chinese citizens. The main reason for such a thinking is the historical memory of the chaos that was prevalent in China in the period between c. 1912 and 1949. The Chinese military commander Gen. Yuan Shikai, who usurped power from the last Qing Emperor in c. 1912, enforced ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ in China. He thought that such an idea would help bridge the chasm for a nation that had been accustomed to 3000 years of Imperial governance and the extant demands of democracy. But it ended in failure. Later, Sun-Yat Sen established a Republic. After him, Kuomintang’s Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek took over power. The US helped the Chiang Kai-shek government. There was more chaos in China and ultimately the Communists seized power. Therefore, the CCP requires constant approval from people until today.
In the nascent years of the Cold War 1.0, China received support from the Soviet Union, its mentor. Later, in the 1960s, the relationship soured on issues such as ideology and border demarcation. China felt that instead of taking the Communist revolution to the heartland of capitalist countries, the USSR was compromising with them as it happened in the Cuban Crisis of 1962. China’s victory in its 1962 war with India enhanced China’s and Mao’s prestige, or at least that was what China felt. China broke off its relationship with the USSR and later attacked it in c. 1969. As the USSR loomed as its major threat, China jumped the Communist bandwagon and joined hands with its eternal enemy, the US with which it had accused the USSR of compromising, purely with the intention of eliminating the USSR as its threat. The Cold War 1.0 came to an end in 1991 when the USSR disintegrated. But a new Cold War, Cold War 2.0, is emerging in the world and that is between the US and China as the twin opposing poles.
The US-China Relationship (1950-2000)
Here we would see how the US-China relationship progressively deteriorated just as we had seen in Part-IV how the India-Australia relationship progressively improved.
In c. 1898, the US captured the strategic Hawaii islands situated in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean and then the Guam islands in South-western Pacific. Hawaii and Guam became important ‘coaling stations’ for the American ships which employed coal-fired boilers for their steam-powered paddle boats. As we had seen in Part-III, the American Naval Commander Mathew Perry had already forcibly opened the closed ports of Japan, closed for 250 years until then, for the logistics coordination of the American navy. Later, the US Navy defeated the Spanish in the Caribbean Sea and later took control of the Philippines too in Western Pacific c. 1898. During his world tour of c. 1881, the Hawaiian Emperor David Kalakaua had forewarned China of the emerging power of the USA and the threat it posed to Hawaii and the Pacific nations. However, the Chinese Emperor was indifferent. But now, the increasing proximity of an emerging but a far-away power created anxiety in the established Chinese Empire of 2500 years old. Soon enough, the US joined hands with the colonial powers and stepped into China itself. A moribund Qing Empire could not do much. The Chinese concluded that the Pacific Ocean was an important buffer, and that the US was a security threat. But today, the situation is upside down. The rapidly emerging China is directly challenging the established power of the USA.
Mao Ze-dong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China from the renowned Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949. Soon, North Korea intruded into South Korea upon the instigation of the USSR in June 1950. Red China not only vocally supported North Korea but sent its Army and Air Force there to fight along the North Vietnamese forces. The US also got involved in the Korean War as mandated by the UN. Later, during the 20-year long Vietnam War, the then US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara said that one of the reasons for the involvement of the US in Vietnam was not only to prevent the Communist North Vietnam from occupying a democratic South Vietnam, but also to keep Red China under control. China considers Russia, Pakistan which is inimical to India, the uneasy relationship between Japan and South Korea, the incohesive and indecisive ASEAN, a North Korea which threatens the USA, Japan and South Korea, as its buffers in the same way it considers Depsang, Galwan and Pangong Tso areas as its buffer for its G-219 Highway in Ladakh. The help it extends to Pakistan militarily, diplomatically, and economically, the dissensions it causes in the ASEAN, the coercion it employs against small nations, its roguish actions in the South China Sea, and the various help it provides clandestinely to a heavily sanctioned North Korea are done with the sole intention of strengthening its buffer and enhancing its hegemony. North Korea is today estimated to possess sixty nuclear weapons. It also has missiles that can not only hit its immediate neighbours of Japan and South Korea but also a faraway USA (as we have seen in Part-III).
The US-China relationship which was at its lowest ebb as a result of the Korean War took two decades to thaw. In c. 1954, the US and Taiwan (RoC) had signed the ‘US-Sino Defense Mutual Defense Assistance Treaty’. During the ‘First Taiwan Crisis’ of 1954-55, the ‘Second Taiwan Crisis’ of c. 1958, and the ‘Third Taiwan Crisis’ of 1995-1996, the US displayed its overwhelming military might, presence and threats which forced China to retreat. The two countries agreed to re-establish their relationship in c. 1972 against a common enemy, the USSR. A formal alliance had existed until then between the US and Taiwan, which the US scrapped in c. 1979. It decided to reverse its policy of recognizing Taiwan as the real China and instead recognized Red China as ‘One China’. The US-Taiwan Defense Treaty was abrogated. But Taiwan’s security is ensured by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of c. 1979 and the ‘Six Assurances’ that the US President Ronald Reagan gave to Taiwan in c. 1982. The four American Laws on Taiwan enacted in the period between 2018 and 2021 recognize the above two as the foundations of the US assurance to Taiwan on its security. Both the US and China stated their position on Taiwan in the communiques that they signed in c. 1972, 1979 and then in 1982. These are known as the ‘Three Communiques’. Republic of China, RoC (Taiwan) was expelled from the UN and China became a permanent member of the UNSC. It got inducted as a veto-wielding member of the Permanent Five (P-5). All these immense benefits accrued to China only at the instance of the USA, and yet, the US-China relationship is complicated. We will see in this part how the US-China relationship gradually worsened just as we saw in Part-IV how the India-Australia relationship evolved step-by-step.
After normalization of relationship with the US, China introduced economic reforms in c. 1978-1979. The blue-collar workers lost many privileges such as the permanency of their jobs. The Paramount Leader of China, Deng Xiao Ping, described the ideological inconsistencies that such reforms caused in a Communist China thus, ‘Black cat or white cat, if it can catch mice, it is a good cat’. China closed down several unprofitable state-owned enterprises (SOEs). There was restlessness in the society. But, as we have seen before, the practical nature of China’s approach gave it many benefits. As the American market capitalism ideas began to take roots in a China that had so far followed communism, the US-China relationship began to grow rapidly. The Chinese economy grew at a rapid pace as the US established its ‘supply chain’ in China for its industries. China later converted this to an ‘international supply chain’. A World Bank report claims that China’s average annual GDP rose by 10% each year in the period between c. 1978 and 2012. It fell to less than 8% only in the three-year period between c. 2012 and 2014. The US believed that China would eventually give up communism and become a normal democratic nation-state. However, the arrival of Xi Jinping on the scene in c. 2013 put paid to this hope.
The US-China relationship grew colder after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incidents. Simultaneously, the Afghan jihad, which the US had led and in which China had participated on the side of the US, had come to an end, and Afghanistan was moving towards peace. The Warsaw Pact countries of East Europe and the fifteen states that formed part of the Soviet Union from the Baltics through East Europe to Central Asia, began to be liberated from Soviet hands, the Berlin Wall came down, the Communist East Germany integrated with the Capitalist West Germany and laid the foundation for the collapse of Communism. The Soviet Union fragmented at a more rapid pace by the end of the twentieth century than the pace at which it grew by the end of the nineteenth century. The only mortal enemy that the US faced became considerably weakened. As the only ‘existential threat’ disappeared, the US need for China too considerably diminished. The US began to take up with China the issues that it had temporarily set aside, namely those of Tibet, human rights, Taiwan, and nuclear and missile proliferation. This was an unabashed display of Realpolitik by the US. The break-up of the USSR created ripples in China. The CPC feared that it could be next in the line. China woke up to the new reality of the US being its threat after the elimination of its only existential threat, namely the USSR. China began to strengthen its PLA. It looked closely at the American tactics in the 1991 Gulf War in West Asia and decided to strengthen the PLA on the outcome of its assessment. The ‘Operation Desert Storm’, as the Gulf War was called, showed the CPC leaders the huge gap between the American and the Chinese militaries. Due to these reasons, China was compelled to take in c. 1991, some long-term strategic decisions. China was facing insecurity because of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the enormous show of strength by the US in West Asia. The Chinese leadership, which had understood that at some future point of time it would have to face the might of the USA, began to sincerely engage in reducing the gap between itself and the US military. Once the Chinese Leadership takes a decision, it would spare no effort in achieving that goal. For example, the same Chinese Leadership that initially neglected the spread of the Wuhan Corona virus, later went to enormous lengths to bring it under complete control. The various ‘Color Revolutions’ in the FSU Republics after the termination of the Afghan jihad, such as the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in Czechoslovakia (1989), ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia (c. 2003), ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine (c. 2004), and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (c. 2005) added to the insecurity of the CCP. Some thirty years after the ‘Desert Storm’, China now feels that it has attained parity with the US militarily. At the beginning of c. 2021, China was next only to the US in naval might and possessed the third largest air force in the world.
When Cold War 1.0 ended, Mainland China and Taiwan came to an agreement in November 1992 whereby both of them agreed to a ‘One China’ policy, but the two agreed to have their own convenient interpretation of what that meant. The basis for this agreement was the rapid worldwide economic liberalization and open markets, which the two countries felt would enable better trade and dialogue between them both. But, when the new President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen who has strong views of independence of Taiwan took power in c. 2016, China broke off the discussions with Taiwan. President Tsai returned to power in c. 2021 with an even bigger margin. The Taiwan-China relationship has been tense since c. 2016. China now believes that it could militarily capture Taiwan. The American Commander for the INDO-PACOM Command, Admiral Davidson said in March 2021 that China would have the capabilities by c. 2027 to militarily annex Taiwan. The US has not clearly spelt out its approach towards employing its military to defend Taiwan were it to be attacked by China. This is its deliberate ‘strategic ambiguity’. Therefore, China is somewhat hesitant in using military force to capture Taiwan, unsure of American reaction. In the Interim National Security and Strategic Guidance that the new Biden Administration released in March 2021, it made a rare reference to Taiwan thus: the U.S. would support Taiwan, a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner, in line with longstanding American commitments.
