China and the Quad Secrecy
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
As US President Donald Trump and his opponent Joe Biden are battling it out to occupy the hot seat in the 3 November US Presidential Poll, the high focus on China and the grouping up against them by the US, Japan, India and Australia, known as the Quadrilateral Coalition or the Quad, has raised concerns over China, as they know that in the Indo- Pacific region they have come out stronger than the rest, hence in the process of resisting Quad, it can stir disharmony in the countries where their footprints are stronger.
The Quad meeting held in Tokyo on 6 October had discussed regional security in the Indo-Pacific region with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, a right hand of former Prime Miinister Abe who resigned after falling ill.
The Quad is also venturing to expand, adding more countries, as Quad Plus where Canada, UK and New Zeland may join up.
Although Quad is supposedly an informal strategic forum of the four countries holding summits and joint military drills, and discussing regional economic and development assistance, there is another side to it – all of them are anti-Chinese and want to ‘formalise’ a strategy to keep China at bay. The discussions on the regional security at the meeting were not revealed as yet.
The Quad also lambasted China for not controlling the COVID-19 and called for a serious probe into it. Also, 118 Chinese mobile applications were banned in India saying that China is collecting personal data of the Indians through their apps.
China began wondering what the QUAD is up to and also lashed out at them, demanding that they be open and transparent about their secret moves. State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, warning over the US-led Quad, said if it impacts Southeast Asia’s regional cooperation architecture it ‘’will mark a dangerous start” if it keeps moving ahead. He called the Quad an ‘Indo-Pacific Nato’.
Pompeo to visit India?
It is also said that Pompeo is expected to visit New Delhi and would also drop in to Sri Lanka.
Although the US Embassy in Colombo did not confirm the visit to Sri Lanka, it’s likely to happen if Pompeo’s visit to India is confirmed.
Due to the pandemic the schedule may shift to new dates, it is speculated that he would be in India on 26 and 27 October. What’s the hurry for such a Quad meeting in Tokyo? When the US Presidential Poll is nearing, the reason for a visit by Pompeo to India (Sri Lanka too) is still unclear, but China is awake.
On the 20th Amendment, that is to be debated next week in the Parliament, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe wrote to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pointed out some valuable notes on the US-China tension that is growing.
Dr. Rajapakshe said that the valuable assets and resources of the country had been acquired by China thus causing Sri Lanka to lose its economic and security hubs.
He pointed out that if the US retaliates to China while attempting to capture Sri Lanka’s security and economic hubs, Sri Lanka would become a battleground in the tug o’ war between China and the US.
As Sri Lanka is becoming highly dependent on China and has lately obtained further loans from them, it is speculated that it would offer more projects to China and this has been a cause of concern in the backdrop of India and Japan being sidelined in the geological race in Sri Lanka. Japan, India and the USA’s major concerns are the security threats in the Indian Ocean region and in the Indo-Pacific region, as China is increasing its presence.
The East Container Terminal (ECT) that was to be offered to India and Japan is on hold and the scrapping off the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project that was offered to Japan was also halted and the potential to offer the railway projects (including the Kelani Valley Line) to the Chinese, has irked the Japanese as they also have issues with China on some islands the Chinese try to claim.
Also, India seems to be highly unhappy over the ECT and other projects, they were vying for, including management of the Mattala Airport, which was not offered to them. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been calling the Sri Lankan leadership over and over to be their economic partner and embrace the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. All those leaders especially from the Quad, seem to be unhappy. Thus, it is seen that Sri Lanka is fishing in troubled waters.
That Sri Lanka is trapped in geopolitics is a bitter truth. What makes the bitterness toxic is that Sri Lanka’s economy is not picking up following two major factors – the Easter Bombings and the COVID0-19. While it should be endorsed that China is the only country supporting Sri Lanka financially, both with loans and grants (Rs 1.2 billion grant last week) and the assistance is seen as an impeccable gesture, in the current climate further debts may only land Sri Lanka in a major crisis. Port City-like projects that have been completed and for which investors are being called may not see the light due to the prevailing COVID-19 situation and the fact that the Port City will not attract mega investors from the US and the West, because they are against China’s economic policies and the Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI).
