Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The Indian Ministry of Defense announced on Monday that Australia has been invited to participate in the Exercise Malabar 2020 in the Bay of Bengal later this year. That the US, India, Japan, and Australia will take part in the drill is widely considered to be the latest update of the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) alliance.
Australia last participated in the Malabar naval exercise in 2007. India inviting Australia to return to the drill after 13 years is aimed at putting pressure on China. The US has always wanted to formally establish a QUAD alliance, turning it into a basis for an "Asian NATO." People have been making increasing forecasts in this regard, given the upcoming Malabar naval exercise as well as the foreign ministers' meetings among the four QUAD countries, held in Tokyo on October 6.
So far, the QUAD mechanism is primitive. The four countries' geopolitical ties and contradictions with China are quite different. And they have different demands and expectations of the QUAD mechanism. Although they are cooperating more frequently, the factors in the Asia-Pacific region preventing the four countries from forming an anti-China alliance are far greater than those which unite them.
China poses no security threat to the region. India and Japan have only territorial disputes with China, but those disputes are unlikely to escalate into all-out confrontations. Putting territorial frictions under control is generally a common rationality between them and China. Meanwhile, Australia has no real security contradictions with China. But it has followed the US to sow discord with China, resulting in tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
It is worth noting that only the US spares no efforts to turn the QUAD into an "Asian NATO," while the other three are proactively taking advantage of it for their own ends. The three have seen a "threat" because they are unaccustomed to China's rise, but have developed realistic relationships with China's rapid growth. Strengthening relations among the four countries can increase their weight and pressure China to help them gain more profits in their ties with China.
China cannot prevent gatherings of the four countries by exerting diplomatic pressure. But China has had the initiative in its relations with India, Japan, and Australia, with abundant resources to keep them away from the US' anti-China strategy. Take India. China-India border frictions are not so easy to address. But it is believed that both countries hope to prevent their frictions from becoming strategic hostility. It is clearly against India's interests to abandon its strategic autonomy and play a pawn of the US just because of India-China border issues.
China should stick to its national interests and basic rules of international relations. It must not be frightened by the QUAD's bluffs and surrender to its pressure. China should be itself in its interactions with India, Japan, and Australia - be inclusive to what it needs to be, and hold the bottom line it should hold. We should also let the unavoidable conflicts be.
Take India again. India will find that China will pose no threat to it in the Indian Ocean, and there are more areas of cooperation than differences between the two countries on the international stage. As for China-India border disputes, the QUAD group is unable to offer any help to India. India has to face China by itself. China and India could reduce frictions through negotiations. China will not hesitate to resort to military means if need be. There is no place for the QUAD group in the China-India border issues.
The target of QUAD is a China that is "strategically offensive." However, such a China doesn't exist, thus the group's goal is empty and false. When it comes to its relations with China, Australia's closeness with the US hasn't forced China to make any concessions. Instead, Australia has suffered a lot economically.
The idea of an "Asian NATO" is incompatible with the times. The China it targets is quite different from the real China. The US faces huge challenges in creating an anti-China united front. India, Japan and Australia even have differences with the US in defining and describing the QUAD mechanism, not to mention other countries in the region. Most of them and the US hope to make use of each other, and the relationships between them involve intricate interests.
China needs to be vigilant, but to remain calm and confident. China is a positive force in the region. It is strong, but shows goodwill to others. China doesn't act against the world. Any attempt to mobilize forces around China will fail.