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Asia lost a decade to counter China. But India and Quad can lead new strategy now

Asia has a spaghetti bowl of regional security structures. A new pan-Asian strategy with India in the lead can help counter China’s belligerence.

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Deng Xiaoping’s ascent to the pinnacle of Chinese power inaugurated a high-growth economic transition, which also kick-started the modernisation of the moribund People’s Liberation Army in 2000. The trigger came in the form of the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-96. 

In the next 20 years, China’s defence budget would grow from $14.6 billion or 121 billion Yuan at the turn of the millennium to $178 billion or 1.268 trillion Yuan by 2020. Given the opacity of Chinese defence numbers, independent estimates believe the figure to be much higher. In comparison, India will spend $65.86 billion, and Japan $47 billion in the current fiscal.

A full decade

The Chinese defence ramp-up to protect its undefined core or fundamental interests set alarm bells ringing in influential Asian capitals in the early 2000s itself.

Influential Western think-tanks commenced Track- 1 exercises in 2002 to explore whether an Asian NATO could be brought into existence. The aim was to contain China without using the word ‘containment’. The lynchpin of such an exercise had to be the United States, the prevailing global hegemon after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its vassal states in Eastern Europe.

However, the US was distracted and deeply involved in the War against Terror post-9/11. Subsequently, its energies got further consumed with the invasion of Iraq and the growing entanglement in Afghanistan. Moreover, those were the heydays of globalisation and China was the factory of the world. So, there was a diffidence about pushing a security architecture that could affect global supply chains, which were filling the coffers of American and European conglomerates.

The security of North and East Asia since the end of Second World War was guaranteed by the US  through a multitude of hub-and-spoke security alliances from Japan all the way down to Australia. Moreover, Asia was not a homogeneous territorial entity like Europe. From Vladivostok to the Strait of Bosporus, Asia is a potpourri of disparate regions — West Asia, South Asia, East Asia and North Asia — if you take India as the geographical reference point. Each of these regions has its own peculiar set of issues with some overlaps. In the maritime domain – the Indian, Western Pacific and the Southern Oceans were also treated as different water bodies before Indian strategists coined the term Indo-Pacific with the South China Sea as its confluence.

These inherent contradictions gave China a full decade to modernise the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) without any let or hindrance fuelled by double-digit growth in defence expenditure.

Also read: Pompeo cites Ladakh tensions, accuses China of playing ‘rogue actor’ around world

A pivoting world

Cognisant of the increasing Chinese defence muscle, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe way back in 2006 proposed a security arrangement called the quadrilateral security dialogue, colloquially known as the Quad. It was a grouping of India, Australia, the US and Japan. However, the idea couldn’t fructify because Australia pulled out of it in 2007, apparently due to Chinese pressure during the John Howard and Kevin Rudd administrations. In 2017, however, all four came back to the negotiating table.

The first sign of China’s assertiveness came when the Chinese flexed their muscles over a fishing trawler being boarded for inspection by the Japanese Coast Guard near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010. This group of five uninhabited islands and three islets are under the administrative control of Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, respectively.

Realising the portentousness of the Chinese threat, the Barack Obama administration in the US made two important decisions in 2011. On the economic side, it accelerated the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and on the security side, it joined the East Asia Summit (EAS), colloquially called the Pivot to Asia or Rebalance to Asia. Strategically, it did not mean much as 50 per cent of American naval assets were already deployed in the Western Pacific Ocean.

By then it was too late as China increasingly started asserting its claim on the South China Sea based on the ambiguous nine-dash line much to the chagrin of other littoral states of the South China Sea, which also have competing claims to many of the islands and shoals claimed by the Chinese.

Also read: China’s expansionist approach is raising fresh challenges for it, from the US to EU

China’s belligerence

This belligerence acquired a new aggression after the triple-hatted coronation of Xi Jinping between November 2012 and March 2013. He was now the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chairperson of the Central Military Commission and the President of the People’s Republic of China.

Tensions in the South China Sea have increased, compelling the US to launch repeated Freedom Of Navigation Operations — five in this year alone. 

The Doklam face-off on Bhutanese territory, One Belt One Road (OBOR) or Belt Road Initiative (BRI) aimed at global hegemony, and the confrontation with India on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the latest iteration of this pugnaciousness. In essence, China has become the proverbial bull in the Asian China shop and has to be reigned in. However, it would now require a Pan-Asian Security Architecture not confined to North/East of Asia alone to constrain China, given its military rise over two decades.

Also read: Doklam team of Jaishankar-Doval-Rawat let Modi down but he has an option

A new security structure

Asia has a spaghetti bowl of regional security structures spread across its various sub-regions. They are the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), ADMM+3, Asian Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), Five Powers Defense Arrangement (FPDA), Ulaanbaatar Dialogue (UBD), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to name but a few. China is also a member of a number of these organisations, and has been the driving force behind others like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Here the Quad can emerge as the nucleus to create a pan-Asian strategic framework given that its four members share common values and have their own relationships, especially with the hydrocarbon exporting economies of the GCC.