US-China security and economic clashes and the tension in the South China Sea over China’s new islands, are no secret. The events unfolding on and off reverberates tension in the countries who are allies of China. Recently when the US banned 24 Chinese construction companies, including China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), a contractor for many of the BRI infrastructure projects that China has built around the world and whose presence in Sri Lanka is often under Media watch, created tension on its impact on the Chinese projects in Sri Lanka.
India, China standoff
Five months ago India and China had a face-off at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley. The standoff escalated where several Indian soldiers were killed by Chinese soldiers, increasing tension over what was called the first deadly clash in the border area in 45 years. India’s Foreign Minister reproached China for breaking an agreement struck to respect the LAC in the Galwan Valley however, the Chinese said India had crossed the border twice and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides.
The latest at the LAC is that China had deployed 60,000 soldiers last week and this time the US has reminded India to be resilient to this new situation. Pompeo, after the Tokyo Quad grouping, told the Media there that “China has a bad behaviour record and the ‘tide’ has begun to turn.” The top US diplomat also said that the Quad is developing a set of policies to present resistance to the threats that China poses to Quad countries. Pompeo said the Çhina threat to India is also a threat to Quad countries. “India absolutely need the US to be their ally partner in this fight,” he noted.
Why Australia joined the Quad?
There had been a subtle misunderstanding between China and Australia over a series of bitter incidents for the last several years. In 2018, Australia banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from being involved in its 5G network, citing national security reasons. Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Bill Birtles and Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith in Shanghai, were asked to leave Beijing. Seven Chinese Police officers arrived at their doorstep in the middle of the night, following Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen and high-profile host for China’s English-language broadcaster CGTN, being detained on suspicion of endangering national security in Australia. China also accused Australian intelligence agents of questioning several Chinese journalists in June and seizing their devices “in violation of legitimate rights”. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has formed a stark new view of China: It’s not just a top trading partner, but also a threat to the nation’s sovereignty.”
Despite Australia not stopping the export of iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas to China and Chinese tourists and students and a huge export income continuing to flow into Australia, the two countries don’t trust each other on the national security.
China is virtually on the diplomatic offensive with every big country. It has taken a stance that is too harsh. Recently, they lashed out at the US Ambassador who said that the US believes that partnerships between countries should be open, transparent, and mutually beneficial – and if this is what Sri Lanka’s relationship with China embodies, then we encourage it.” China rebuffed the US, claiming that “the third country openly played off China-Sri Lanka relations and severely violated the diplomatic protocol.” They said the US has no power or obligation to lecture on China-Sri Lanka relations. Such naked hegemony, supremacy and power politics will neither be tolerated by the Chinese nor be accepted by Sri Lanka.
FM Spokesperson Hua Chunying, on the Quad, had noted, “it is now the 21st century and we are living in an era of globalisation. The interests of all countries are so inextricably intertwined that organising closed and exclusive cliques will not help enhance mutual trust and cooperation, especially when the international community is now in the depth of major and urgent tasks of fighting the pandemic and reviving the world economy. “We hope that relevant countries will bear in mind the common interests of all countries and mankind and focus on beating the virus with collective efforts while creating a peaceful environment and cooperation opportunities for regional and global economic recovery.”
China does it on its own and they are the ‘odd one out’. They tightened their grip on Hong Kong, reclaimed land in the South China Sea, antagonised Australia, got into a serious standoff with India on the border, triggered criticism against Western liberal democracies and then claimed that Taiwan was part of its territory and has vowed to attack the country if it refuses to submit to Beijing’s authority indefinitely while the US has decided to give weapons to Taiwan.
In this torrid climate, can China withstand the Quad? What did the high-powered Chinese delegation, led by Chinese Communist Party’s Yang Jiechi, who had all of a sudden visited Sri Lanka after the Quad meeting in Tokyo, tell the leadership? That’s a secret too.