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CWA # 365, 25 October 2020

Global Politics
China is against the Quad. Five reasons why

  Mallika Devi

China sees Quad as a threat for not only what it is in its present form but for what it can be and shall be in the future.

Foreign ministers of four maritime democracies- Australia, India, Japan, and the US met in Tokyo for the Second Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad. The stated purpose of the Quad meeting from all the four Indo-Pacific countries was to seek collective solutions for post-pandemic global recovery, creating resilient supply chains,  realizing a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific",  and a commitment to the rules-based international order. At the same time, there was a veiled acceptance that the world has profoundly changed and that Indo-Pacific was under pressure.

Japan, China and the idea of Quad in 2007
Roots of the Quad go back more than a decade to 2007 when former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe proposed it. Japan was the first to see China's rise as a potential threat and therefore proposed the Quad. However, it was probably too early to label China as a threat which other participants of the Quad did not see coming. Other participants of the Quad wanted to observe how the rise of China turns out and wanted to give Beijing a chance to be a responsible member of the international community. At the same time, Quad was a thorn and continues to remain as such for Beijing. 

Today, China sees Quad as against peace, harmony, stability and development of the region and particularly aimed at undermining China and its interests. China looks at the Quad as a united front being put up against it to halt its rise. It is more of a US-led NATO like system in Asia to contain China's rise and prosperity. 

Five reasons why China looks at Quad as a threat to its interests
First, China believes Quad is against peace and development of the Asia-Pacific region. For Being, the region has been the most dynamic in the world, and its people have the right to determine their own course of development which Quad takes away from them. Quad brings in confrontation among the various countries of the region and hampers ASEAN cooperative framework. Wang Jisi in Kuala Lumpur remarked that Quad marks the "beginning of danger" in the region. Thus, Quad is seen by China as an attempt to create disorder in the region. It weakens ASEAN and undermines its centrality, which further helps in marginalizing the ASEAN. Quad ushers in geopolitical competition to the fore and thus replaces ASEAN centrality with the dominance and hegemony of the US. Ultimately, Quad is seen as a "security risk" to the region. Asia-Pacific region needs multilateral, plural, inclusive and transparent arrangements for ensuring its development. Quad represents none of it and the region would be better without Quad. ASEAN, however, has not issued any official statement in response to Quad meet.

Second, China perceives Quad as an anti-China alliance. Beijing sees Quad as a US-led security alliance-NATO-like system in Asia with the unstated objective to contain China's rise and disrupt its development. Quad is imagined as a military security alliance to harm China. Quad is no more than "exclusive clique" in the region which shakes up mutual trust and understanding in the region. Quad is seen as a bullying instrument that denies China its right to development. China further believes that Quad belongs to a bygone era- Cold War coalitions- would prove futile in our present globalized and interdependent times. 

Third, China looks at Quad as a potential challenge to its Maritime Silk Road Initiative, which is part of BRI. Quad leaders have emphasized building connectivity and filling in the infrastructure deficit in the region. This is precisely the official purpose of the Maritime Silk Road Initiative. China intends to build new kind of international relations through its 'project of the Century' and Quad may act as a hindrance in part of the area BRI covers. The Quad would challenge China's growing influence in the region which began because of China's heavy investment in the ports of the region. Thus Quad shall act as a balancer in the region which is seen is slowly tilting towards China.

Fourth, China fears trouble from/through the Quad on its maritime claims. The officially stated purpose of Quad is to maintain rule-based order which further ensures freedom of navigation and adherence to international treaties, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China is a signatory to the UNCLOS but the award released by the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea Arbitration on 12 July 2016 was declared void and without any binding force which China neither accepts nor recognizes threatening the rule-based order. For China, the dispute in the South China Sea has to be solved through negotiations by parties directly concerned in the dispute without any recourse to third parties. China views freedom of navigation and over-flight as Western creation meant to serve their interests. China is against the US involvement in the South China Sea dispute to which China points out that the US is not a party and its interference only complicates the issue further. Furthermore, the US involvement in the South China Sea dispute damages the security and peace of the sea. China does not accept third-party dispute settlement. For the Chinese, it is the US which is turning the peaceful Sea into geopolitical wrestling ground. China and ASEAN have the willingness and wisdom to jointly safeguard and ensure stability in the South China Sea. If Washington is genuinely interested in the peace and development in the South China Sea, then it should stay away from the region and leave the region to the wisdom of the countries in the region.

Fifth, China judges Quad as a potential obstacle to realizing the China Dream and Rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. China Dream and Rejuvenation of the Chinese nation can be interpreted in several ways, but here it is seen as China's dream to go back to its past and be the regional hegemon it was. China recognizes that it has the power as well as economic strength to realize its Dream. China is already the economic anchor of this region and wants to replace the US, which is at present its security anchor, and Quad does not let China do that. Quad is also viewed as the US pivot to Asia thus is seen as a roadblock for China to claim superiority which is veiled hegemony in the region.

Can the Chinese fears be addressed on Quad?
China sees Quad as a threat for not only what it is in its present form but for what it can be and shall be in the future. Chinese concerns cannot be addressed how much the Quad participants might try. One, because there is a China element to it and second Chinese internal fears cannot be dispelled by outsiders.


About the author

Mallika Devi is a PhD scholar at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.

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