The annual United Nations General Assembly deliberations are currently underway in New York, and Prime Minister Modi will address the global body on September 25. US President Joe Biden made his first appearance at the UN on September 21 and identified the Indo-Pacific as one of the most important regions in the world, and that under his leadership Quad had been “raised” to the level of a dialogue at the top. Such a meeting between the four members took place in early March but in virtual mode.
For India, a cost-benefit analysis of what constitutes the continuing national interest is imperative.
Quad’s first in-person summit (US, Japan, India and Australia) will be held on September 24 in Washington. The meeting of this dialogue forum follows a sweeping announcement regarding the creation of a new trilateral security alliance – AUKUS – which brings together Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The AUKUS initiative has been a surprising development and the reason it is radical is that it is at the heart of Biden’s decision to allow Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Traditionally, the United States has been reluctant to part with such nuclear technology after the exception it made in 1958 in relation to its main partner in the transatlantic alliance – the United Kingdom.
The AKUS problem was further compounded by the fact that Australia, by acquiring the nuclear ships, had to cancel a contract with France which had signed a lucrative multibillion-dollar deal to supply conventional submarines to Canberra. France and China have reacted strongly to AUKUS. Paris accused the Anglo-Saxon group of “having stabbed him in the back”, and in an unprecedented gesture, recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia. For now, it appears the US-led Western alliance has been shaken, with France expressing its anger at the betrayal of the trust of its main NATO partner.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman tweeted that the nuclear submarine cooperation between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia “seriously undermines regional peace and stability, intensifies the arms race and undermines international non-proliferation efforts “and added that this is” highly irresponsible and shows double standards on using nuclear export for geopolitical games. ‘ The English-language Chinese daily Global Times was more outspoken and in a harsh editorial warned Canberra: “Australia has turned into an adversary of China… mercilessly.
What do the upcoming Quad Summit and AUKUS-created mini-storm for India mean in the long term in terms of fundamental national interests and current global focus?
On September 21, Indian Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla clarified that with regard to Quad and AUKUS, the two are “not groupings of a similar nature” and added that since India is not not a party to the trilateral AUKUS, the latter is ‘neither relevant nor will this have an impact on Quad.’
It was reiterated that while AUKUS is a nascent security alliance, Quad remains a “plurilateral grouping of like-minded countries sharing a vision of their attributes and values”.
While this elucidation of India’s position is cautious and familiar – that Quad is not directed against any other country – the tacit allusion to China is obvious. At Quad’s virtual summit in March, there was no explicit reference to China, nor was there a post-event joint statement. Four different statements highlighted the priorities and concerns that each member of the Quad brought to the world table.
Emphasis was placed on the wide range of regional and global challenges that included Covid and climate change, while respecting the collective commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific based on international law as derived from the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. and customary practice. The fact that China chose to reject this consensus on international law and resorted to the unilateral use of force by intimidation has been the major global challenge and differently experienced by the region. Some ASEAN states have faced Chinese intimidation in the South China Sea dispute, Australia has felt the wrath of the trade turbulence unleashed by Covid with Beijing and the Indian experience of Galwan in 2020, where lives were lost, are examples.
So while Quad and AUKUS may not have a direct connection (even noting that the US and Australia straddle the two groups) – the very announcement of the intention to surrender the Royal Australian Navy more technologically capable through nuclear submarine propulsion created deep anxiety and anger in Beijing. From its earlier derogatory remarks that Quad was “like scum on the sea dissipating” – China has now become very aware of its maritime vulnerability and the reality of the collective US-led resolve to raise the stake and seek adherence to some consensus on dispute settlement.
It bears repeating that none of the major interlocutors who are now suffering from the Chinese pinch wish to orient themselves towards any military confrontation, but subtle persuasion through techno-strategic signaling is embedded in the Quad / subtext. AUKUS.
While Quad leaders individually dwelled on the same geopolitical theme, this time around there is expected to be a joint statement following the conclusion of the summit that would refer to building global supply chains that bypass China or reduce its importance. Whether this is achievable in the short term is debatable, but the geotechnical competition spanning across the cyberspace-spectrum-AI continuum is likely to be the critical determinant in the coming decades that will pit the disparate global democratic cluster against each other. what China and its Communist leaders stand for.
India is preparing for its 75th anniversary of independence in August 2022 and an objective and unbiased cost-benefit analysis of what constitutes the continuing national interest and the directions of the collective effort is imperative.