Opinion: International groupings and initiatives to address China's challenge in Indo-Pacific

New Delhi Published: Jan 05, 2022, 10:26 PM(IST)

File image: Chinese President Xi Jinping Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The United Nations and the United Nations Security Council have proven ineffective in combating China's expansionism and aggressiveness, as the UNSC is structured in such a way that it cannot pass any resolution against a P5, veto-wielding power

Backdrop

China poses biggest multidimensional threat to rule-based order in Indo-Pacific. The ineffectiveness of existing groupings formed during and after WWII, has prompted formulation of new groupings to address China's challenge in the Indo-Pacific Region. The United Nations and the United Nations Security Council have proven ineffective in combating China's expansionism and aggressiveness, as the UNSC is structured in such a way that it cannot pass any resolution against a P5, veto-wielding power. The fact that China has junked the PCA's verdict against it, in the South China Sea in the case of the Philippines demonstrates this.

NATO's weaknesses were exposed when it couldn't protect Greece from Turkey's unilateralism, Armenia from Azerbaijan, which was fighting with the help of Turkey and Pakistani mercenaries, and all NATO members still not being on the same page, when it came to dealing with Russia or China, as many NATO members signed up for China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Are old regional organisations effective?

The Five Eyes continues to be an intelligence alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Canada and New Zealand arose from an informal meeting between the United States and the United Kingdom during World War II, but has not proven to be very effective so far, due to limited scope. The ANZUS Treaty, which stands for Australia, New Zealand, and the United States Security Treaty, was signed in 1951 to protect Pacific security. The US and New Zealand no longer have a security collaboration, despite the fact that the arrangement has not been legally terminated. In light of the foregoing, certain effective groupings are emerging, taking into account current circumstances and the geopolitical situation.

Quad, Quad Plus and AUKUS 

Quad declared itself a non-military organisation despite Malabar Exercises to strengthen interoperability of its member fleets, but it is responding to China's Non-Contact Warfare threats, according to joint declarations published after the Summits last year. Cyber, space, essential technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and health security (the COVID-19 pandemic) are among the shared security challenges to be addressed, with the development of a new global vaccination alliance to distribute one billion vaccines. Quad appears to be attempting to establish an alternative global supply chain, technology ecosystem, and infrastructure development system in order to counter Chinese aggression, coercion, due to global overdependence in these areas.     

The security alliance of Australia, USA, and the UK (AUKUS) complements Quad in terms of effective military posturing in the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on Australia's capacity building, which includes nuclear-powered submarines. The US' subsequent efforts to engage with those ASEAN members who are under Chinese coercion, as well as acceptance of Indian of inclusive Quad or Quad Plus to include other global stakeholders, are positive moves. If military postures of the West, Quad, Five Eyes, and other South China Sea claimants are in place, and interoperability exists between these forces, their intentions can alter swiftly if Beijing's aggression exceeds the global tolerance threshold.

It's worth noting that the addition of India in the Quad alarmed China the most, as the other states are already members of NATO and do not share a physical border with China. In order to address China's challenge, India's inclusion and geographic configuration are critical, working with other strategic allies such as France in the Indian Ocean. The backing of other NATO navies, like France's, can boost Quad's deterrent value, necessitating its upgradation to Quad Plus.

Groupings/Projects Countering BRI! 

China launched the BRI initiative with the dual purpose of increasing its global footprint while also utilising its excess capacity to build infrastructure, including continental and maritime connectivity. It has been accepted by more than 160 countries, and many of them are suffering as a result of this project, which was marketed as a "win-win" initiative but has turned into a "China Win" initiative. Most poor countries have become engulfed in debt, which could lead to the loss of crucial real estate or its equivalent in the Chinese favour. The majority of projects were awarded to Chinese companies that used Chinese labour, which harmed countries like Sri Lanka, which lost Hambantota, and Pakistan, which is in heavy/ unpayable debt. BRI today appears to be a failing business that is having trouble finding investors and is being hampered by bad debts.

The BRI project is much larger than all of the other infrastructure projects that other countries have planned, but the aim of this initiative is to create a viable infrastructure alternative that is not exploitative, environmentally friendly, and less risky for poor countries that are struggling due to a lack of alternatives. The G-7 programme 'Build Back Better World' (B3W) attempts to mitigate the $40 trillion in infrastructure investment required by developing countries by 2035, while simultaneously giving an alternative to China's problematic funding practices. The United States plans to invest in five to 10 major infrastructure projects around the world by 2022 as part of a bigger B3W strategy to counter China's BRI, but these projects are yet to take off.

The Asian-African Economic Corridor (AAEC), the Blue Dot Network, the EU's 'Global Gateway' policy, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), the Friendship Highway, and the Trilateral Highway in Southeast Asia are all examples of alternative infrastructure architecture that can be used to keep vulnerable countries out of China's debt trap. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting worldwide economic crisis, no major progress has been made in these initiatives, however, and none of the programmes have been cancelled.

China poses most significant challenge for US, Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia. The global economic, strategic and demographic fulcrum has shifted to this region. India is crucial to countering China challenge due to its geographical location, as Chinese Sea Lines of Communication pass through Indian Ocean, where its most vulnerable. Chinese strength keeps reducing as the distance of friction point increases from the Eastern seaboard of China. A multinational collective response can effectively challenge Chinese expeditionary capabilities, which are yet to pass any meaningful test so as to convert its ‘String of Pearls’ into islands of vulnerability.

Reality of Taiwan’s Threat

US, Japan have conveyed their resolve to help Taiwan against Chinese forced occupation, but the arrangement is still short of any meaningful grouping.  The latest incursions of China into the Taiwanese ADIZ are more of deterrence to ensure that President Tsai doesn’t declare independence. Using force against Taiwan doesn’t make strategic sense for PRC, because it will be lose-lose situation for Xi-Jinping in all scenarios, by any realistic cost benefit analysis. 

With excessive coercion by CPC, the military capabilities of Taiwan have increased manifold. Xi Jinping cannot risk a failed operation with American fleet around and US adopting strategy of ambiguity, keeping Chinese guessing on how it will react.  China will keep the military posturing with psychological war on, till next elections in Taiwan and hope that DPP loses election and Taiwan gets a government amenable to Beijing. US and others will continue FON operations in Taiwan Strait as hither-to-fore with some strategic messaging from Japan, Australia with ambiguity prevailing on Chinese as well as US side. 

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

Major General S B Asthana

The author is a strategic and security analyst, a veteran Infantry General with 40 years of experience in national & international fields and UN. He has been awarded twice by President of India, United Nations, former Prime Minister Moldova and Governor of Haryana. He is currently Chief Instructor at USI of India.

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