Once it is clear to China that the Malacca dilemma can be extended to the Strait of Hormuz also and, therefore, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the alternative logistics route from Gwadar to Kashgar, can be rendered inoperative, it would have a salutary impact on the Chinese — given the hydrocarbon dependence of its economy. Almost 78 per cent of Chinese energy needs are still fulfilled by coal and crude oil, most of which are imported from abroad.

Coupled with that, the Vladivostok-Chennai maritime corridor needs to be made operational by India and Russia to step up our presence in the South China Sea. The first and second island chains need to be aggressively patrolled by the US, with its allies denying the Chinese navy the ability to break out into open waters.

Given the lost decade when timely action could have constrained, if not contained, China, a pan-Asian security architecture underpinned by the Quad and a combination of initiatives are now required with dispatch.

The author is a Lawyer, MP, Former Information and Broadcasting Minister GOI, National Spokesperson, INC & General Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Department AICC. Views are personal.

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  1. Pounding in galwan. No one is on our territory 😂😂 . In your dreams, want to act like a pawn of West.
    Lost 50 kilometers in depsang plains and many kilometers in arunachal.
    😂 delimitation commission good work

  2. What a looney toon cartoonish is this article, Manish Tewari. If you just want to write belligerent bullcrap and mislead the viewers into subscribing into Congress’s agenda of ousting the Modi govt at the expense of India’s defence, you’re definitely pushing yourself to be an unworthy opposition. If you have the guts, stand and work with the government in national interest and then try to win the next elections in your own capability and not by some cheap politics at the expense of our country’s national integrity. Ohh I forgot, your country is dictated by the Sonia Dynasty. ‘Dynasty’, isn’t that word used to refer to China? Hmmmm. My bad, that my loud thinking, accidentally revealed your secret, Mr. Tewari.

  3. Well in that decade you were in power.

    You almost gave siachin.

    You let dragon occupy our territory in that decade.

    Your boss signed a deal with dragon with India sovereignty on the line.

    Now a decade later your eyes are suddenly wide open to the danger India is facing.

    No wonder with Amir Jafar like you no matter how strong India is it will always lose and be slave of inferior ideology and nation state.

  4. Pakistan did not become a superpower by becoming a pawn in SEATO or CENTO. India will not become a superpower by becoming a pawn in QUADRILATERALS or PENTAGONS. The GDP per capita of US is about $ 63,000 , the GDP per capita of Australia is about $ 54,000, the GDP per capita of Japan is about $ 49,000 and the GDP per capita of India is about $ 2000. It does not need much imagination to recognize which of the above four countries is expected to do the job of a pawn.

    In 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was PM the GDP per capita of India was $ 313.06 and the GDP per capita of China was just $295.49 i.e less than that of India.China’s GDP per capita remained less than that of India till 1990. In the period from 1990-1995 when the Congress was in power China’s GDP per capita increased to become1.5 times more than that of India . From 1995-2005 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was P.M. for most of the time it soared to become 2.3 times that of India.From 2005 – 2014 when Manmohan Singh was P.M. it became 4.5 times that of India. In 1918 with Narendra Modi as P.M. for four years it became nearly 5 times that of India with India’s GDP per capita as about $2000 and China’s about $9800.
    Why was China’s performance so stellar as compared to India. One of the reasons as Thomas Piketty points out is that China invested much more of its tax income in social needs like health care and education. In India there has been a lopsided budget policy for decades. In the current budget about Rs 69000 crores is allotted to Health and Rs.700,000 crores to defence. The policy was not much different in the decades of Congress government (after Nehru) of which the author of this article was a part. Military power rather than social development has been the hallmark of every government in power in India after Nehru’s death. It is this imbalance that has to be corrected.With a GDP of just $ 3 trillion trying to achieve greatness by becoming pawns in Quadrilaterals and Pentagons will be an exercise in futility.

    • His head is filled with gobar. His expectation is India will be in the lead in the Quad, not just a pawn !

  5. A new security structure with India in the lead – ? Ha, ha, ha ! Hindus are extremely vain people., very much into wishful thinking They cannot manage India, and have poor relations with all neighbours including Nepal. They have a chai wallah as leader and thought they are vishwa guru, but it only took a small beating from Xi to climb down.

  6. Concise and lucid. You should write more often on geo political and geo strategic matters. Also you’re being wasted in Congress. Join the GoI in some capacity. Join the BJP. The nation needs you.

  7. Manish Tiwari was in government when the lost decade happened.
    Expect him to be removed from the spokesperson post by The Dynasty as they did with Jha.

    Modi has brought some relevance to India – no mention of that?

  8. The author is a fork tongued Congress Chinaman. Believe not a word this carpet bagger says.

  9. The author is a Congress-Chinese stooge. Don’t believe a word of this fake.
    This is classic psy ops from a Congress-Chinese termite.

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