A UN tribunal at the Hague was convened in 2013, under the provisions of the Law of the Sea to rule on an arbitration case filed by the Philippines government, contesting the outrageous claims made by China on its maritime boundaries. The court ruled in favour of the Philippines, stating that the ‘nine dash line’ under which China made its claims to its so-called ‘historic rights’ to resources in the South China Sea, had no legal basis. None of the land features claimed by China met the requirements of an ‘exclusive economic zone’. Beijing arbitrarily dismissed the court’s award, saying that it was not binding. When India lost a case on its maritime boundaries with Bangladesh, it respected the verdict of the international tribunal.
It is in similar circumstances that China had acquired territory by the use of force earlier. Beijing faces opposition to its maritime boundary claims from many countries. It has also shown scant respect for its land borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, South Korea, North Korea and Tibet, where it has seized territory. China’s disputes on its borders with Russia ended after a bruising conflict in the 1970s and 1980s. Given the fact that a number of countries where China has resorted to maritime aggression, like Japan and the Philippines, are US allies, America maintains a strong military presence in the western Pacific.
It is in this context that Quad emerged as a force to resist Chinese maritime aggression, while enhancing its economic cooperation across the Indo-Pacific. India has undertaken timely and useful exchanges with the US in recent years, during periods of border tensions with China. President Biden has shown considerable interest in strengthening Quad after he assumed office. India has always wanted greater economic cooperation touching on the lives of people in the Indo-Pacific Region, for Quad to be useful and influential. India has been urging the need for primary emphasis on economic issues, like vaccines and global supply chains, while the focus of attention has primarily been on joint naval exercises in the past.
Pressed by India, Quad decided to widen its relevance and influence by placing substantial interest in economic matters. In the meantime, France and the UK participated in joint naval exercises in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. While the UK decided over six decades ago not to have a military presence ‘east of Suez’, it restored its naval links by sending an aircraft carrier for the exercises across the Indo-Pacific Region earlier this year. It also, however, muddied the waters by undermining a $40 billion nuclear submarine deal between France and Australia.
The recent Quad summit in Washington was a remarkable success in clearing doubts about how President Biden would respond after the humiliating US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The results of the summit exceeded all expectations.
The warmth shown by Biden in his talks with PM Modi was exceptional. More importantly, the hard preparatory work done by External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval ensured that Indian priorities on national security and in measures to diplomatically meet the Chinese challenge were adopted. The summit addressed concerns and policies in the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and access to critical and emerging technologies. The persistent Indian effort played a significant role in the decision for the production of 1.2 billion additional vaccines for export, with investments of around $3.5 billion coming largely from Japan. There will be an emphasis on strengthening global health and security. Quad will contribute significantly to measures to take control of the dangers posed by the coronavirus. India is stepping up its production of vaccines to contribute significantly to the production of 1.2 billion vaccines envisaged in the Quad summit. India would be the major contributor of vaccines across the Indo-Pacific Region, till the shores of its East African partners.
China is expanding its maritime presence across the Indian Ocean, from the shores of East Africa to the Straits of Malacca, with bases under construction in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sind provinces. China is also building the Bay of Bengal port of Kyaukphyu in Myanmar. The time has come for India to step up maritime cooperation with the US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. The fleet is equipped with aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and also air support based in Qatar. While India has two nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, it needs to strengthen its fleet, like Australia is doing, with cooperation from countries like France or Russia for the use of conventional missiles across the Indian Ocean.
One of the most important understandings reached during the summit in Washington included measures to address shared concerns through agreements to cooperate closely on counter-terrorism and humanitarian issues in Afghanistan. Quad has also specifically denounced the support or use of ‘terrorist proxies’ (like LeT and JeM) to launch or plan ‘cross-border’ terrorist attacks. This naturally applies to cross-border activities of the Taliban and the entire family of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who lives primarily in Pakistan, but is now the interior minister of the Taliban government.
The government chose to ignore calls for early recognition of the Taliban government, whose behaviour has been anything but civilised. Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that there is going to be an end of Taliban support for radical Islamic groups across the world, like the Al-Qaeda. It remains to be seen how the Taliban will respond to the calls for help from the Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
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