Political chocies Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
In an interview with an India media outlet, Japanese State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama said Japan would like to see India “commit more” toward the QUAD coalition, which is comprised of the US, Japan, Australia and India.
Nakayama described India as “Asia’s gravity point” and tried to seduce it to “commit more.” This implies that Tokyo feels New Delhi has not committed enough as a member of QUAD. But will New Delhi really obey Tokyo’s tall order?
By participating in the quadrilateral coalition, the US, Japan, and Australia aim to turn the QUAD into an Asian version of NATO, or basically a military alliance to guard against China. While India wants to have some bargaining chip with China, it is not necessarily hot to trot with an exclusive and confrontational military alliance per se. Different definitions of the QUAD will determine the member countries’ different needs and commitments.
The US, Japan and Australia all want India to commit more to the QUAD, as India is a vital part of the US-endorsed Indo-Pacific architecture. And India has conflicts with China. But India does not want to escalate its border disputes and other divergences with China into an overall confrontation. New Delhi probably feels that its current commitment to QUAD is enough as it decided to upgrade its engagement with QUAD to ministerial level in September 2020.
Clearly, New Delhi will not commit as much as Washington, Canberra, or Tokyo requests. It will only adopt a posture based on its own interests and demands, plus stressing strategic independence. It wants to make use of these three countries instead of being used by them. India’s participation in QUAD is more of a matter of expediency owing to its current border friction with China. The statement by the Japanese state minister of defense may even arouse disgust in the Indian society.
Among the four members of QUAD, India is an emerging major power, but it is also the poorest with multiple domestic problems. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s primary policy priority has always been the country’s economy. India wants to attract investment from the US and Japan, and hopes the two countries can shift their industries from China to India.
New Delhi may also need massive aid from Washington and Tokyo should they want to expand the QUAD into a well-oiled military bloc. But so far, neither Washington nor Tokyo is making any of the abovementioned commitments to New Delhi. At present, it is unrealistic for Japan to expect India to “commit more.”
India’s diplomatic tradition of currying favor from all sides is well known. So is its thirst for strategic independence and increased regional strength. In light of this, India is unlikely to completely lean toward the US, Japan and Australia.
Although the participation in QUAD may raise India’s international importance and give India some bargaining chip with China, policymakers in New Delhi would think twice about joining a military alliance and walking into hostility and confrontation with China. After all, China is India’s biggest neighbor.
As the QUAD evolves, it will divide the Indo-Pacific region, or Asia at large, into two confronting groups. This does not bode well for regional peace and stability. Other South Asian countries and ASEAN members will speak out against this. Many may even be propelled to take sides in this context. India is well aware that it cannot ignore the attitudes of neighboring South Asian countries and ASEAN.
The QUAD cannot go too far if they consider China as the very glue that holds them all together. Now with China-Australia relations experiencing the chill, Australia may be thinking about what benefits it might get by joining the US-led QUAD to confront China. After Joe Biden takes office next month, his administration may continue a strategic suppression of China. But Beijing will not engage in an overall confrontation with Washington – this is not like the old Soviet Union days. Most Asian countries will not support a mini NATO or QUAD that targets China.
Indeed, each QUAD member has competing, if not contradictory, ideas about the Indo-Pacific region and its importance to their core interests. The US talks about its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Japan talks about a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Modi presents India’s Indo-Pacific vision. Australia aims to build an Indo-Pacific alliance. These differences look simple, but clearly underscore how they measure their own stakes differently.
The author is a senior research fellow with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance at the Beijing Foreign Studies University and president of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs. [email protected]