Following this, both the US and Japan have started to reference and imply Taiwan as a country. President Biden, in a Townhall speech organized by the American news channel, CNN, on October 21, 2021, said, on being questioned whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan in the face of an attack by China, “Yes, we have a commitment”. Taiwan-controlled Kinmen and Matsu islands are located in the south and east of China, within the artillery range from China’s coastal batteries and situated far away from Taiwan. China can capture them easily. If it does so, it imposes a dilemma on Taiwan, USA and Japan. Would they go to war with China and risk doing so closer to the Chinese coast where China would have all the advantages, or would they employ non-military means of coercion on China? The latter could dent the already diminishing influence of the US among its allies and friends. Also, China could mistakenly assume that the US would not come to Taiwan’s help if it attacked it. The largest of the islands of the Spratly Archipelago is with Taiwan. It is also very difficult for Taiwan to retain its control over it. The Pratas island chain is also with Taiwan. Taiwan has also begun to strengthen its defenses on its own, without being dependent heavily on the US alone. It took, for example, a decision in September 2021 to spend in the next five years an additional USD 9 Billion for a newer type of missiles. This is an additional expenditure to the USD 17 Billion it already proposed to spend on its military in January 2021. These are long-range cruise missiles capable of hitting the hinterland of China. Taiwan is also building stealth frigates for its navy. It is expected that the first of the twelve submarines that Taiwan is building is likely join the navy by c. 2025. The US has come forward to supply the required equipment and also the heavy weight torpedoes for this submarine. The US has already supplied Taiwan with Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems.
In c. 1995, a China angered by the visa issued for the Taiwanese President to visit the USA, sent barrages of rockets across the Taiwan Straits, within the next three weeks. As we have seen in Part-III, this is the ‘Immediate Punishment’ mentality of Chinese imperialistic approach. But China had to beat a retreat after the US sent a big naval task force to the Taiwan Straits. This also impacted the US-China relationship. The US embassies in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salam were bombed on August 7, 1998, by the terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden. In retaliation, the US hit the hiding spot of Osama bin Laden in the Sudan and his terrorist training camps in Afghanistan with long range cruise missiles. China opposed these attacks.
China opposed the US in the war between the Albanians and the Serbs of c. 1998 as well. An American bomb hit by mistake the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, flattened it and killed two Chinese officials of the embassy. This further worsened the US-China relationship. The American President Bill Clinton who visited China in c. 1998 gave it four guarantees. They were, the US would not support independence for Taiwan, the US would not accept ‘Two Chinas’, the US did not entertain the notion of ‘One China, One Taiwan’, and there was no place for Taiwan in international bodies. However, he also maintained that there was no change in the US position on Taiwan. This was the first visit to China by an American President after the 1989 Tiananmen Square events. There was a big opposition to this visit even within the USA. The dawn of the new millennia was therefore not a happy one for the relationship between the two countries.
The US-China Relationship (2000 – 2012)
The US changed tack in c. 2000 and began to describe China as a ‘strategic competitor’ contrary to how it has been viewing China as a ‘strategic partner’ up until then. Yet, the US greatly helped China join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Even though this came about after a long 15-year period of negotiations, the US decided that China’s entry into WTO would help its commerce and trade. The US President Bill Clinton had said, “By joining the WTO, China is not simply agreeing to import more of our products, it is agreeing to import one of democracy’s most cherished values, economic freedom . . . the most significant opportunity that we have had to create positive change in China since the 1970s . . . commit China to play by the rules of the international trading system”. But, in the end, it did not happen that way. China had to make many changes to its laws in order to join the WTO. It had to upgrade its laws to international standards, respect intellectual property of others, allow private entrepreneurs to start industries (until then, everything was state owned), and reduce import tariffs. Above all, it changed over to market economy from the ideologies of Socialism and Communism. Yet, these changes were not always continuous or even permanent. Especially, when Xi Jinping assumed power, the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) began to assume significance once again. It has come as a shock that even a so-called private enterprise such as Huawei was dominated and controlled by the Chinese State. The Bill Clinton administration provided unfettered help to China. For example, in the period between c. 1992 and 1996, many space launchers of China either exploded upon launch or their payloads could not reach the desired orbit. When leading American aerospace companies provided help to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), it overcame the issues and began to launch its space payloads successfully. China could transfer this knowledge to its ballistic missiles programme also. The Clinton Administration refused to sanction China even after it was proved that it had illegally proliferated to Pakistan nuclear weapon and nuclear technology. The Clinton Administration even agreed to supply China with more nuclear technology! The US looked at China only in commercial and mercantile terms. Many US allies, which included Germany, agreed with the paradigm, “change in China through trade”. The manufacturers of luxury motor cars of Germany overwhelmingly supported this idea. In the meanwhile, the US-China trade had reached USD 230 Billion by c. 2004. Currently, it is over USD 500 Billion. Mutual investments amount to another USD 80 Billion.
On April 1, 2001, a Chinese fighter plane collided deliberately with an American intelligence gathering plane outside Chinese airspace off the Hainan Island. This complicated the relationship even further. The US immediately agreed to transfer more military hardware to Taiwan. It was in this situation that Al Qaeda attacked the US on September 11, 2001. Even as the world expected the military forces of the US, NATO and allies to attack Afghanistan, China warned the US not to do so without any convincing proof. When world capitals unfurled their respective flags at half-mast (except for a few nations) in memory of those who were killed in the attacks, China refused to do so. Yet, the two countries mutually needed each other. The US had to ensure that China would not block its proposal in the UNSC to attack Afghanistan. China decided to exploit this developing situation to unleash repression in the Xinjiang province in the north west where the Uyghurs have been fighting for independence. Therefore, China decided to support the UNSC Resolution of 1368 which authorized taking military actions against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. As a quid-pro-quo, the US helped sanction the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of the Uyghurs under the UNSC sanctions list 1267. Such give-and-take are the cornerstones of international relationship. International Relationships are not based purely on honest principles or the Indian idea of Dharma. In c. 2004, the American Administration banned ‘ETIM’ as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, FTO. However, as the relationship between the two nations dramatically deteriorated, the US government withdrew this notification in November 2020. It gave the excuse, “ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.” Indian leaders and policy makers must realize this.
The various ‘color revolutions’ that are believed to have been instigated by the US against Communism and Authoritarianism in several East European, and Central Asian countries that had come out of the clutches of the FSU, such as the ‘Velvet Revolution (Czechoslovakia, 1989), ‘Rose Revolution’ (Georgia, 2003), ‘Orange Revolution’ (Ukraine, 2004) and the ‘Tulip Revolution’ (Kyrgyzstan, 2005), created a sense of insecurity among the Chinese.
However, the extensive involvement of the US in Afghanistan after the 9/11 incidents became favorable to China. The US took its eyes off China as it got entangled in Afghanistan and later Iraq. China exploited this opportunity to strengthen its military, especially its rocket forces. If China possesses today over 1500 Short-range Ballistic Missiles, 90 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, 500 Medium-range Ballistic Missiles and 150 Intermediate-range Ballistic Missiles, the foundation was laid during this period. China also exploited the opposition faced by the US in many Muslim countries following the 9/11 incidents. In c. 2010, China overtook Japan as the second largest economic power. Economically, China is today one-third ahead, in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), of the USA. After he took the decision to leave Afghanistan, the US President Barack Obama decided to concentrate on Asia through his ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy. Under the new programme, the US concentrated 60% of his naval power in Asia, and further setup a naval base in Northern Australia with a 2500-strong US Marines force. China vigorously opposed these moves.
The US-China Relationship (2013 – 2018)
The speech that the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave at the Brookings Think Tank on September 20, 2013, after the new Chinese President Xi Jinping had assumed power early that year, clearly underlined how the foreign policy of China in the coming years would be framed with an anti-American focus and challenges to the US. He referred to the Thucydides Trap and recalled “According to some study of history, there have been about fifteen cases of rise of emerging powers. In eleven cases, confrontation and war broke out between the emerging and the established powers. However, we now live in a different world. China and the United States and in fact all countries in the world are part of a community of shared interests. Countries are increasingly interconnected. Neither of us will benefit from confrontation. War will get us nowhere. ‘No conflict or confrontation’ means that we need to follow the trend of globalization, reverse negative projections of China-U.S. relations, address strategic distrust and build confidence in the future of China-U.S. relations. The Asia-Pacific has been the home and root of the Chinese nation for thousands of years. Therefore, we hope the United States will also respect China’s interests and concerns.”
The above speech made clear five positions of China. The first was the equation that China drew for itself with the US. The second was the implication that if a war broke out between the US and China, its reasons would be understandable. The third was that in the Asia-Pacific geopolitical space, China had an equal stake as the US. More than that, by emphasizing the ‘thousands of years’ of Chinese stakes in Asia-Pacific, it even claimed a greater role for itself in this region than the US which, it implied, was less than a mere three hundred years old. Apart from the most important American military bases in Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and Okinawa, the US provides security to Japan, Australia, and Korea through important treaties. It also provides security to many small island nations in Western Pacific known as the ‘Compact of Free Association’ (Micronesia, Marshal Islands, and Palau). The US has established its influence through these types of security arrangements. But China has started to undermine this power through its economic, military, and financial means. The fourth position that Wang Yi emphasized was that through repeated references to this region as ‘Asia-Pacific’, the old nomenclature, China rejected the new construct, ‘Indo-Pacific’. The fifth was the rejection of the existing ‘rules-based Liberal International Order’ in favor of ‘a community of shared interests’. As an extension of this clear enunciation, the CPC’s statement at the end of the Fifth Plenum of the 19th Party Congress that was held in October 2020, was telling. It referred to the “profound adjustment in the international balance of power”. What it implied was that China’s power was increasing while that of the US was diminishing.
In the period that we are discussing, China devised different approaches to different nations. It did not alter its international approach to exigent and changing situations. This was also a face of China’s practice of Realpolitik. It functioned on the basis that time was not yet ripe for it to give a riposte to the developing worldwide situations or to reshape its policies accordingly. During Deng Xiao Ping’s time, this policy was referred to as ‘Tao Guang Yang Hui’. An approximate translation of this would be, ‘Bide for the ripe time, accomplish your goals through patience’. Deng had politically changed China to modernity in many ways from Mao’s totalitarian rule. For example, he made sure that a President could not have more than two terms. He also introduced the idea of spotting an heir apparent for the President in his/her second term for a smooth transition. He distributed power rather than them remaining accumulated in the hands of the President. He introduced capitalist ideas. He strengthened relationship with neighbours and reduced tension at the border including settling border disputes. But Xi Jinping is taking China back to Mao’s days. The power is now concentrated in his hands and the term limit for Presidency has been done away with. He has not yet identified his successor. He has infiltrated the CPC in all organs of the state. He has fostered only enmity with all neighboring nations especially with the US, India, Japan, Australia and littorals in the South China Sea.
In the 1980s, the US accorded the ‘Most Favored Nation’ (MFN) status to China. In c. 2000, it upgraded the status to ‘Permanent Normal Trade Relationship, PNTR’. This led to eventually the US helping China join the WTO. China overtook the US in gross world trade by c. 2013. China is today the primary nation for imports for 35 countries and primary exporter for 25 countries of the world. It started the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, in c. 2014 in direct competition with both the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IBRD, and the Asian Development Bank, ADB. India is a founding member of this organization. Apart from commerce and trade, such organizations as the AIIB lend China considerable ‘hard power’.
The US-China Relationship (Since 2018)
As the renowned British historian and political scientist Prof. Rana Mitter says, “China is still having a hard time defining its economic and security vision as anything other than an increasingly authoritarian not-America.” This closely parallels China’s closest ally, Pakistan’s vision of “everything which is not-Indian”.
