The Quadrilateral Summit which was held on 12th March, 2021 did not directly name China but Beijing seemed rattled. Its mouthpiece, Global Times speculated that India, Japan, Australia and the US have been hyping the ‘China threat’ even before the event. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijan said, “For some time, some countries have been exaggerating the so-called China threat or China challenges, to drive a wedge among regional countries to sow a discord between their relations with China”, Zhao said at the regular ministry briefing on Monday. He commented that state-to-state exchanges and cooperation should be conducive for improving mutual understanding and trust among countries and should not be targeted against and undermine the interests of the third parties. US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Justin stated that the US and its allies have in them the capabilities to deter China. Not only that, Wang Yi, the State Councilor and Foreign Minister acknowledged how the Quad emerged as a “security threat” and the Indo-Pacific was labelled as the “New NATO”.
China’s dream for a China Centric Asia Pacific was challenged when the Quad countries called for an inclusive Indo-Pacific that is “anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion”. The Quad leaders even gave a joint statement and committed to holding an in-person’s leaders summit by the end of 2021. China commented that that the four member Quad” will end up nowhere” if it does not abandon its ideological bias and the cold war mentality it harnesses.
The agenda of the Summit called out for free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, the key agenda which attracted global attention was collective response to COVID-19 pandemic in terms of synergizing the vaccination efforts for humanity, with India as manufacturing hub, assisted by others to roll out one billion vaccines by 2020.
The list of other shared challenges that was addressed during the Summit also includes cyberspace, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief (HADR), some of which echo Chinese alleged involvement like cyber attacks and transparency of the World Health Organization. The US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan stated that the four leaders discussed the challenged posed by China and the Quad countries believed that it could outcompete “autocracy”.
Major General S.B. Asthana said, “None of the Quad leaders during the Summit called out China directly, but China knows that it challenged rule-based order by junking PCA’s decision in the South China Sea (SCS) and continues to coerce countries in Indo-Pacific region. Chinese response of calling the Quad meeting as ‘selective multilateralism’ and ‘covid politics’ shows its frustration due to emergence of an alternate global vaccination collaboration, something which China had unilaterally reserved for itself for profiteering. India is the only country amongst Quad members which has an unsettled land border with China.
“China has done its best to create some apprehension in mind of the other Quad members, by keeping China -India relations fluctuating between tension and harmony with incidents like Doklam, Wuhan, Malappuram and Ladakh. After the Doklam and Ladakh standoffs, it’s quite clear to Indians that China can’t be trusted, which has brought relatively better clarity in Indian position. The ‘Incremental Encroachment Strategy’ of China exhibited in SCS, East China Sea (ECS) and Ladakh is a serious concern not only to the countries directly affected by overlapping EEZ or unsettled borders, but also to rest of the world, as China continues to convert features/atolls into military bases, expect others to accept them as islands and apply ‘Baseline principle’ under UNCLOS-III to claim its 200 nautical miles of EEZ thus converting SCS into ‘Chinese lake’ over a period of time. It poses threat to freedom of navigation (FON) and flight along global Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and may lead to some restrictions like Air Defense Identification Zone in SCS “, states Major General S.B. Asthana.