New drives to counter China come with a major risk: throwing fuel on the Indo-Pacific arms race


Evan Vucci/AP

Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityAn accelerating arms race in the Indo-Pacific is all but guaranteed now that China finds itself a target of new security arrangements — AUKUS and the Quad — aimed at containing its power and influence.

This has the makings of a new great game in the region in which rival powers are no longer in the business of pretending things can continue as they are.

The AUKUS agreement, involving Australia, the US and UK to counter China’s rise means a military power balance in the Indo-Pacific will come more sharply into focus.

The region has been re-arming at rates faster than other parts of the world due largely to China’s push to modernise its defence capabilities.

In their latest surveys, the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report no let-up in military spending in the Indo-Pacific. This is despite the pandemic.

SIPRI notes a 47% increase in defence spending in the Indo-Pacific in the past decade, led by China and India.

China can be expected to respond to threats posed by the new security arrangements by further expediting its military program.

It will see the formation of AUKUS as yet another attempt to contain its ambitions — and therefore a challenge to its military capabilities.




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The Quad makes clear its ambitions

Unambiguously, AUKUS implies a containment policy.

Likewise, the further elevation of the Quad security grouping into a China containment front will play into an atmosphere of heightened security anxiety in the Indo-Pacific.

The four Quad participants – the US, Japan, India and Australia – have their own reasons and agendas for wanting to push back against China.

Quad leaders in Washington
The Quad leaders unveiled a host of initiatives after their face-to-face meeting last week.
Evan Vucci/AP

After their summit last week in Washington, the Quad leaders used words in their joint statement that might be regarded as unexceptional in isolation.

Together with other developments such as AUKUS, however, the language was pointed, to say the least:

Together, we re-commit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The “beyond” part of the statement was not expanded on, but might be read as a commitment to extend the Quad collaboration globally.




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With vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, Quad leaders send a clear signal to China


All this has come together at the dawn of a new US administration whose members include several conspicuous China hawks, and at a moment when China has shown itself to be ever-willing to throw its weight around.

Beijing’s crude campaign against Australian exports in an effort to bend Australia’s policy to its will is a prime example. It is doubtful an AUKUS or an invigorated Quad would have emerged without this development.

The Obama administration talked about pivoting to the Asia-Pacific without putting much meat on the bones.

Under President Joe Biden, this shift will be driven by a hardening in American thinking that now recognises time is running out, and may already have expired, in the US ability to constrain China’s rise.

These are profound geopolitical moments whose trajectory is impossible to predict.

Australia commits fully to China containment

Canberra is now a fully paid-up member of a China containment front, whether it wants to admit it, or not. In the process, it has yielded sovereignty to the US by committing itself to an interlocking web of military procurement decisions that includes the acquisition of a nuclear-propelled submarine fleet.




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Whether these submarines are supplied by the US or Britain is a bit immaterial since the technology involved originates in America.

The submarines will not be available for the better part of two decades under the most optimistic forecasts. However, in the meantime, Australia could base US or British submarines in its ports or lease American submarines.

Meanwhile, Australia is committing itself to a range of US-supplied hardware aimed at enhancing the inter-operability of its military with the US.

This is the reality of fateful decisions taken by the Morrison government in recent months. Such a commitment involves a certain level of confidence in America remaining a predictable and steadfast superpower, and not one riven by internal disputes.

Australian defence spending likely to rise

What is absolutely certain in all of this is that an Indo-Pacific security environment will now become more, not less, contentious.

SIPRI notes that in 2020, military spending in Asia totalled $US528 billion (A$725 billion), 62% of which was attributable to China and India.

IISS singled out Japan and Australia, in particular, as countries that were increasing defence spending to take account of China. Tokyo, for example, is budgeting for record spending of $US50 billion (A$68 billion) for 2022-23.




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Australia’s defence spending stands a tick over 2% of GDP in 2021-22 at A$44.6 billion, with plans for further increases in the forward estimates.

However, those projections will now have to be re-worked given the commitments that have been made under AUKUS.