Donald Trump who became the new President of the US in c. 2017 had campaigned with the ‘America First’ slogan in the hotly contested elections. As a part of that, he had promised his electorate that he would impose ‘punitive tariff’ over China once he assumed power. By c. 2016, the US-China trade was over 350B USD in favour of China. Trump met Xi Jinping in the US in April 2017. Though it did not produce any dramatic breakthroughs, both decided to hasten the discussions on their Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) which have been going on since c. 2008. In April 2018, the US Vice President Mike Pence strongly attacked China for many of its actions including economic practices, military aggression, violation of human rights etc. The US removed China from the bi-annual Naval Exercise of RIMPAC citing its behaviour being inconsistent with the import of the exercise. The ‘Confucius Institutes’ that were functioning in many American Universities were ordered shut down. America accused them of being under the control of the CPC. As a first step towards his threats of raising tariff on USD 450 Billion worth of imports from China, President Trump ordered in July 2018, a tariff raise of 25% on goods worth USD 35B from China. The US cited unfair trade practices by China as well as its stealing of American intellectual property as reasons for its action. China immediately retaliated in kind. The US went ahead in August 2018 to impose sanctions on several Chinese entities for helping the government in converting the South China Sea as a military base. It further imposed tariff raise on another USD 16 B worth of Chinese imports. The very next month, September 2018, it imposed a 10% raise in tariff for Chinese goods worth USD 200 B. It also banned the diplomats of the various Chinese consulates in the country from visiting American University Campuses or interacting with American academic personnel or conducting Chinese cultural functions. In December 2018, the Chief Financial Officer of Huawei and the daughter of its CEO, Ms Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada for having violated sanctions against Iran. It complicated the relationship between the two nations even more. As per the Chinese policy of ‘Immediate Punishment’, two Canadians who happened to be in China then were arrested.
Following further deterioration of the US-China relationship, the US raised the tariff on further Chinese goods in March 2019. The US raised the tariff by 25% for another USD 200 B worth of Chinese imports. Since the Chinese import of the American goods is comparatively much less, it could not retaliate in kind. On February 14, 2020 the two sides signed the ‘Economic and Trade Agreement Between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China: Phase One’. As per this, China agreed to import goods and services worth an additional USD 200 B before end of December 2021. But, by end of December 2021, China has been able to achieve only 65% of the target. According to the terms of the ‘Phase One Agreement’, China has agreed to stop stealing Intellectual Property from the US, end forced technology transfer from American companies, expand dramatically the import of American agricultural produce, remove barriers to American financial services in China, end currency manipulation of Renminbi, rebalance the US-China trade relationship and effectively resolve trade disputes. The corona virus that spread from Wuhan created a havoc worldwide starting February 2020. President Trump attacked China for its laxity. He even called it as the ‘China Virus’. This further worsened the US-China relationship. China expelled three American journalists for having purportedly written an article, ‘China – the real sick man of Asia’. The US retaliated immediately by classifying the several Chinese media operating in the US as ‘Chinese consulates’ and ordered a decrease of their strength from 160 to 100. It even reduced their visa period to 90 days. In the midst of Corona, China took aggressive actions against many of her neighbours. In the six month period between February and July 2020, its Coast Guard ship rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat, the PLA intruded into India’s Ladakh and killed many soldiers, put on a show of strength in Indonesia’s Natuna Sea and in Vietnam’s waters, stopped Malaysia’s oil exploration in its own EEZ through threats, and conducted a huge maritime exercise near the Paracel islands. In the middle of April, a PLAN carrier battle group steamed past Japan’s Miyoko Straits. It started sending PLAAF planes in large numbers towards Taiwan since February 2019, a practice that continues until now. Following these events, the US sent its 4 B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic heavy bombers to its Guam base, as a warning, where they began exercising with allied forces. The Japanese PLAN and PLAAF conducted several exercises in the Yellow, East China and South China Seas. In an apparent rehearsal to capture the Pratas island belonging to Taiwan, China conducted a large-scale amphibious exercise near it in July. The US therefore sent two of its Carrier Battle Groups to the Taiwan Strait which angered China. It immediately retaliated by claiming that it has turned its ‘Carrier Killer’ missiles DF-21 and DF-26 on them. The situation became tense.
In the meanwhile, the US enacted the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act’, TAIPEI, in March. The scope of this Act was not only to raise the involvement of the US in Taiwan but also enable Taiwan’s involvement with other countries of the world and international organizations. The US Deputy National Security Adviser, Matt Pottinger, speaking in Mandarin on the occasion of the commemoration of the May Fourth Movement directly spoke to the Chinese urging them to spurn authoritarianism and opt for democracy. In May 2020, the US imposed sanctions on many Chinese officials who were involved in the mass imprisonment of Uygur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. On May 20, 2020 the US Senate unanimously approved a bill that demands any foreign company listing in US Stock Exchanges to declare that they were not under control of a foreign government. This immediately affected such big Chinese companies as Alibaba and Baidu. In June 2020, the US launched its ‘Pacific Deterrent Initiative’, about which we discuss later.
As the situation in Hong Kong worsened by the end of June, the US imposed restrictions on five top Chinese officials running Hong Kong. In the meanwhile, the US declared that those Chinese students in American Universities who were suspected of having contacts with the Chinese military would be expelled. Several students were later expelled. On June 30, 2020, China enacted the Hong Kong Security Law which prompted the US to cancel several concessions given to Hong Kong. It ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to be shut down. China retaliated by shutting down the Chengdu consulate of the US. By end of July, the US had passed the ‘Taiwan Intrusion Prevention Act’ which authorized the US President to deploy American troops in Taiwan if such a situation arose. On September 9, 2020, while speaking at the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked ASEAN to stand up to China. He said, “ . . . don’t just speak up but act. . . . the Americans would be here in friendship to help you.” On September 15, the US announced sweeping travel advisory against China and Hong Kong. The very next day, the US announced a very big arms sale to the Taiwanese military. In his speech in the UN General Assembly, by the end of September, the American President Trump attacked China. On October 6, while speaking in the QUAD Foreign Ministers’ meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for collaboration against Chinese Communist Party’s “exploitation, corruption, and coercion” as witnessed, among other places, in “the Himalayas, the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Mekong and the Taiwan Straits.” By end of October, China banned several US entities that supplied military hardware to Taiwan. Following this, the US banned American enterprises from investing in Chinese entities that were involved with the PLA. Before he left Presidency, Pres. Trump imposed ban on several Chinese organizations. In his Davos speech on January 25, 2021, Pres. Xi Jinping warned the world leaders not to start another Cold War. The new Biden Administration banned several more Chinese companies in March 2021. In June, Biden added more companies to that list. On September 15, 2021, the US formed a new military alliance with the UK and Australia, called AUKUS.
The new Interim National Security Strategic Guidance that the new President of the US, Biden, released, said, “Democratic nations are also increasingly challenged from outside by antagonistic authoritarian powers. Anti-democratic forces use misinformation, disinformation, and weaponized corruption to exploit perceived weaknesses and sow division within and among free nations, erode existing Liberal International Order, and promote alternative models of authoritarian governance.” It was clear that it was referring to China (and Russia). That report further stated, “Both Beijing and Moscow have invested heavily in efforts meant to check U.S. strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies”. It referred to the US-China status as ‘strategic competition’. The report added, “When the Chinese government’s behavior directly threatens our interests and values, we will answer Beijing’s challenge. We will support Taiwan, a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner, in line with longstanding American commitments”. The interim report also indicated China “is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.” These were not only extraordinary statements, but they also revealed the new Biden administration’s views of China completely reflected those of the previous Trump administration. In the first face-to-face meeting with the officials of the new Biden administration at Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18, 2021, Yang Jiechi, the Director, Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Office and Member, Politburo, bluntly told his US interlocutors, the US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan that the US does “not have the qualification . . . to speak to China from a position of strength.” Earlier, President Xi Jinping had told a party meeting in January 2021, “The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, but time and momentum are on China’s side”. It must be construed that the term ‘Community of Common Destiny’ which President Xi Jinping frequently refers to in his talks, betrays the ‘Middle Kingdom’ ambitions of PRC.
The Importance of South China Sea to China
All the four underlying and immutable ‘core’ Chinese positions are to do with its sovereignty. It is clear from this therefore that China has not yet become a ‘State’, as we had seen in Part-III. These four are respectively Xinjiang, Tibet, South China Sea and Taiwan. The issue of the South China Sea did not figure in its ‘core’ narrative before but was added to later. Apart from the maritime wealth of the SCS which is essential for China, it needs SCS under its control for its security, its long-term strategy of making China as the sole superpower of the world, to conquer Taiwan, and to bring the nearby countries under its vassalage as it existed during the Imperial days.
We had seen in Part-II how China has occupied Tibet for its natural wealth. Similar natural wealth is available in the SCS (also increasingly known as Indo-China Sea, ICS). The 3.5 million Sq. Km. SCS is the nerve-center of China’s maritime trade. The SCS is equally important for the trade regimes of South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Apart from marine wealth, the SCS possesses seven billion barrels of confirmed oil, plus 900 trillion cubic feet of confirmed natural gas. The SCS is also the shortest route from the Indo-Pacific region to reach European markets, until the Northern Sea Routes become operational in about two decades. In US dollar value terms, the annual trade through the SCS is 5 trillion.
China has claimed ownership and aggressed into the islands, islets, reefs, and shoals that are located east-to-west in this sea, namely Paracel, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal, and Spratly. China has reclaimed small reef which are made of rocks or coral and which just project above water or the shoals which are sandy formations just below the sea surface and converted them into military garrisons.
China has assimilated the prescient strategies of the famous American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. One of his books, written in c. 1890, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783” is an essential read in many world navies. One of his theories is that any nation which aspires to dominate world trade must possess a powerful navy. When the US Civil War had just ended and the US was forming itself as a great nation at a time when Great Britain was the sole world power by dint of its extraordinary naval force, Mahan predicted the US would emerge as the successor to Britain as a naval power. His six reasons were: geographical position of the US, physical conformation, territorial extent, population, character of the people and that of the Government. Mahan’s predictions came true in the next few years. He also opined that capturing the Hawaii Islands in Western Pacific would be most necessary for the US to handle China much later.
China has demarcated its security boundaries in the south and the east as First Island and Second Island Chains. Its decision is to completely dominate the First Island Chain which starts in the north in Japan and ends in the west in Indonesia through the Philippines and Taiwan in the south. The concept of the First Island Chain as a buffer is the same as China wants in India’s Ladakh too. The reason for this is that China believes that in a matter of two or three weeks of war, it could capture Taiwan with its amphibious forces. The Chinese amphibious forces have been practising these war games in c. 2020 and 2021.
