China was the elephant in the room in Quad summit in Hiroshima

May 21, 2023 09:05 AM IST

The word China may not have been mentioned but the action aimed at keeping Indo-Pacific “free from coercion” referred to authoritarian Chinese regime.

The Quad summit lasted only for 47 minutes in Hiroshima, but the leaders addressed all the critical issues facing the Indo-Pacific and came out with solutions to counter the emerging threat on submarine internet cables, cyber-security and sea-lanes in the region.

Quad leaders in Hiroshima
Quad leaders in Hiroshima

While the word China may not have been mentioned by the leaders of Quad, but the action taken by US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and host Anthony Albanese were aimed at keeping Indo-Pacific “free from coercion” and “where no country dominates or is dominated”—veiled reference to authoritarian Chinese regime. The Quad leaders expanded the group into new areas of cooperation among which securing digital technology, submarine cables, infrastructure capacity building and maritime domain awareness are key strategies to minimize the threat from China.

By including key ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Far Pacific countries into the Quad infrastructure program, the four-nation grouping is expanding itself into a democratic counter to Communist Party of China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) by providing technology, financial support and infra-builders to Indo-Pacific littoral states.

One of the top priorities adopted by Quad leaders was protection of submarine cables in the Indo-Pacific from Chinese surveillance and possible intervention in the future in case of a military emergency in Taiwan. As majority of US submarine internet cables are laid on the eastern seaboard of Taiwan and Philippines, part of the first island chain off Chinese hinterland, any PLA intervention in Taiwan will pose a threat to these global highways of communication. As part of China de-risking strategy, the Quad has decided to join hands with leader US to lay a resilient submarine cable network around the world.

Already, a US sub-sea cable company began laying a USD 600 million cable to transport data from Asia to Europe via Africa and Middle-East this February and the 12000 mile lone optical fiber project named South East Asia-Middle-East-Western Europe 6 or SeaMeWe-6 will be completed by 2025.

Another area of cooperation is establishing maritime domain awareness among the Quad countries to ensure that freedom of navigation prevails in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea. Virtual daily display of PLA military muscle across the Taiwan Straits to remind the world that Taiwan is part of China, Russia-China joint exercises in Sea of Japan, continuing to deploy large military formations with reserves against India in East Ladakh and sending significant numbers of surveillance vessels to Indian Ocean are all indicators of trouble ahead for the Quad.

The Indian problems in the sub-continent have multiplied since western neighbor Pakistan has chosen China as its “strategic partner” over US as revealed in a leaked intelligence memo and Myanmar Junta on India’s eastern front is totally dependent on Beijing for its survival. Fact is that over the years, the Chinese have infiltrated into the bureaucracies and media of the Indian sub-continent, leaving Narendra Modi government no option but to partner with like minded friends.

Although the Quad has grown in stature, size and capacity since its new avatar, the weakest link in this grouping is perhaps Japan, which is mired in bureaucratic red-tape and weighed down by humungous investment made by Nippon companies into the Chinese mainland. Add to this the pacifist doctrine of Japan and the picture becomes clear. Just as India and Australia have cleared the fog in their minds about China and the Indo-Pacific, Japan is still a work in progress in Quad.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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