China continues aggression from IOR to Pacific Ocean; Quad to meet, discuss strategy to control rogue Chinese Navy

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Updated: Sep 09, 2020 2:11 PM

Closer home, the foreign ministers of India, US, Australia and Japan, the members of the Quad is expected to meet soon to chalk out plans to deal with the growing Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

india china standoff, Pacific Ocean, Beijing, indian navy, South China Sea, Indo Pacific Region, ASEAN, Mike Pompeo, covid19 pandemic, latest news on india china standoff, defence newsWithin the Indo-Pacific region too, the perceptions of the Quad have varied. (Representational image)

Even as US-led alliance and India are looking for ways to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific Region, Beijing is flexing its muscles all the way to South America.

Closer home, the foreign ministers of India, US, Australia and Japan, the members of the Quad is expected to meet soon to chalk out plans to deal with the growing Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to the experts, “The formation of Quad is a very significant step. It would arrest the unchallenged behaviour of the rogue Chinese Navy in South China Sea (SCS) and also bring in checks and balances for their Naval operations in IOR (Indo Pacific Region).”

Though the dates have yet to be formalised for the meeting to be held in New Delhi, the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar at a recent interaction with a think tank suggested as much. “The fact that this meeting will be held in person despite the restrictions and precautions necessitated by the pandemic is indeed significant,” opines Commodore Anil Jai Singh, Indian Navy Veteran & Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation.

“The effectiveness of the Quad as a security framework committed to ensuring the security of the region will depend on its ability to acknowledge ASEAN centrality and include other nations in the region including both ASEAN and non-ASEAN members,” he says.

Will the Quad be able to control the growing Chinese presence in Indo-Pacific? What do experts say?

Commodore Anil Jai Singh, Indian Navy Veteran & Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation tells Financial Express Online, “The four Quad members have clearly articulated their objective of adherence to a rules-based international order and a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’. In the absence of an institutionalised framework or charter, the Quad has remained just that – a dialogue. It has identified many areas of convergence but on the more significant regional security issues there have been divergences which have been driven by national interest and regional perceptions leading many to question the very relevance of the Quad.”

Within the Indo-Pacific region too, the perceptions of the Quad have varied. ASEAN perceived it as an extra-regional grouping since the Quad failed to appreciate ASEAN’s centrality to the region leading to one Foreign Minister describing it as a solution in search of a problem.

“The ‘problem’ which was spoken about in hushed tones so far has now been acknowledged. China’s recent (mis)conduct in the region commencing with its concealment of the coronavirus leading to its spread across the globe and becoming a pandemic which has ravaged populations and economies and shows no sign of abating followed by its extremely aggressive conduct in the last few months – be it the transgression across the Line of Actual Control with India in the high Himalayas or its belligerence in the South China Sea has led to a considerable pushback which has perhaps even taken China by surprise. It is on a collision course with the USA, has provoked India on the sensitive border issue, continues bullying Japan in the East China Sea and has launched an economic broadside against Australia warning it of dire consequences. Its debt trap diplomacy stands cruelly exposed and its behaviour with its Uighur population and planned re-education of Tibet is nothing short of genocide. Its draconian suppression of Hong Kong and its provocative conduct with Taiwan is having exactly the opposite effect than what China meant it to be,” the former submariner says.

What of the Quad?

According to Commodore Anil Jai Singh, “It is unlikely that the Quad will become a security alliance of like-minded partners anytime soon, if at all. India remains committed to ‘strategic autonomy’ as the cornerstone of its foreign policy while both Japan and Australia are already allied with the US. India is also the only Indian Ocean power in the Quad and would require a greater commitment from the other three on the region west of the Malacca Straits. Japan perhaps understood this well but with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s departure; a formal acknowledgement from his successor will be awaited.”

The forthcoming meeting will therefore be significant in realigning the roadmap taking into cognisance China’s aggressive behaviour now and in the future, reiterate its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and develop a coordinated approach towards addressing the fallout of the pandemic in human and economic terms.

Sharing his views, former spokesperson of Indian Navy, Capt DK Sharma says, “Importance of QUAD is gaining significance in the backdrop of the assertive behaviour of PLA Navy in the South China Sea (SCS) and also in the Indo Pacific region for the last few years. The Chinese Navy is denying the legitimate rights of use of Global commons to its neighbours and have staked claim to the entire South China Sea by promulgating an ever-shifting Nine-Dash line.”

“The littorals of the resource-rich SCS are not being allowed to do an exploration of natural resources including oil and gas extraction, minerals extraction and fishing etc. As per the UNCLOS, seafarers have a right to freedom of navigation in global commons as also of overflight, to which the Chinese have an objection. The forming of QUAD is a step to ensure that coercive tactics of PLA Navy is nipped in the bud and is not allowed to propagate as the Chinese Navy is spreading its area of influence by making bases all across the IOR,” observes the former spokesperson of the Indian Navy,” Capt Sharma concludes.

Meanwhile — China goes belligerent in the Pacific Ocean

Media reports indicate that China has been increasing its presence in the US’ backyard. Earlier this month China has gone fishing in the Pacific Ocean. While the world was fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Ecuadorian officials have claimed that around 325 vessels have sailed close to its exclusive economic zone on the Galapagos Islands. Made up of 127 different islands, the Galapagos has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site.

Some of the boats had turned off their satellite tracking system and were almost nine nautical miles in the waters which are controlled by the Ecuadorian government. With so many Chinese trawlers in the waters close to Ecuador, the government of that country has suggested that Beijing negotiate an agreement, which would allow inspection of Chinese vessels, even outside the EEZ of the the Galapagos in international waters.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has described Chinese activity in the area as “deeply disturbing”, according to the media reports.

Sharing his view with Financial Express Online, Ravi Bangar, former Ambassador of India to Colombia & Ecuador says, “This is not the first time. China’s activities there were reported in 2017. This is China’s way of sending a message to the US as compared to US activities in SCS. This demonstrates that China has the capability to extend its reach in the US’ backyard. The flotilla of over 300 fishing boats has been just 233 miles off the EEZ of Galapagos, so China can claim that it is in the international waters and respecting Ecuador’s sovereignty.”

“As for Ecuadorian request to embark these vessels, China has offered consultations. In my view, Ecuador’s may make noise in the public domain but with the economic conditions and impending elections there early next year, they are unlikely to put much pressure on China. Not to forget China’s economic assistance to and trade with Ecuador since the days of President Correa,” adds Ravi Bangar, former High Commissioner to Cyprus.

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