It feels that if it needs to achieve its objective, it needs to ensure that the US Navy does not interfere in its ambitions. While the First Island Chain includes the East and South China Seas, the Second Island Chain starts in Japan and includes the Headquarters of the American Seventh Fleet, Yokosuka in Western Japan, threads through Guam which houses some of the largest US naval and air bases and terminates in Australia’s north-west. The bases in Guam not only host the most modern stealth bombers but also the mighty carrier task forces of the US Seventh Fleet. The strength of the US forces based in Japan rose to 54,000 by c. 2020 from 39,000 in c. 2016. In the same period, it has risen from 4,000 to 6,200 in Guam and 24,000 to 28,500 in South Korea.
However, it is the opinion of military strategists that it is not so easy for China to capture Taiwan through an amphibious attack. It is felt that though the PLA has a capacity to land 25,000 troops in Taiwan in the first wave, it may be insufficient. The buffers and barriers that Taiwan is erecting would not easily allow this attack. Since the landing ships would take a considerable amount of time to discharge a large military contingent, they could be subjected to retaliation by Taiwan which is constructing eight modern submarines. Veteran submariners think that in a noisy and shallow region such as the Taiwan Straits where there is a significant amount of ship-traffic, it would be very difficult for the Chinese Navy to detect the Taiwanese submarines and destroy them. It is felt that unless China conducts a massive amphibious attack, it would be impossible to capture Taiwan and China has no means to do so at present. The Chinese forces also lack modern warfare experience. Their tactical fighting capacity is unknown even though their strength is considerable. If the Chinese forces cannot quickly and completely overpower Taiwan, it would cause China a huge diplomatic setback and loss of face. It would lead to a split in leadership and the Presidency would become untenable.
China terms the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and the South China Sea as ‘Near Seas’ and the others such as the Pacific and the Indian Ocean as ‘Far Seas’. The rim of the ‘Near Seas’ is the First island Chain. At present the focus of the PLAN is to dominate the ‘Near Seas’. Simultaneously, it is also building naval assets for operations in the ‘Far Seas’. The PLAN has quite a distance to go for such a blue water naval capacity. Simultaneously, the PLAAF is building its H-20 stealth nuclear-capable strategic bomber to operate even beyond the Second Island Chain without aerial refueling.
China’s strategy has been to deny the US access to the ‘Near Seas’ which it considers as its fortress and not to allow unfettered access to the American forces in areas surrounding the ‘Near Seas’. This is referred to as Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) or Access Denial/Area Denial (A2/D2). In May 2015, China released a white paper on its military strategy. It introduced the term ‘active defence’ in that paper, an euphemism for A2/AD. Accordingly, the PLAN was tasked to defend not only offshore areas, but also protect the open seas. This is considered as the official announcement of the Chinese policy of A2/AD. It has designed two different types of missiles for this purpose. One is the precision strike anti-ship missiles, AShM, like the DF-21, and DF-17. The DF-17 is especially dangerous because the DF-ZF Re-entry Vehicle (RV) atop this missile is a hypersonic glide vehicle which can defeat all known anti-ballistic missile defenses that America possesses. Besides, it is accurate as its Circular Error Probable is considered to be only a few metres. The other is the anti-ship cruise missile, ASCM, like the YJ-100, YJ-12, and YJ-18 which can be fired from PLAAF’s H-6 bombers. China also claims that its variant of the DF-21 missile, DF-21D, is an ‘aircraft carrier killer’ and it occasionally tests them into the SCS (June 2019, August 2020). Secondly, it also has the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, the surface-to-surface cruise missile CJ-10, and the CJ-20 Cruise Missile that can be dropped from an H-6K stealth bomber, which can all destroy the Communication/Command Centres in Guam. It feels that with these missiles and the abundant show of Chinese force across the Taiwan Straits, the US might feel desperate and even back out from confronting China. It is also China’s calculation that if it could capture Taiwan swiftly before the US forces arrive on the scene, then the US might consider that as ‘fait accompli’ and not even attempt to defend Taiwan.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the US possessed about 5800 nuclear weapons while China had 320 nuclear weapons by c. 2020. Out of the Chinese stock, there are only a hundred which are at a ready state on the SSBNs of the PLAN. The rest are in a recessed state. It is still building the nuclear-capable strategic bombers, H20. But a US DoD report, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” released in November 2021 predicts, China would have 700 deliverable nuclear weapons by c. 2027 and 1000 by c. 2030. The US has about 1750 nuclear weapons at a ready state at any point of time. Moreover, the US weapons are more advanced than those of the Chinese. The over thousand nuclear weapon tests that the Americans have carried out give them a great edge over the Chinese in designing and building better nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the Chinese have done nuclear tests only 45 times. For these reasons, it is not possible for China to so easily nuclear blackmail the USA. The Great Powers which possess nuclear weapons use them only for deterrence purposes, especially against similar nuclear-weapon countries. The most important requirement for this deterrence and for a credible ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy is the assured ‘Second Strike Capability’. China needs the South China Sea for hiding its SSBNs for such a second-strike capability, which we shall discuss below.
It is really difficult for the PLAN to use the straits in the Philippines or Japan, as we have seen in Part-III, because they are under constant surveillance by the US and Japanese navies. It is impossible for PLAN to enter into Western Pacific through these straits without being detected. The Japanese helicopter carriers Izumo and Kaga frequently monitor the PLAN assets. Japan is converting Izumo and Kaga to carry the most advanced F-35B stealth bombers. These bombers are designed for Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing, STVOL. These are far more advanced than the most modern of the PLAAF’s J-20 stealth fighters. By c. 2030, PLAN will have 60 conventional diesel-electric and 16 nuclear-powered submarines. The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) would have only 20 submarines. And, yet the Japanese Soryu-class conventional submarines are the most modern of their class in the world. The Japanese tactic is that if the PLAN submarines could be confined to the shallow waters of the SCS without allowing them to escape to the vast and deep Western Pacific Ocean, then the sensitive US naval assets could be employed to destroy them. The US has deployed the fish-hook underwater detectors, called SOSUS, around the ‘First Island Chain’. These sensitive sensors can detect even mild tremors or sounds and the variation in magnetism when a submarine passes by and can even classify the assets. These create impediments for China especially at these several straits. These have been now extended up to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. It is for this reason too that Taiwan needs to be an independent nation. That is why, Japan considers Taiwan important for its own security. Japan’s fears that once China captured Taiwan, its next target would be Okinawa, the old Ryukyu Kingdom are well justified. Ryukyu (also known as Nansei) is a long island chain. It starts from the southern-most Kyushu Island, one of the five big islands that form Japan, and ends south-west near Taiwan. This chain has important islands of Osumi, Okinawa and Miyako. It is the straits around these three islands that form the chokepoints which we had seen in Part-III. The Russian and Chinese naval ships passed through for the first time in October 2021 across the Tsugaru Straits which lies between one of the important Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido which is to its north. Though this Straits is only 11 nm approx. (20 Kms) wide and though the Japanese territorial waters extend up to 12 nm (22.2 Kms), the Japanese claimed only 3 nms. (5.6 Kms) of territorial waters in this strait after World War-II in order to allow free passage of nuclear-weapon carrying American naval assets, which otherwise would have posed a moral dilemma to a pacifist Japan. The Chinese and Russian flotilla, which were conducting a joint exercise in this region, exploited this Japanese generosity. This incident which followed soon after the AUKUS agreement was announced, must be taken as a warning to Japan.
Following President Xi Jinping’s overt reference to Taiwan on July 1, 2021, during the Centenary celebrations of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, calling for its reunification with Mainland China as a ‘historic mission’, the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso bluntly stated Japan’s determination. He said in a political meet in Tokyo, “If a major problem took place in Taiwan, it would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation (for Japan). We need to think hard that Okinawa could be the next. An invasion of Taiwan by China could be seen as an existential threat, allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. We have to think about various situations, such as not being able to pass through the Taiwan Strait”. While replying to this assessment by Taro Aso, the spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry of China, ‘Wolf Warrior’ Zhao Lijian said, “This is extremely wrong and dangerous. They undermine the political foundation of China-Japan relations. China today is no longer the China of that era”. In its annual defence review, ‘Defense of Japan’, which Japan released two days after this exchange of words, Japan referred to Taiwan as a country for the first time and declared that Taiwan was its primary security concern.
Having assessed the dangers posed to its security by the Chinese submarines, Japan is converting its naval and air force assets for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) duties. In addition, Japan is increasing the range and capabilities of its anti-ship missiles installed in its south western shores.
Similarly, the straits that would help PLAN submarines to enter the Indian Ocean region (IOR), namely Sunda, Lombok, Makassar, Ombai and Wetar are under constant surveillance by India, Australia, and Indonesia. Since all these straits fall under the ‘Primary Maritime Interest’ of the Indian Navy (IN), they are constantly surveilled by IN assets including the P-8I Poseidon long range maritime patrol aircraft. The MH-60 Romeo, which are entering into service with the IN have potent ASW capabilities, and the Sea Guardian drones which are capable of detecting the submarines and destroying them add strength to the IN. Since the Malacca Straits has a draft of only 25 metres, the Chinese submarines cannot sail across them fully submerged. Besides, it is very close to India and is under watch by the IN.
As we have seen in Part III, a Han-class SSN docked in the Colombo port in November 2014. Since then, China has been sending its SSNs and SSBNs into the IOR and the Arabian Sea regularly. In May 2017, a Han-class SSN docked at the Karachi port in Pakistan. But the movements of these boats were continuously monitored by the IN. In order to counter the growing Chinese presence in the IOR, the IN is building six SSNs under Project-75A and six conventional diesel-electric hunter-killer submarines under Project-75I with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP). By c. 2023, the IN will also possess three SSBNs of the Arihant-class. But, by that time, India would have also started building the 10,000 Tonne SSBNs of the S-5 Class, which can carry twelve K-6 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) which can carry Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs).
Therefore, the Chinese need to dominate the SCS for its second-strike capability. But a US which is concerned about the freedom of navigation in the SCS, frequently sends its powerful carrier battle groups, SSNs and other types of naval assets into the SCS from its Japan and Guam bases to conduct what it calls ‘Freedom of Navigation Operations’ (FONOPS). Under this guise, the US has been surveilling and constantly keeping a watch on PLAN naval assets, especially its nuclear submarines. China suffers from one adverse condition which is the inability of its Type-094 SSBNs to travel silently. It becomes easy, therefore, for the US to locate these submarines. The inability of these SSBNs to roam freely about for long duration patrols in deep oceans is also another important reason for the PLAN to opt for ‘Bastions’, as we have already seen in Part-III. The Japanese helicopter-bearing destroyer and ASW ships as well as the Australian ASW assets have also been working to monitor the movements of the Chinese submarines. In February 2021, France sent its SSN Emeraude to the SCS. France had openly announced in the annual Shangri La dialogues in Singapore as far back as c. 2019 that it would soon start sending its naval ships at least twice a year to the SCS. The French, British and German naval ships are likely to join the patrol of the SCS and the various straits. Since these assets are likely to have ASW capabilities, we can expect the Chinese submarines to be under constant surveillance. Under the Indian Navy’s ‘Secondary Maritime Interest’ come Antarctica, Southern Indian Ocean and South and East China Seas. The Indian Naval ships frequently visit these secondary areas and take part in exercises and monitoring. All these cause the PLAN significant headache.