Neglected in the flush of enthusiasm that accompanied the AUKUS announcement is the likely cost of Australia’s new defence spending under a “China containment policy”. It is hard to see these commitments being realised without significant increases in defence allocations to 3-4% of GDP.

This comes at a time when budgets will already be stretched due to relief spending as a consequence of the pandemic.

In addition to existing weapons acquisitions, Canberra has indicated it will ramp up its purchases of longer-range weapons. This includes Tomahawk cruise missiles for its warships and anti-ship missiles for its fighter aircraft.

At the same time, it will work with the US under the AUKUS arrangement to develop hypersonic missiles that would test even the most sophisticated defence systems.

What other Indo-Pacific nations are doing

Many other Indo-Pacific states can now be expected to review their military acquisition programs with the likelihood of a more combative security environment.

Taiwan, for example, is proposing to spend $US8.69 billion (A$11.9 billion) over the next five years on long-range missiles, and increase its inventory of cruise missiles. It is also adding to its arsenal of heavy artillery.

South Korea is actively adding to its missile capabilities. This includes the testing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Seoul has also hinted it might be considering building its own nuclear-propelled submarines (this was among President Moon Jae-in’s election pledges in 2017). Signs that North Korea may have developed a submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles will be concentrating minds in Seoul.

All this indicates how quickly the strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific is shifting.

Australia — perhaps more so than others — is the prime example of a regional player that has put aside a conventional view of a region in flux. It now sees an environment so threatening that a policy of strategic ambiguity between its custodial partner (the US) and most important trade relationship (China) has been abandoned.

The price tag for this in terms of equipment and likely continuing economic fallout for Australian exporters will not come cheap.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, Quad leaders send a clear signal to China


Evan Vucci/AP

Lavina Lee, Macquarie UniversityThe Quad has come a long way since it was resurrected in 2017 as a loose coalition comprising the US, Australia, India and Japan. The face-to-face, leaders summit at the end of last week marked a new high point for the grouping.

Three of the members continue to suffer Chinese coercion in various forms: economic coercion in Australia’s case, and the use of military and grey-zone tactics to advance territorial claims when it comes to India and Japan.

It is an open secret the Quad’s primary and overwhelming raison d’etre is countering China. As a response, Beijing vacillates between outright scepticism and scornful indignation about the return of a “Cold War mentality” to the region.




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Explainer: what exactly is the Quad and what’s on the agenda for their Washington summit?


China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian for example, described the latest meeting in Washington as a “closed, exclusive clique targeting other countries”. He added the Quad

runs counter to the trend of the times and the aspirations of regional countries. It will find no support and is doomed to fail.

Beijing is wary of the Quad with good reason. While the Quad countries avoid mentioning China directly, Beijing knows the group is seeking to counter its ability to set the regional agenda, promote its own authoritarian norms and values, and dominate the most important technologies of the future.

China’s aims present a comprehensive challenge to the US-led liberal order in everything from diplomacy and trade to technology and military power. It is this Chinese ambition which has given momentum to the Quad.

A commitment to combat global problems

Friday’s summit made substantive progress on the initiatives flagged during the first Quad leaders’ virtual meeting in March. It also expanded the Quad agenda to include broader aspects to meet the China challenge.

These initiatives can be grouped into three broad categories:

First, the Quad wants to show that liberal democracies can deliver solutions to the greatest challenges of our time, and that their vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” is more attractive than the China-centric model Beijing promotes.

As part of this, the Quad countries have upped their COVID-19 vaccine pledge, now promising to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses globally by the end of 2022.

While India has pledged to resume vaccine production for export in October, Japan set aside US$3.3 billion (A$4.5 billion) in loans and Australia US$212 million (A$291 million) in grant aid for Indo-Pacific countries to purchase vaccines.

Given the existential threat COVID-19 still presents to much of the region, this represents an attractive counter to Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy, which has been used to exert political influence.




