The threat of China’s hegemonic regional ambitions, increasing offensive military potential, and clustered power, as well as its geographical propinquity to India and Australia, has finally elicited strong balancing responses. On 4th June 2020, India and Australia sealed an accord to grant access to each other’s military bases to facilitate mutual defence exchanges and exercises makers. The agreement named as the “Mutual Logistics Support Agreement” was signed during a virtual meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Indo-Australian accord permits warships and aircraft to refuel and access maintenance facilities of each other. Given the last few weeks of diplomatic skirmishes involved between Australia and China with regards to independent probe into China’s alleged coverup in the COVID19 outbreak. Also, the recent border clashes between the Indian Army and PLA of China in Ladakh make this agreement as a booster for the American led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) which mainly serves as a measure to keep in check Chinese transgressions of established norms surrounding maritime and regional security. It is probably the first step of aggressive alignment of forces opposed to China’s planned dominance of the Asia-Pacific region in military and economic weights during the COVID19 era.
Australia’s security policy has seen a transformation lately. It mostly relied on a genial Beijing as a source of welfare and a strategy that seemed to have delivered a boon. But the recent Chinese interference in Australian politics and society suggests that Beijing would try and manipulate Australia’s economic dependence as a source of political leverage. More importantly, China’s apparent disregard for the pre-defined international order, notably in the South China Sea, highlights the gulf in values between the two sides. China has been quick to take offense at actions which Australia argues are to defend its national interests.
Similarly for India, the ‘Wuhan spirit’ or the warmth after the informal summit between President Xi Jinping and PM Modi in 2019 has been obliterated by the virus from Wuhan, along with China’s transgression in Ladakh. During the 74th UNGA, all indications for a change in the status quo were given when a meeting took place at the foreign ministerial level between the four prominent democracies of the Indo-Pacific region namely India, the United States of America (USA), Japan and Australia. The Quad which draws comparisons to NATO in the Asia-Pacific region is perceived as a countermeasure to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) which is considered as a Chinese ploy for dominance through its strategy of “Debt Entrapment” of smaller countries in the region. More importantly, the virtual summit between India and Australia is a major milestone for emerging powers collaborating for free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Another important diplomatic offensive launched against China is the formation of Inter-Parliamentary Alliance(IPAC) on China which will be co-chaired by Australian MPs, Liberal Andrew Hastie and Labour Senator Kimberley Kitching along with them is a group of 19 MPs from the U.S, U.K, Japan, Australian, Canada, Norway, Germany and Sweden representing an alliance of parties from across the political spectrum who want their governments to take a tougher and collective stance towards China. This also signals an evolving convergence on demanding accountability from China. This is also a subtle indication of rapid geopolitical cycles and revival of Eurasian multipolarity in the Asia Pacific region. Lawmakers of various countries by forming the IPAC have come together to limit the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda that has given rise to many new global challenges and increased regional insecurity.
Beijing’s wolf-warrior posture is sure to be tamed with the strengthening of the Quad and formation of IPAC especially these groups will be of immense support to ASEAN which is crucial in the Indo-Pacific and their support for their resolve in protecting their sovereignty when challenged by China. Most ASEAN countries have areal disputes with Beijing and this provides an opportunity for the Quad and IPAC to work together in safeguarding interests as well as maintaining the balance of power in the region.
China’s coercive tactics in its engagement with the ASEAN members could have major consequences in the South China Sea as these countries cannot counter Beijing without the support of powers like the Quad and IPAC. A collective effort of arbitration by the Quad in conjunction with the IPAC members for countries in the Asia-Pacific at the Global level could be a clear signal of the potency of the new grouping. Joint military drills such as the recent Malabar exercise involving Indian, U.S, and Japanese navies, U.S.-ASEAN Naval war exercise, and other bilateral drills in the South China Sea need to occur frequently to send a clear message to China for taming its expansionist policy.
With China trying to be at the centre of the emerging new world order, finally, major powers are waking up to its bullying nature in geopolitics. The Indo-Australian accord sends an indication that the next flashpoint after middle-east would be the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific region. China must respect global rules and norms by taking responsibility for upholding and updating international order under which it has flourished. A stable Asia-Pacific was an embankment against communist regimes during the Cold War and China is wary of this as U.S influence could hedge its planned dominance in the region.
The Quad and IPAC are enablers for bringing China to agree for sustainable and regionally acceptable partnerships that don’t threaten the balance of power and give rise to area related disputes in the region. Australia has shown to the world how to stand up and regroup for a greater cause of the region, its resolve to hold Beijing accountable as well as making it to adhere to rules of the world speaks volumes of new emerging powers who would be kingmakers in establishing global peace.
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