As a result, China has significantly expanded its Bohai Shipbuilding Yard (Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Co., Ltd [BSHIC]), where it plans to build the newer SSNs of Shang (Type-093B) and Tang (Type-095) and the as yet unnamed Type-096 SSBNs. The PLAN currently possesses six Jin-class (Type-094) SSBNs which carry JL-2 ICBMs. If their 7200 Km range ICBMs have to hit important American targets, these SSBNs have to enter Western Pacific. The Type-096 SSBNs will have a longer-range JL-3 ICBMs which will also be MIRVd to carry multiple warheads, ten per missile. China does not yet possess the complete triad capability for nuclear weapons. It largely possesses nuclear missiles which are launched from the surface, from silos or from road-mobile systems. Almost 70% of the Chinese nuclear weapons can be launched only by these missiles. These can be more easily located and destroyed by enemies. Only about 20% would be on naval platforms. China is still building strategic bombers which can carry nuclear bombs and missiles. Only when that is also successfully integrated into the nuclear command, would China acquire a complete triad facility. China believes that its newly designed H-20 stealth strategic bomber which will join service by the end of this decade, would be capable of attacking targets in the Second Island Chain. By the estimates of the US INDO-PACOM Commander, Admiral Philip Davidson, which he made in March 2021, China would exceed the US naval capabilities in East Asia by the end of c. 2027. He predicted that China would try to forcefully alter the status-quo after that.
In order to counter this, the US Congress enacted the ‘Pacific Deterrence Initiative’ (PDI) in c. 2020. One of its major objectives is to install highly survivable, precision-strike networks along the First Island Chain, featuring increased quantities of ground-based weapons. These networks must be operationally decentralized and geographically distributed along the western Pacific archipelagos using Service agnostic infrastructure. The weapons as part of the PDI would include ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles, and ultra-long-range artillery. In order to protect these assets, the PDI plans to install the Aegis Ashore shore-based anti-missile systems in Guam as well as to install a long-range ‘beyond the horizon’ radar in the Palau islands. This “Tactical Multi-Mission Over-the-Horizon Radar”, to be placed in Palau will detect and track air and surface targets such as ships. In addition, the PDI hopes to deploy a constellation of space-based radars with rapid revisit rates to maintain situational awareness of adversary activities which could feed into Aegis Ashore and the Palau systems. Furthermore, the US and Australia have decided to revive the old Australian Naval base of Lombrum in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It is the determination of the US that the greatest danger to its future continues to be an erosion of its conventional deterrence.
In employing nuclear submarines like SSBNs to attack adversaries, it is important that these submarines operate secretively from safe waters. Every country which operates SSBNs would choose such safe zones from closer to its own territorial waters with a paraphernalia of sensors, SSNs and other assets protecting them. This is called a ‘Bastion’. China does not have any place other than the confined SCS for its Bastions. It is for this reason that China requires the SCS and the A2/AD tactics for its nuclear submarines. During Cold War 1.0, the bastion that the USSR navy established in the Barents Sea was very strong and impenetrable by the US Navy. A lesson that the US Navy has learnt from this is that it is better to prevent such bastions in the first place rather than facing them later. The PLAN has either setup or is setting up its bastion in such places as Guangdong, Hainan, Paracel and the Spratlys. For its part, the US seems to have setup its bastion around Japan, Guam, Palau in Western Pacific and in two places around the Philippines.
Missile Defence and the US
From satellite images obtained in June 2021, it is clear that China is setting up silos for nuclear weapon bearing ICBMs in a ready state in a hundred places at Yumen which is on the edge of the Gobi Desert in the northern Gansu province. From satellite images obtained in July 2021, China is building another 110 silos near the city of Hami in Eastern Xinjiang, which is to the north west of Yumen. Further, it is building another 29 silos in Inner Mongolia. It is believed that these silos will deploy DF-41 missiles. China is therefore moving steadily towards a ’Launch-on-Warning’ status of its strategic assets by the PLARF. It is China’s belief that by substantially increasing the number of such silos, the difficulties for the US to conduct a counterforce nuclear strike are raised a few more notches.
The US is also strengthening its ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems. Currently the American BMD system has five layers. At the highest level, it has Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD). As part of that, it has established Ground-Based Interceptors, GBI, in California and Alaska. These are the Standard Missile-3 and 6 (SM-3 & 6) which are the ‘Kill Vehicles’ (KVs) that can intercept in mid-course in exo-atmosphere at ranges of 6000 Kms, the ICBMs that are targeting continental USA. The necessary radars, known as Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWRs), to detect these ICBMs have been installed in the US, Greenland (Thule Airbase within the Arctic Circle) and the UK. The US has also installed radar sites in Israel, Turkey and Spain. It is to evade them that China is implementing a MIRV of ten warheads in each of its JL-3 ICBMs. In order to counter them, the US is designing the Next Generation Interceptors, NGIs. The Fractional Orbit Bombardment System (FOBS) that China is building now could defeat these American missile defenses (explained later).
In addition to these KVs that can destroy the ICBMs, the US navy ships have Aegis Radars fitted in them which form the second line of defence, the second layer. With the help of the Aegis radars, the USN can detect Short, Medium and Intermediate Range, SRBM-MRBM-IRBM, Ballistic missiles in their ascent phase itself and destroy them through the 1600 Km range SM-3 missiles. They have also been fitted in the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force ships. Even though the Aegis is designed for naval platforms, they can also be ground-based.
The third layer of defence is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, THAAD. These mobile and ground-launched systems have the capability to destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles in their mid-course or terminal phase. It was while installing such a THAAD system in South Korea that China opposed it vehemently and under its ‘Immediate Punishment’ regime, it imposed a boycott on the South Korean departmental store chain of ‘Lotte’ and the car manufacturer Hyundai. Since Lotte had allowed its land to be used for setting up the THAAD, China was angered by it. Lotte eventually left China. The Chinese tourists were advised by their government to avoid South Korea. Overall, South Korea is estimated to have sustained a loss of USD 7.5 Billion. The China-South Korea relationship, which was broken by the Korean War of 1950, had stabilized only in c. 1992. China uses economic coercion, Chinese tourists, Chinese students, and Chinese expatriates as its shield and lever.
The fourth is the Patriot Advanced Capability, Pac-3 system which can destroy Short and Medium Range Ballistic Missiles in their final phase. Unlike THAAD, the PAC-3’s range is limited and is the final line of defence against missiles that have escaped the other three systems. These have been installed in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The fifth are the space-based infrared sensors (SBIRS) which are the payloads of four geosynchronous satellites and three satellites in highly elliptical orbits. These highly elliptical orbits are particularly useful to monitor high-latitude areas of the earth, such as northern Europe or the Arctic.
Apart from these, the US operates a beyond-the-horizon radar of 5000 Kms range in northern Taiwan. It can observe areas from China’s far-east to central & southern parts. A similar radar is likely to be installed in southern Taiwan.
The US is keen to introduce eleven new technologies in its anti-ballistic missile programs in the coming years. Two of them are directly of significance to China: space-based interceptors that destroy a missile in the boost-phase itself, and ‘Left of Launch’ that destroys the missile even before it leaves the launch pad.
The Ballistic missiles operate on the principle of going up several hundred Kilometres and then falling to earth after the fuel is exhausted in a ballistic trajectory which would be a parabola. Since this parabolic trajectory is predictable, anti-ballistic missiles can be used to destroy them. But the new design Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) do not escape the atmosphere (go only approximately 100 Kms from Earth), as they glide at the edge of the atmosphere and use their supersonic RAMJET (SCRAMJET) engine to gain speed to reach the target. Since the RAMJET engines use oxygen from the air, they cannot operate outside the atmosphere. Because of their glide characteristics, it is impossible to determine their trajectories as can be done in the case of conventional ballistic missiles, since they are highly maneuverable. Because of their extreme speed, maneuverability and the fact that they do not escape the atmosphere, it is very difficult to detect and destroy them. They can be destroyed with certainty only in the boost-phase. Therefore, the HGVs are quite capable of destroying well-fortified targets, and time-critical targets such as moving missile launchers (Transporter-Erector-Launchers, TELs), nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, military convoys etc. Even though area-defence weapons such as THAAD can be upgraded and used to defend against such supersonic systems, such weapons are not designed to protect large areas. Since the reaction time is very little for these point-defence weapons and the terminal velocity of the HGVs is quite high, there is no guarantee that they would be effective. Such supersonic weapons are likely to be inducted into the US military only by c. 2028, however, China claims to have them in the PLA already. The DF-17 medium-range missile with DF-ZF HGV atop, has a range of 2000 Kms. In October 2021, China tested an entirely new model of the hypersonic missile which goes into a Near Earth Orbit (NEO) and then functions as an HGV at an appropriate time. It holds a great threat to the US. Firstly, one does not know when it will attack. Secondly, since it uses a regular rocket launch, the five-tier defensive mechanism that we have seen above, will not work. Thirdly, it is supposed to be capable of firing multiple HGVs simultaneously. Fourthly, since it is claimed to carry nuclear weapons, this violates the United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty (OST) which prohibits placing weapons in orbit or in space. Such systems are classified as Fractional Orbit Bombing System (FOBS).
The Theories of Sea Domination and China
Sea domination is very important for both the US and China. South India’s Chola emperors had established their influence in far eastern and south eastern countries over a thousand years ago. It has been the maritime strength that helped the colonial European powers to control Asia, the Americas and Africa since the 15th century.
The English geographer, Halford John Mackinder, had in c. 1904 emphasized the unique importance of geography in geopolitics through his masterpiece, “The Geographical Pivot of History”. It would be no exaggeration to say that this made ‘geopolitics’ a new, specialized branch of study. According to his ‘Heartland Theory’, those who ruled Eastern Europe would also rule the ‘Heartland’, the region comprising of Western Europe to China in the east-west and India to the Arctic in the south-north. He further theorized that those who ruled the ‘Heartland’ would also rule, what he called, ‘The World Island’ (the interconnected area comprising of Europe, Asia and Africa which considered together can be imagined as a big island) and eventually the World itself. It is no exaggeration to say that Mackinder made ‘geopolitics’ a field of study as we know of it today. The Englishman that Mackinder was, he was influenced by the challenge that the rapidly expanding Russian Empire, and its Trans-Siberian Railroad connecting the Far East with Russia, posed to the British Empire. It was on the basis of this theory that Germany’s Nazi Party later attacked the rest of Europe and Russia. The USSR also adopted this strategy during Cold War 1.0. The American Professor, Nicholas Spykman, suggested an alternate theory, ‘The Rimland Theory’ in 1944 which was diametrically opposite to that of Mackinder’s. According to his ‘Rimland’ theory, it was not necessary to rule the ‘Heartland’, but it was necessary to rule the ‘Rimland’ of coastal lands or littorals in order to rule the ‘World Island’. He was especially convinced that those who rule the ‘Asian Mediterranean’ (not to be confused with the Mediterranean Sea which links northern Africa, West Asia and southern Europe), which refers to the combined area of Japan Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Sulu Sea, and the Celebes Sea to its south, would rule the ‘World Island’. In his theory, if naval and air forces can control the littoral states, then the Rimland can rule the Heartland. The September 2021 release of the European Union’s ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ is but an acknowledgement of a change in its stance from its belief in the Mackinder theory to the Spykman theory. Until then, the EU’s focus was on the East European countries, those part of the Caucasus and Russia. This is the ‘Heartland’ while Indo-Pacific is the ‘Rimland’.
