One wonders why China is being critical about the current international efforts to ensure peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region. American President Joe Biden is all set to host a first in-person Quad summit on September 24 in Washington. This summit is to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian and Japanese counterparts Scott Morrison and Yoshihide Suga. In a virtual summit on September 15, American President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison announced to form a trilateral security alliance, called AUKUS.
Beijing views all such developments with suspicion. Asked about the upcoming Washington summit, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told the media " Forming closed and exclusive ‘cliques’ targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and deviates from the expectation of regional countries. ”
Observers say the Chinese criticism of QUAD and AUKUS is irrational. Both these mechanisms are about ensuring Indo-Pacific security. India, Japan, the US and Australia set up the Quad in November 2017 with a view to developing a strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any hindrance. In March this year, President Biden hosted the first-ever summit of the Quad leaders in a virtual format. This vowed to strive for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region that would be unconstrained by any coercion.
Under AUKUS, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States would be sharing information in areas, including artificial intelligence, cyber and underwater defence capabilities. This includes transferring technology to Australia to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines within 18 months. A nuclear-powered submarine fleet would allow Australia to conduct longer patrols against any elements hostile to security in the region.
There is nothing objectionable about AUKUS. It complements several pre-existing similar arrangements, including the Five Eyes intelligence, cooperation initiative, ASEAN and the Quad, in the region.
Australia today is not seeking to develop any nuclear weapons programme. It has ratified the nuclear NPT. Plans for nuclear-powered submarines are to be developed over the next 18 months. These submarines are conventionally armed submarines only. They would just be powered by nuclear reactors.
The observers suggest Beijing should rather welcome partnerships, such as QUAD and AUKUS. The operationalization of this mechanism would foster closer coordination among the concerned nations to maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific and keep its critical sea routes free for trade and commerce . China is a major economic power in the world today . Stability in the Indo-Pacific region is crucial to its trade and commerce as well.
China would do well to discard its present aggressive territorial ambitions in the region. Beijing today claims almost all of the 1.3 million square miles in the resource-rich South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region. This is not fair. The region is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam as well.
( The author is a Delhi-based journalist)