By Nantoo Banerjee
By equating the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with the four-nation Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), China is probably justifying its massive military-economic expansion in the south and central Asian region. China knows very well QUAD can’t be likened to NATO. The two are totally different diplomatic and strategic concepts. One is a formal military treaty and the other is merely a security dialogue. NATO is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. As many as 30 countries are NATO members.
NATO is purely a military organisation. Its structures comprise all military actors and formations that are involved in and used to implement political decisions that have military implications. The NATO Command Structure is composed of Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation, headed respectively by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and the Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation (SACT). These forces are available for NATO operations in accordance with predetermined readiness criteria and with rules of deployment and transfer of authority to NATO command that can vary from country to country.
Three years ago, the status of QUAD was best explained by India’s the then minister of state for external affairs, General (Retd) V K Singh, in Parliament in response to a set of questions from a Rajya Sabha member, Pratap Singh Bajwa. Singh explained that the “government engages with various countries through bilateral, multilateral and plurilateral platforms on issues that advance our interests and promote our viewpoint. India has undertaken consultations with Australia, Japan and the United States of America on regional and global issues of common interest.”
Further he added that “these consultations have focused on cooperation in areas such as connectivity, sustainable development, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and maritime and cyber security, with a view to promoting peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected Indo-Pacific region that the four countries share with each other and with other partners.” Joint military exercises between or among QUAD members are of little significance since these countries hold similar exercises with other countries as well. For instance, the routine India-Russia joint military exercises are a several-decade-old practice. More recently, the India-China joint military initiative, called ‘Hand in Hand’ exercise, takes place between the armies of the two countries.
QUAD is not even remotely comparable to the latest Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) nuclear-vitalised partnership programme which US President Joe Biden announced last week. Interestingly, the AUKUS pact, which included some half-a-dozen US nuclear submarine sale to Australia, has so upset France, a prominent NATO member, that it has promptly recalled its ambassadors from Washington DC and Canberra. The reason behind France’s anger is, however, totally commercial. Australia had earlier wanted to buy French submarines. The AUKUS pact has extremely upset China for an altogether different reason. China considers it a major security threat in the region from the US. Incidentally, China already holds a vicelike grip on Australian economy through investment and migration of people. Australia is getting increasingly worried about it. Lately, Beijing has sought to join the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), formerly called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that includes Australia.
Thus, it is quite mischievous on China’s part to underline an imaginary similarity of purpose between NATO and QUAD. It may be used as an alibi by China in support of its aggressive military and economic expansion in Asia and other parts of the world. But, does China really need an alibi? Probably, not. In fact, Asia’s fast emerging superpower has maintained a confrontationist attitude to push its strategic global agenda in the face of criticism from the US, EU and more defensive Japan, India and Australia. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure pipeline, stretching through Asia and Europe, is seen by many as a disturbing expansion of Chinese power that could force participating countries to ultimately surrender to the communist power under heavy debt burden.
In fact, China’s colossal infrastructure investments may usher in a totally new era of trade and military cooperation for countries in Asia, Europe and beyond. Towards the end of the last decade, China had already established itself as the world’s second largest economy after the US. China’s massive economic growth has fuelled its military objectives. In South Asia, China enjoys a near monopoly in arms sale to Pakistan and Myanmar. While Afghanistan opens a new market for Chinese arms, more and more BRI partners are looking for military alliance with Beijing, which presents itself as an alternative to Russia.
The growing expansionist attitude of China is quite alarming. Few can ignore the recent defiant speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping at an event to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party that emphatically warned countries bullying China would face ‘broken heads and bloodshed.’ The world outside was simply shocked by the rude statement from the Chinese president. Xi warned that any foreign force trying to bully China will encounter a great wall of steel erected by over 1.4 billion Chinese people and its powerful military.
What provoked Xi to openly deliver such a warning to foreign powers or China’s contenders is unclear. Some thought the Chinese president seemed to have decided to hit back the US and others criticising its trade and technology policies, military expansion and human rights abuse. Paradoxically, it is China that has assumed arrogance and has been constantly bullying its neighbour, India. Xi may be disturbed by the growing QUAD interactions which could some day come in the way of Chinese military and economic expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.
For India, QUAD will be meaningful if it also focuses on a strong quadrilateral trade and investment participation to make the country economically stronger to take on its detractors. India has the potential to become the world’s third largest consumer market and economy. Such a participation will lead to a more emphatic bond among the member nations. The QUAD alliance makes sense for India at a time when China has been menacingly bullying the country across the border. Few will disagree that China has enviably advanced in economic and military spheres to surge forward to dominate Asia. India needs to work with global powers to contain China’s growing hegemonic influence in the region. However, QUAD, in its current form, can hardly achieve such an objective. QUAD is, at the most, a loose consortium. It needs to be converted into a standing alliance anchored by a collective defence treaty and economic cooperation. (IPA Service)