At a more fundamental level, these two can be considered as the competition between the land (Mackinder) and naval (Spykman) forces. The littoral state of China with a vast hinterland has realized this within its security framework. China was a major continental power from the time of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiao Ping. In fact, it had been so for millennia except for a brief period during the time of the early Ming Emperor when it also ventured out through the seas. As we have already seen, China has also studied the theories of the American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. That is why, China reduced the strength of its army and considerably increased the strengths of its naval and air forces, especially that of the PLAN.
Spykman had predicted about eighty years back how China’s growth would threaten the US. He had said that China would rule the ‘Asian Mediterranean’ and its littorals and would therefore pose a threat to Japan and the Western powers. In this overall scheme of things, the steadily decreasing American naval fleet and the rising PLAN force, compel the US to seek alliances like the QUAD. India, Japan and Australia are major maritime powers in Asia. The US Navy which boasted a strength of 737 warships in c. 1948, increased it to 976 in c. 1968, shrank to 565 in c. 2008, reduced further to 282 in c. 2008 and stands today at 296 (c. 2020). The US Navy’s current aim is to raise it to 355. At the same time, the PLAN which had a total of 137 ships in c. 1996 has grown to 335 today (c. 2021). It will further grow to 425 by c. 2030.
An article in the ‘Namibia Times’ in c. 2014 revealed how the Chinese PLAN was planning to construct 18 naval bases in foreign countries. The more important among these were Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Namibia. Apart from Namibia, the other ports either surround India or are located in the Indian Ocean Region. They are located in crucial Straits or Sea Lanes of Communication (SLoCs). The Djibouti base will be used to monitor the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, while the Gwadar port of Pakistan and the Mozambique base would be used to monitor the Hormuz Strait and the Mozambique Channel respectively. In c. 2015, the President of Djibouti announced on-going talks with China over the base. The Chinese base in Djibouti was formally opened in July 2017. China is getting involved with the Kuantan Port too in Malaysia to monitor the Malacca Straits. It is also in talks with Thailand to construct the artificial Kra Isthmus that would link the Andaman Sea with the Gulf of Thailand. The Namibian base at Walvis Bay would be the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also in talks with countries of the Gulf of Guinea, especially Equatorial Guinea, for a base in one of the islands in the Gulf, another gateway to the Atlantic Ocean.
It is just not the intention of China to develop a ‘Blue Water Navy’ just to capture Taiwan or to checkmate the American hegemony. It is China’s intention to completely exploit and dominate the ‘Blue Ocean Economy’ with its Navy and Maritime Militia. Blue Economy refers to the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” The US has largest area of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and China wants to challenge that by expanding its EEZ through claims in South and East China Seas. China prioritized Blue Economy in its 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015). By c. 2010, it was estimated that Blue Economy contributed USD 240 Billion and provided livelihoods to 9 million people (Overall, the Blue Economy generates USD 6 Trillion annually and provides livelihood to 50 million people of the world). The Blue Economy witnesses an annual growth of 7% all over the world. However, the Chinese approach to Blue Economy is environmentally unsustainable through its practices and concentrates only on its own integrated coastal and marine economic growth. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) allowed China to exploit 238,000 Sq. Kms of seabed in c. 2019 to mine for mineral deposits. In November 2020, the Chinese deep-sea submersible set a world record by taking crew to 10,900 metres under the sea in the Mariana Trench. This record-breaking event will further strengthen China’s sea-bed exploitation.
Other US Worries vis-à-vis China
One of the major worries of the USA today is to retain the influential position of the US Dollar in the international monetary system. After the two World Wars, the European powers lost their mettle to the economic and military might of the USA. The foreign countries held their money in US Treasury Bonds which assured them to convert the money into equivalent gold at any point of time. The US Dollar (USD) became the dominant international reserve currency on the basis of its total gold reserves as determined by the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. The value of a USD was fixed at USD 35 per ounce of gold. But the Bretton Woods arrangement began to unravel by the 1970s as the gold reserves of the US, which at one time were two-thirds of the world’s possession, began to dwindle from c. 1956 onwards. From c. 1963, the external liabilities of the US began to overshoot its gold reserves and in c. 1970, the breakdown was complete. In c. 1971, the US President Nixon banned the convertibility of American Dollar into gold by foreign countries. Therefore, the US Dollar became just a ‘fiat currency’ which was not backed by any collateral such as the gold reserves.
However, the US influenced the oil producing and exporting countries (OPEC) through the West Asian monarchies in the 1970s to conduct all their oil and gas trade only in US Dollar in order to prop up the strength of the USD and continue to keep it as the dominant reserve currency. It thus protected its own huge demands for fossil fuel and simultaneously its strategic interests. In return, the West Asian monarchies were guaranteed protection and security. This is referred to as the ‘PetroDollar’ system. President Jimmy Carter openly expressed the contours of this deal when he said, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America. Such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force”. Thus, the British naval base in Bahrain came under the US control where the US Navy established the Headquarters of its Fifth Fleet. As countries need to accumulate US Dollars in order to import oil and gas, they are forced to conduct their non-oil trade also in USD, thereby making the USD a de facto international currency. The enormous quantities of USD that the OPEC accumulate are largely re-invested in US Government Treasury Bonds which guarantee ‘full faith and credit’. The ‘Carter Doctrine’ continues until today.
However, the single dominant status of the USD as a reserve currency also causes major problems for the US. For example, it needs to print enormous amounts of its currency in order to sustain world’s requirements, which could lead to inflationary tendencies within the country. It is for this reason that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has created a ‘basket of currencies.’ To that traditional ‘basket’ of the British Pound Sterling, the Japanese Yen, and the Euro has been added the Renminbi of China since c. 2015. It is quite obvious that the inclusion of the Renminbi in the basket is regarded by the Chinese as the first step towards overcoming the ‘dominance of dollar’. But China has to cross many hurdles in order to do so. Some of the preconditions for this to happen are, Renminbi must become a free-floating currency; the Chinese central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), must stop its artificial pegging of the currency rate for the Renminbi to suit China’s huge export gains; the financial management of China must become transparent; its monetary policies must become stable and predictable; and the central banks of other nations must hold large reserves of Renminbi.
While China may, therefore, find it difficult to overcome the ‘dollar dominance’, it is engaged clearly in activities meant to achieve that. For example, it insists on using Renminbi in its trades with other nations. It is a long-standing American accusation that China has deliberately kept the Renminbi below par against the USD. For example, even though China has impressively gained share in world trade in the period between c. 2014 and 2020, the value of Renminbi has only slid continuously during the same period. The Chinese exports to the US rose as a result, and the imports shrunk, leading to increasing trade imbalance. In c. 2017, China relaxed some restrictions on foreign exchange leading to a flight of almost a quarter of its foreign exchange reserves abroad, forcing China to tighten the policies once again. In c. 2020, the US banned trading of those Chinese equity stocks whose companies were connected with the PLA, in its stock market exchanges. It also simultaneously banned American Pension Funds from investing in Chinese stocks. In c. 2021, the American Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, announced that those Chinese companies which did not follow the American Accounting Standards could not trade their stocks in American stock exchanges. These measures caused severe headaches to Chinese financial management. China has just now started the process to allow foreign banks, broking firms, and fund managers to operate in China with 100% foreign ownership.
Over sixty percent of the world trade continues to happen in USD. It is most imperative for the US to ensure that there is no interruption to this system and therefore it monitors and secures Sea Lanes of Communication (SLoCs) and ensures that the geo-political status-quo is not significantly altered in any way. The USD, the Global Reserve Currency, which was backed by the extraordinary American gold reserves and later ‘PetroDollar, has now come to be backed up by the country which dominates in providing international security and technology. The US continues to be that country. It is China’s calculation that if it can challenge the US Navy in the Pacific, which is known as the ‘American Lake’, with its PLAN and PLARF, then the US would lose not only the ‘dollar dominance’ but also its hegemony. This is one of the fears that the US entertains too.
In the quinquennial National Congress of c. 2017, President Xi Jinping announced some far-reaching decisions. They were the ‘Four Comprehensives’ which then found a place in the Constitution of the CPC as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. He not only removed the clause introduced by Deng Xiao Ping which limited Presidency to a maximum of two terms, but he also spoke about the strengthening of the PLA. He announced his decision to make the PLA as the world’s foremost military power in two stages. He announced that the on-going modernization of the PLA would end by c. 2035 and it would become the foremost power by c. 2049. In Xi’s words, “China will continue its efforts to safeguard world peace, contribute to global development, and uphold international order”. The significance of the year 2049 is that it culminates the hundred years of PRC. It will also be heartwarming revenge for China for its ‘Century of Humiliation’, c. 1839-1949. The US Department of Defense (DoD), alluding to this aspect of militarization, said that this would enable the PLA to prosecute jointness, high-intensity but short-duration wars, and regional conflicts at long-ranges. Since the economic and geo-political interests go far and wide due to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the PLA has a need to establish its influence long-range. This is where we can see Xi Jinping’s clever idea of intertwining economics, trade, and military in order to overtake the US and establish the ‘Middle Kingdom’ as the sole pole of the world.