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And on climate change, the Quad announced three notable initiatives:

  • a taskforce dedicated to establishing “two to three low-emission or zero-emission shipping corridors by 2030” through the development of green-port infrastructure and clean bunkering fuels at scale
  • a clean-hydrogen partnership to “strengthen and reduce costs across all elements of the clean-hydrogen value chain”
  • a new cooperative space initiative to exchange satellite data to monitor climate change risks and manage the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources.

Secure technologies and supply chains

The second category of initiatives involves measures to foster an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem — a response to growing security concerns about the use of equipment from Chinese telecommunications companies to build 5G networks around the world.

The group pledged to work towards advancing more “secure, open, and transparent 5G and beyond-5G networks” — an indirect reference to developing an alternative to Chinese vendors.

And to prevent China from dominating the critical and essential technologies of the future, the Quad also launched an initiative to map vulnerabilities and bolster security in these supply chains, particularly semiconductors.

A counterpoint to Belt and Road

Finally, the third category of initiatives is targeted toward the creation and promotion of liberal rules, norms and economic standards throughout the region.

This includes the development of standards on quality infrastructure development, technology standards for the collection of big data, the use of artificial intelligence, and shared cyber standards for the development of “trustworthy digital infrastructure”.

All these programs are designed to counter Chinese economic practices (via its Belt and Road Initiative) and high-technology exports that undermine liberal democratic practices and enable government corruption and authoritarian-style control and surveillance of populations.




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However, an economic component capable of competing directly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative is still missing. The absence of a more comprehensive, Quad-based economic strategy remains the greatest weakness in its pitch to advance a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Without it, the Quad cannot counter Beijing’s narrative in the region that the path to economic prosperity is primarily dependent on China.

Still not a ‘security apparatus’

Also notably absent from the summit was discussion of greater military-strategic cooperation.

Prior to the meeting, a US administration official emphasised “the group is not a security meeting or security apparatus”.

The Quad is certainly not an alliance and it is unlikely to become an “Asian NATO”, despite Chinese claims this is what it is aiming to do.

Nevertheless, the four countries have advanced their abilities to conduct joint military operations, such as the Malabar naval exercise. They have also strengthened their cooperation in other areas — such as the sharing of military logistics and maritime surveillance and intelligence information — although this is in bilateral and trilateral formats so far.

And the momentous announcement of the AUKUS alliance between the US, UK and Australia will certainly complement the deterrent capabilities of the Quad.

In all of these initiatives, the Quad leaders have succeeded in dispelling Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s prediction the group would “dissipate like sea foam”.

Instead, it has become a genuine democratic bulwark against Chinese expansionism and is increasingly forcing Beijing to recalculate the costs of its actions.The Conversation

Lavina Lee, Senior lecturer, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Quad group makes vaccine deal as a wary China watches on



AAP/AP/Ryohei Moriya

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

American officials and those representing other parties to a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) may try to pretend that a summit of Quad leaders was not driven primarily by concerns about a China threat.

Briefing reporters after the meeting and the announcement of a vaccine deal to help low-income countries fight the COVID pandemic, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sought to play down the issue when he said the Quad was not fundamentally about China:

The Quad is not a military alliance; it’s not a new NATO, despite some of the propaganda that’s out there.

But the fact is there would be no Quad, and no inaugural summit of the leaders of the US, Japan, India and Australia if it were not for deepening alarm among the US and its allies about how China’s rise might affect peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

The leaders’ joint statement leaves no doubt a China preoccupation is driving the elevation of this body to national leader status. In doing so, it invests it with much greater significance. The statement reads:

We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion.

If this is not “fundamentally about China”, it’s not clear what it is about.

It remains to be seen whether the first Quad summit bolsters the group’s ability to counter a rising and increasingly assertive China, or whether differing priorities among its participants expose its limitations.

The Quad is being marketed as a constellation of liberal democracies against an illiberal China. But there is a world of difference between how each of the participants view and interact with China.




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Not just about China

In assessing the likely effectiveness of the Quad, it is well to keep in mind that nations do not have permanent friends or permanent enemies – just permanent interests.