The US has military bases in about sixty places all over the world. The US needs these bases since it dons the self-proclaimed mantle of being the ‘Peacekeeper of the World’, and it has therefore a need to send its expeditionary forces at short notice to many corners of the world. China cites the reasons of securing its trade, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery (HA & DR), the requirements of BRI, international peacekeeping, and ensuring stability for its bases that are coming up at many places. Even though China is building many of these as military bases, it is also building ports and piers. For example, China is building three military bases around India, Cocos Islands in Myanmar, Gwadar in Pakistan and Djibouti. A China which severely criticized the US, the British and the French bases in the 1950s, has resiled from that position and is itself involved in building such bases now. It is another instance of its Realpolitik as we have seen in Part-I and II earlier. Yet it is also building commercial ports at such places as Kyaukpyu, Myanmar, Hambanatota, Sri Lanka, Jask, Iran, which is at the entrance of the Straits of Hormuz, and Chahbahar, Iran. These commercial ports are dual-use as they can be used militarily when a need arose. China is allying with Iran in a big way on the basis of ‘Enemy’s enemy is a Friend’. China is investing USD 400 Billion in IRAN as part of its BRI projects there. The US supports the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, who believe that Iran was supporting the wars and terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. At the same time, the Jewish State of Israel and the West Asian Islamist countries of UAE, Bahrain, which have been viscerally divided on the basis of religion for the past 1500 years, have thawed their relationship. The US hand is seen in the backdrop of this development. In Part IV, we have seen how the US, Japan and Australia have formed the Blue Dot Network to challenge the BRI. In June 2021, the G-7 nations, under instigation from the US, have announced another similar initiative, Build Back Better World, B3W. This has been described as an affirmative initiative for meeting the tremendous infrastructure needs of Low- and Middle-Income Countries. In the meanwhile, the European Union announced its ‘Global Gateway’ project in December 2021 through which it proposes ‘to boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport and strengthen health, education and research systems across the world.’ It aims to mobilize up to €300 billion in investments between 2021 and 2027. Therefore, alternatives to the Chinese BRI are becoming available in the form of B3W and GG.
In order to establish its power and influence as well as to monitor the Uyghur Jihadi terrorists taking part in the war, China intervened in the civil wars of Libya and Syria. China wants to establish the fact that it is a reliable partner in an area dominated by the US. It takes extensive participation by sending its troops to the UN Peacekeeping Forces. Even though, China used to ridicule the participation of the Indian troops in the UN Peacekeeping Forces in the 50s and 60s as an exhibition of colonialism, Realpolitik has forced it to change its stance now. By the end of c. 2020, China was heading four of the most important UN Organizations, namely, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Telecommunication Organization (ITU), and U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). China is filling up vacancies caused by the withdrawal of the US from many UN organizations.
Space, China and America
In the same way that a two-front war is a real possibility for India against China and Pakistan, so also the US faces a likely two-front war scenario with China and Russia. These indicate the onset of Cold War 2.0. Russia had joined hands with China in space-related activities after 1992 when the Russian economy began to collapse. While this cooperation helps Russia with an infusion of funds for its own space activities, it also simultaneously helps China with transfer of space-related technologies. The Cold War 1.0 witnessed an unrelenting space-race between the US and the USSR. It started from who would be the first to send a satellite into orbit, grew into who would be the first to send a crewed spacecraft into orbit and extended dramatically into who would land first on the Moon. We can say that such a race is developing today between the US and China.
As far as space is concerned, it can be militarized and weaponized. The UN’s vintage Outer Space Treaty (OST) only prohibits placing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in space or celestial bodies or establishing military bases or conducting military exercises. Militarization of space includes such activities as military signal exchanges, missile launch detection through space-based sensors, imaging of enemy positions, electronic intelligence, ELINT, and communication intelligence, COMINT. These are passive techniques. The active techniques are using anti-satellite missiles and blinding the satellites with lasers. We will look into Chinese capabilities in these areas.
China has four important objectives in space. These are,
National security and military strength. It is engaged in state-of-the-art technologies such as Direct Ascent Kinetic Kill Vehicle, KKV; Directed Energy Weapon, DEW; Weaponized Orbital Systems and Electronic Warfare.
National and International reputation. It wants to become the foremost space-faring nation by the middle of the twenty-first century.
To lay claim to resources of planets
To be the chief arbiter in space laws.
The Anti-Satellite Test (ASAT) that China conducted in c. 2007 raised the concerns of India. China repeated this test in c. 2014. Following this, the former chief of the PLAAF, while speaking in the celebrations of its Sixtieth Anniversary said that it would develop force projection ability to outer space too and that only power can protect peace. Earlier, the June 3, 2013, Editorial of China’s Global Times justified China’s actions in space thus, “The US advantage is overwhelming. Before strategic uncertainties between China and the US can disappear, China urgently needs to have an outer space trump card. China’s public policy is peaceful use of space, which is also China’s real desire. China has no interest in launching a large-scale space race with the US. China and Russia jointly initiated a programme to avoid an arms race in outer space in 2008, but this proposal was refused by the US. Against this background, it is necessary for China to have the ability to strike US satellites. This deterrent can provide strategic protection to Chinese satellites and the whole country’s national security”. In c. 2010, China had successfully done several experiments of “rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO)”. It clearly demonstrated the Chinese ability to have an in-orbit kill capability of other nation’s satellites. On March 9, 2021, both China and Russia signed an agreement to set up an ‘International Lunar Research Station’ (ILRS). This is expected to challenge the US leadership in crewed exploration of Mars. China is also determined to transport Helium-3, which is rarely available on earth, but which is abundant on the lunar surface. In the meanwhile, in May 2020, NASA announced its intent to “establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space” referred to as the Artemis Accords. On October 13, 2020, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom signed the accords with the US. Later, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, and Ukraine also joined the programme. Currently, the three core-interests of China in Space are: global space-based navigation, constructing a space-station, and inter-planetary missions.
It is clear that the space race that existed between the US and the Soviet Union during Cold War 1.0 continues now between the US and China.
The trilateral America-Russia-China Relationship
Russia experienced severe strategic crises after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1992. One such important and continuing crisis is the issue of the ex-Soviet states of Eastern Europe joining the NATO as members. Russia stares with insecurity at these twin developments of these states leaving the Russian sphere-of-influence and the NATO ending up at its doorsteps. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the successor state Russia denoted the fifteen former Republics that were until then part of the USSR as ‘Near Abroad’ states and considered them as its buffer. Except for the three Baltic states, the remaining twelve formed a union with Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS. They have also formed a security arrangement called Central Security Treaty Organization, CSTO. In c. 2014, they also formed a ‘single market’ called Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Georgia and Ukraine withdrew from these organizations later as their relationships soured with Russia. Russia especially considers Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus as important for its security. The ‘Rose Revolution’ of c. 2003 resulted in closer relationship between Georgia and the Western nations. It is also incrementally integrating itself within the European Union (EU) and the NATO. In c. 2014, Russia occupied the Russian-majority Crimea which worsened the relationship between Ukraine and Russia. Crimea is critical for Russia’s Black Sea Navy. This action resulted in the US imposing economic sanctions on Russia. This led to a further worsening of the Russian relationship with the US and other Western powers while at the same time it raised the Russian-China relationship. It has been only since this incident that the Russo-China relationship has grown tremendously. Later, the US tightened its sanctions citing other reasons such as Russian cyber-attacks on the US, the Russian covert involvement in the US elections, and its involvement in support of the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Since President Biden is threatening further fresh sanctions on Russia citing its amassing of troops along the Ukraine border, Russia and China are considering ways to avoid the American financial system for international trade. The two are to setup an independent trade network which will not be linked to the US-led financial system. In the meanwhile, the US had unilaterally withdrawn in c. 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) pact with Russia, and later withdrew in c. 2019 also from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) by citing Russian violations. These caused a big setback to their relationship.
In the early 1980s, China, along with Japan and South Korea, insisted with the US that in its negotiations with the Russians on the INF treaty, USSR must be forced not only to withdraw their intermediate range missiles from the European Theater but also east of the Urals which was the Asian part of the USSR, as the China-Soviet relationship was tense at that time and China was vulnerable to Soviet missile attacks. Eventually, this withdrawal happened. Today, the Russians and the Chinese are on very friendly terms. Furthermore, China possesses the largest number of such missiles that any country has, and these missiles could make it difficult for the US forces to come to Taiwan’s help in the event of a war. The US does not possess this class of missiles because of its earlier INF treaty agreements with the Soviet Union. Therefore, the US is insisting on a new INF treaty with China also included in it, while China is firmly opposed to any such treaty. Such is Realpolitik.
In the meanwhile, the Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the Russian President Putin had signed the ‘Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation’ in c. 2001 which has helped in the dramatic turnaround of relationships between the two nations. The two are deep partners today in technology, diplomacy, and energy particularly against the US, even though the embers of the past mistrust and strategic competition continue to remain. In c. 2019, Russia accused China of having reverse engineered many of its military technology. In c. 2021, Russia arrested a famous Russian scientist for having supplied to China details about the Arctic sea routes. Just as China helped the US in blunting and eventually dismantling the USSR, history has turned a full circle now wherein the successor state to the Former Soviet Union (FSU), Russia, is joining with China to defeat the US. This is also Realpolitik.
China has in the last few years shown an extraordinary interest in conducting trade through the Northern Sea Routes, NSR. The NSR goes through the narrow Bering Straits and reaches Western Europe through a series of interconnecting seas, East Siberia Sea, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea, Barents Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. This would reduce the travel time for the Chinese goods to Europe by 25% and the transportation costs by 20%. China may also have another motive, that of exploiting the extraordinary undersea wealth of the unexplored Arctic, such as minerals, oil, and gas apart from fish. The Russians are certainly wary of this attention from China in its Arctic backyard, even though the two are on friendly terms today. The Russian Sea coast abuts over 50% of the Arctic and the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers more than 50% of the Arctic as well. Besides, shipping traffic has to go through the Russian territorial waters in the Arctic. Russia is also the principal member of the ‘Arctic Council’ of eight nations that oversees the region. Russia will never concede its principal area of interests, namely the Arctic, to a China which is in no way connected to the Arctic, especially as the Arctic is expected to assume considerable importance in the coming decades. Russia along with the US, another Arctic Council member, has rejected the Chinese classification of itself as a ‘Near Arctic Nation.’ In c. 2012, the Arctic Council established the Arctic Chiefs of Defense Staff, CHODS, to manage military issues in the Arctic as the original 1996 Charter of the Arctic Council excluded military affairs. Russia now wants to re-start the CHODS meetings which have been stalled since c. 2014. Even though the Russia-China boundary dispute had been resolved in three stages during c. 1991, 1994 and 2004, China continues to claim the Russian far east territories. Russia rejected the Chinese demand that it does not supply arms to the Indian military after the Galwan incidents of c. 2020. Russia is also fiercely protective of its influence over the Central Asian states. The Arctic question, the Central Asian Republics and the Chinese greediness for land could cause major friction in the Russia-China relationship in future.
As far as the QUAD is concerned, the US-Russian relationships are extremely fraught at this stage. There is no likelihood of any improvement in the near future at all. They could only worsen further. The American CAATSA Act (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) has severely constrained the Russian economy. The Act is also casting a shadow in the India-US relationship as India has a substantial arms purchase engagement with Russia. The Japan-Russia boundary dispute continues to remain unresolved. The recent passage of a joint flotilla of Russian and Chinese naval platforms through the Tsugaru Straits of Japan after a huge joint naval exercise, created tension. Both India and Russia have to manage their relationship extremely carefully as India is part of the QUAD and Russia is aligned with China.