Canberra would be foolish to invest too much faith in what is, at this early stage, a consultative body that will meet semi-regularly to discuss regional challenges and conduct military exercises.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be advised to contain his exuberance in describing the Quad as the arrival of a “new dawn”.

This is not a “new dawn” in Asia, even if we are witnessing a Chinese sun rising.

In a paper – How Biden can make the Quad endure – the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues the body needs to avoid a “China Trap” – becoming a narrowly-defined China-obsessed body – and seek to broaden its scope.

In this regard, it is a positive development that Quad leaders have undertaken to supply up to one billion coronavirus vaccines across Asia by the end of 2022. This is a practical demonstration of the Quad’s potential and one aimed at countering China’s soft power.

The Quad must ensure it doesn’t fall into the ‘China trap’, making everything about Beijing’s rising power.
AAP/AP/Andy Wong

A ‘new kind of diplomacy’

History is important to understanding the Quad’s genesis and where it might head. The body owes its start to the establishment in 2004 of an ad hoc grouping formed to deal with the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.

The United States, Japan, India and Australia established what was described then as the “Tsunami Core Group”. This initiative represented a “new type of diplomacy” to face an existential challenge.

In 2007, the first meeting of the Quad was held on the fringes of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila. The Quad showed promise as a regional grouping, but the Kevin Rudd government, elected that year, abandoned the Quad dialogue on the grounds it would be perceived as being part of a China containment policy.

This did not align with Labor’s strategic impulse, which was to continue to elevate relations with Beijing.

In 2017, under the Turnbull government, the grouping was revived. It has been described as “Quad 2.0”, to distinguish it from its first iteration.

Since then, participants elevated a dialogue among themselves to defence and foreign minister level. Quad countries have also participated in regular military exercises. However, until last week, when newly-elected President Joe Biden decided that in his first significant foreign policy initiative he would bring together Quad leaders, the body had lacked head-of-government imprimatur, and thus credibility.

That has changed.

Biden’s description of the Quad as a “vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” means it has the potential to become an important component of a regional security architecture.

This is provided it does not get bogged down in a defensive anti-China mindset in dealing with regional concerns from China’s power to climate change to health challenges.

Helping to put the Quad summit into perspective is the planned meeting late this week in Anchorage, Alaska between US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken, Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts. This includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This will be the first high-level meeting between senior American and Chinese officials since the inauguration of the Biden administration on January 20. The Anchorage meeting will be critical to Washington’s efforts to establish a better working relationship with Beijing.

Top of the agenda will be discussion about a prospective summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This is shaping as one of the more important encounters of the modern era.

Testifying last week before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Blinken said the Anchorage meeting would be an opportunity

to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behaviour.

The Blinken-Sullivan meeting with Chinese counterparts will be framed by a discussion Biden had last month with Xi in which he told the Chinese leader the US intended to challenge China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices” as well as its record on human rights, and its crackdown on Hong Kong.

According to the White House summary of that discussion, Biden also said he hoped to cooperate with Xi on matters like the coronavirus, nuclear proliferation and climate change.

There was no indication from the summary whether Xi had raised with Biden his election description of the Chinese leader as a “thug”.




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China’s response to the Quad meeting has been predictable, although less florid than might have been anticipated. This no doubt reflects an understanding in Beijing that attitudes in New Delhi, Tokyo, Washington and Canberra are not identical. This is how Beijing’s mouthpiece the Global Times put it in a commentary:

The Quad is not an alliance of like-minded countries as the US claims. The three countries other than the US would probably take a tactic of coordinating with the US in narrative while sticking to their own approaches to China.

Beijing will seek to wedge Quad members where it believes opportunities arise. Its wedge diplomacy will be a test for the group’s solidarity in its efforts to provide a regional counterweight to China.

Consolidation of the Quad’s importance will depend on self-interest of its various participants and circumstances. Beijing’s willingness to acknowledge the legitimate interests of Quad members will determine whether it proves to be a useful addition to a crowded regional architecture, or another irritant in an increasingly fractious relationship between China and the West.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.