India – America Relationships
The vast Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal that surround India, the peninsular landmass of India that projects itself into the IOR, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands as well as the Lakshadweep Islands on its either side dominating the SLOCs, are India’s strategic assets. The strategic Hormuz Strait that connects the Arabian Sea with the Persian Gulf and the Malacca Strait that connects the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea are located very close to India on its either side.
The Malacca Straits is the world’s busiest straits. About 100,000 ships pass through this strait annually. Almost 15 million barrels of oil pass through this every day. The strait narrows down to a width of just two-and-a-half Kilometres near Singapore. This Malacca Straits is the lifeline of the Indo-Pacific nations and littorals. The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet which is headquartered at Japan’s Yokosuka monitors the straits. Since c. 2007, China has been showing deep interest in what is known as the Northern Sea Routes (NSR) through the usually frozen Arctic Region. One of the aims was to reduce what President Hu Jintao termed as the ‘Malacca Dilemma.’ Though it might still be difficult at present, China believes that climate change would melt the ice cap and the sea lanes would be easier to negotiate in the future. China wants to claim rights in the Arctic region by proclaiming itself as a ‘Near Arctic Nation.’ In the process, there is a clash of interests between itself and its ‘Priority Partner,’ Russia as we have already seen above.
Almost 30% of oil passes through the Hormuz Straits which lies on the other side of peninsular India. This strait which is 40 Kms long is only 3.2 Km wide. Ships through Hormuz carry 20 million barrels of oil every day. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet which is headquartered in Bahrain monitors this strait. The Hormuz is under great pressure because of the tensions between Iran and the US, on the one hand, and other West Asian countries on the other. This strait assumes greater significance in view of the developing Cold War 2.0 in which China-Russia-Pakistan and Iran seem to be allied.
These straits are the chokepoints. SLOCs, Bastions and chokepoints are crucial for maritime security. Besides these two straits, the Bab-al-Mandeb that links the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, the various straits located in the IOR such as Lombok, Sunda, Makassar, Wetar and Ombai and the special features of Cape of Good Hope and the Mozambique Channel come under the ‘Primary Maritime Interest’ of the Indian Navy. The Indian Navy (IN) has developed into as a ‘First Responder’ for disasters and as a ‘Net Security Provider’ in the IOR. This has made a positive impact in the India-US relationship.
From the beginning of this century, the India-US relationship has improved significantly and rapidly, irrespective of who was in power, whether it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in India. The same has been true of whether it was the Republican or the Democratic Party in the US. Let us see how the relationship has politically advanced.
Until the early 1990s, that is until the end of Cold War 1.0, the US supported India’s twin adversaries, China, and Pakistan. The ‘Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement’ that the Dwight Eisenhower’s American administration made with Pakistan as well as Pakistan’s inclusion in the American-led SEATO and CENTO treaties negatively impacted the India-US relationship. The US chastised India for her efforts to wrest Goa from Portugal in December 1961. The dialogue between the US President Nixon and his National Security Adviser (NSA) Henry Kissinger and the Chinese President Mao Zedong and his Prime Minister Zhou-en-Lai in c. 1972 where the former instigated the latter against India added further to the deteriorating relationship between India and the US and pushed the Socialist India further towards the Soviet Union. The US not only enacted domestic laws forbidding technologies to India but also did so internationally. Some prominent examples are Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the setting up of the London Group, later renamed as Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. The US provided indirect support to Pakistan’s position on Jammu & Kashmir and provided strong and direct support to the Pakistani Army for over fifty years.
The end of Cold War 1.0, the demise of the Soviet Union, India’s economic liberalization that started in c. 1992, the extensive discussions that took place between India and the US after the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests, the US stance in the 1998 Kargil War with Pakistan, the contribution, and the influence of the growing population of Indian immigrants in the US, and the intelligence sharing by the US in the 26/11 urban guerrilla warfare in Mumbai in c. 2008 strengthened the Indo-US relationship. As a result, the military-to-military contacts got upgraded. India and the US came to a ‘framework’ agreement on nuclear energy collaboration after three years of strenuous negotiations. As part of this agreement, India agreed to separate its nuclear installations as military and civilian. India also agreed to bring the civilian nuclear installation under the ‘Fullscope Safeguards’ of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, India and the US signed the ‘Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’, popularly known as the ‘1-2-3 Agreement’. The US got India the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) which has enabled it to import Uranium from Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia, and Canada leading to higher capacity utilization of the nuclear power reactors. The USA also brought China, the lone opponent in the NSG, around to issuing the waiver. The US also helped India join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. In spite of great efforts by the US, India is unable to join the NSG as a member because of the lone opposition from China. The US also withdrew its ban on the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and included some of its payloads on the ‘Chandrayaan-1’ spacecraft that India successfully sent to the Moon in c. 2008.
India and the US signed the ‘New Framework for India-U.S. Defense Relations’ in c. 2005 which forms the basis for the strategic defense partnership between the two nations. In c. 2015, the Agreement was renewed for another ten years. The Malabar series of exercise between the two navies, which started in c. 1992, has evolved significantly into involving integrated air and missile defense, antisubmarine and naval special warfare scenarios. Furthermore, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces and the Royal Australian Navy have joined the exercises in recent years. The Indian Navy has been participating in the world’s largest maritime exercise sponsored bi-annually by the US Navy, ‘Rim of Pacific’ (RIMPAC) since c. 2012. The US and Indian Armies conduct three exercises every year, Vajra Prahar (between Special Forces), Shatrujeet (for counter insurgency and counter terrorism) and Yudh Abhyas (for infantry and armoured corps). These exercises take place annually in India, the US and Okinawa on a rotational basis. Since c. 2011, the two Coast Guards are also involved in joint exercises annually. In c. 2004, the two Air Forces started the ‘Cope India’ exercises which take place only in India. The IAF has also participated several times, since c. 2008, in the prestigious ‘Red Flag’ exercises conducted by the USAF. India and the US conduct the maximum number of annual joint exercises between themselves compared to what they do with other nations. Besides these joint military exercises, India has started purchasing significant and varied military hardware from the US. Amphibious warship, C-130J aircraft for Special Forces, C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft for heavy-lift, the P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime patrol aircraft, Harpoon missiles, Apache attack helicopters, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters, ultra-lightweight howitzers, ‘Romeo’ anti-submarine warfare capable naval helicopters, NASAMS-2 surface-to-air missiles are some of these. It is believed that the US is helping India setup its space and cyber commands.
By c. 2011, India, Japan and the USA had established a trilateral dialogue mechanism to exchange ideas on ‘regional and global issues of mutual interest’. The US President Barack Obama became the first US President to be the Chief Guest at the annual Republic Day Parade in New Delhi in c. 2015. This followed the very successful visit by the Indian Prime Minister Modi to the US in September 2014. In c. 2015, the two countries elevated the already existing strategic dialogue between the Foreign Ministers of both nations into a 2+2 format involving the Commerce Ministers of both nations also. The two-way trade between both nations had crossed USD 145 Billion by c. 2021. Under the ‘US-India Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions’ that the two countries agreed upon in c. 2015, they determined their joint minimum maritime interests in the region extending from East Asia through South China Sea, South East Asia, South and Central Asia. The joint strategic vision emphasized three important areas: regional connectivity, freedom of navigation and collective security. During Barack Obama’s Presidency, the US changed the ‘Asia-Pacific’ nomenclature to ‘Indo-Pacific’. Within three years, the US Pacific Command’s ‘PACOM’ military command was renamed as ‘INDOPACOM’ with its area of interest extending up to the western shores of India. The two nations also established a ‘Hotline’ facility between the Indian Prime Minister’s office and the White House. The US announced India as its ‘Major Defence Partner’ in c. 2017. By c. 2018, the two nations had established also the ’2+2 format’ of dialogues among their respective Foreign and Defence ministers annually. There is a significant increase in the meetings between the Indian Prime Minister and the American President as also among various Ministers and Secretaries. There are at least fifty different dialogue mechanisms existing at various levels of the Government between the two nations today. In the meanwhile, the two nations incrementally signed four foundational military agreements over the years that significantly strengthens military interoperability and cooperation. They have also created the ‘Defence Technology and Trade Initiative’ (DTTI) to foster technology transfers and co-development of military hardware. In c. 2015, they setup a ‘Joint Working Group’ on counterterrorism for exchanging intelligence on terrorists. Though the two countries have already signed a ‘white shipping’ agreement for enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), the two countries also signed in 2020 the MISTA agreement (Maritime Information Sharing Technical Arrangement) for sharing maritime military intelligence, which is especially important for India due to the increasing presence of the PLAN, especially its submarines in the IOR.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the trilateral dialogue held on September 29, 2015, among the Foreign Ministers of India, US and Japan was a turning point in the history of the QUAD. The American Foreign Secretary John Kerry said that East Asia was a ‘a place of challenge for some issues of security’. The Indian Foreign Minister, Ms. Sushma Swaraj said that the SLoCs of that region were ‘lifeline of India’s trade and commercial externalities’. Japan’s then Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida who is now its Prime Minister, described the Pacific and Indian Oceans as “oceans of freedom and prosperity”. At the end of this meeting, it was decided to formally induct the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) as the third participant in the annual Malabar series of naval exercises.
It became apparent from the February 8, 2021, telephonic conversation that the Indian Prime Minister Modi had with the newly elected American President Biden that that there was no change in the American approach to the QUAD. A read-out released by the White House said that the two leaders agreed to further deepen their relationship, to ensure a free, open and independent Indo-Pacific, to ensure freedom of navigation and preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations, and to improve regional infrastructure through the efforts of the QUAD.
In the ‘Raisina Dialogues’ that followed subsequently, the Indian Foreign Minister Dr. Jaishankar said on April 14, 2021, in a discussion with the Foreign Ministers of France and Australia that India’s neighbourhood stretched beyond the Straits of Malacca in the east and the Gulf of Aden in the west and the Indo-Pacific concept overcame artificial fault lines imposed in the post-World War II era. The world, he said, was moving to plurilaterals or mini laterals — smaller groups coming together with shared interests, shared goals and natural complementarities in their structures — like the Quad. Jaishankar described India’s new view of its role as a “return to history”. On the importance of Indo-Pacific, Jaishankar said it was a historical reality, in a more seamless world, as evidenced by the old trading routes that stretched from the western Pacific to the Mediterranean.
In each of the preceding parts on the QUAD, we have so far discussed the issues between a particular member of the QUAD and China. We have also analyzed the inter-relationship among the QUAD members themselves vis-à-vis China. In the sixth and concluding part, we will analyze the founding of the QUAD, its aims, how China looks at the QUAD and the approach of many other nations towards Indo-Pacific in general and the QUAD in particular.
(Mr. Subramanyam Sridharan is a Computer Scientist by profession and a member, C3S. His areas of interest include strategic and security studies, analysis of Indian Foreign Policy and has expertise in China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the C3S.)