The purpose of the Quad is not to cause a war but to prevent a conflict by demonstrating even to the military-minded Xi Jinping that such a war will end badly for the PLA and its army of soldiers who have never seen battle except recently across the Himalayas, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
Despite a lobbying effort that began in 2019 after the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the four Quad partners, the combination of the PRC, Russian and Wahhabi lobbies have failed to prevent the first ever meeting of the Heads of State (or Government) of the US, Japan, Australia and India. It took three meetings at the Foreign Minister level (the last a short while ago) before the 46th President of the United States Joe Biden came forward with a proposal that a virtual summit be held of the four Quad leaders (himself, Morrison, Suga and Modi) even before a physical meeting of the four at the G-10 summit.
It would appear that the ill-advised resistance of Prime Ministers Trudeau and Suga to the expansion of the G-7 to the G-10 by the addition of Australia, South Korea and India has been dropped. A G-10 makes much more sense in today’s geopolitical environment than the G-7, while it is a fact that the re-inclusion of Russia (thereby making the group a G-8) would make little sense now that Moscow has signed on as the junior partner to Beijing in the latter’s geopolitical adventures. The holding of the summit, plus the first-ever joint statement by the four leaders, has upset the calculations of Beijing and its associates, principally Moscow, that such a meeting could be postponed to an indefinite future.
The Pakistan lobby in the US and the Russian lobby in India worked overtime to de-legitimize the Quad but failed in the face of the determination of President Biden and PM Modi to deepen the comprehensive collaboration between Washington and Delhi. It is instructive that Vice-President Kamala Harris was present at the summit, as her affinity for India (the country that her beloved mother was born in) is known to her family and friends, which is why her visit to the country will further strengthen the friendship between the two biggest democracies in the world. The purpose of such an alliance, and indeed the Quad, is not to cause a war but to prevent a conflict by demonstrating even to the military-minded CPC General Secretary that such a war will end badly for the PLA and its army of soldiers who have never seen battle except recently across the Himalayas.
KINETIC CONFLICT POSSIBLE
Wars are not caused by calculations as by miscalculations. Judged in this light, the rants by Global Times, the English language companion of the Communist Party of China (CPC) flagship, People’s Daily is a signal that the law of unintended consequences could be leading the present leadership in the CPC to actions as would inevitably lead to a kinetic conflict. Once launched, apart from the safe forecast that neither side will want to risk the destruction of the human race by igniting a nuclear conflict, it is difficult to predict the point where a war involving the two superpowers and their respective partners will end. Given the balance of forces, such a conflict will terminate in the overthrow of the existing leadership of the “losing” entities, whether it be the leaderships in Moscow and Beijing or that in Washington, Delhi, Tokyo and Canberra.
Just as the self-inflicted defeat of the Indian side in the 1962 conflict with the PRC marked the close of the ascendant phase of the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, whichever side gets the worse of the armed encounter (which is certain to be carried out in multiple theatres, given the advantage of escalation dominance held by the Quad) will see a rapid erosion in trust in the leadership and consequent moves by either the ruling party or the people or both to depose the individuals responsible for the situation. There are those on the outside who regard the outpourings of the Global Times as being merely the propaganda part of Agitprop of the CPC, but this seems unlikely. The comments and conclusions are such as would cause amusement (or in some cases, bemusement) rather than fear, so out of touch with facts on the ground are the stated conclusions of the GT editorial writers.
BUBBLE REMOVES REALITY
It is precisely such an obvious (at least to those outside the bubble occupied by the CPC leadership) disconnect from reality that is cause for steps designed to prepare for the inevitability of armed conflict while talking about—and hoping for—peace. Given that the Global Times reflects the view of the world as seen by the leadership core of the Communist Party of China, it is clear that the leadership of the world’s most domestically powerful political party is completely out of touch with ground reality, and is living within the “leadership bubble” in a world populated by Alternate Reality, much as the 45th President of the United States, Donald John Trump, was. In his case, even the defeat on 3 November 2020 did not shake him loose from that Alternate Reality universe inhabited by him and his close cohorts, who still maintain that they won the 2020 presidential polls and only foul play by the Democrats, cowardliness by the courts and treachery by Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) caused the swearing in of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr on 20 January 2021, rather than Trump himself for a triumphant second term
It was the disconnect from reality that caused the downfall of Trump, a disconnect mirrored in the feverish reports of Trumpian media about what was going on within the US. These days, the same quality of a separation of reportage from reality is evident in the columns of what must be regarded as the reflector of the views of the PRC leadership, the Global Times. In recent days, it has spoken of moves to bring Delhi and Washington together as the equivalent of teaming up with mafiosi, forgetting that the country that has spent more on building good relations with the US than the next nine countries engaged in a similar effort combined is the Peoples Republic of China. If building better ties with the US is such an odious activity, why does the Chinese Communist Party seek to improve ties with the world’s most powerful country on a persistent basis? Or in the Alternate Reality that holds sway inside the Zhongnanhai bubble, are such moves good only for the PRC and bad for other countries, who presumably should show their wisdom and decency by signing on to the efforts being made by Beijing to replace Washington at the top of the global pyramid?
According to the Alternate Reality revealed by Global Times, India is engaged in forming a “cabal” aimed at the PRC, a country that enjoys a trade surplus of over $60 billion annually (all import flows licit and illicit considered) from one of the world’s poorest albeit biggest countries. Neither the US nor India has ever sought to degrade the security of the PRC in the transparent manner that GHQ Rawalpindi has been over seven decades and counting, with assistance from the PLA. Is the combination of Pakistan and China that has been immeasurably strengthened under General Secretary Xi Jinping not a destructive cabal targeting India? No, according to the Alternate Reality accepted as truth in the CPC leadership and revealed by Global Times, it is a saintly combination that ought jointly to be awarded the next Nobel Peace Prize. It is this disconnect from reality that is worrisome, as such lack of an anchor—any anchor—to facts on the ground were what led some powers in the 1930s to plunge the world into a global conflict. The 1941 attack by Germany on the Soviet Union, followed by the immediate alliance of the UK and the US with the USSR sealed the fate of the regime in Berlin, although their own bubble of Alternate Reality kept them from understanding this almost till the final days of their existence.
The rants of Global Times is why the Quad is at the core a defence and security alliance, and which is what it needs to be to enable the Indo-Pacific to overcome efforts at converting its waters into a private lake. While their own role in such a development seems not to have penetrated the Alternate Reality bubble, what seems to have embedded itself in the thinking there is similar to that seen in the Reichkanzlerei in Berlin in June 1941, which was that the Red Army would be a pushover rather than the instrument of death it turned out to be for the Germans. The Alternate Reality bubble in the PRC leadership appears to regard India much as Berlin saw Moscow in an earlier era, as inconsequential. They forget that this time around, India under Prime Minister Modi is working towards crafting a global alliance that would ensure that a kinetic encounter with the PLA would end only in a single direction that would be less than welcome to the Global Times.
In the bubble world that events in recent years have revealed that the CPC leadership core is living—and believing—in, the disconnect between ground reality and the filtered perceptions fed by courtiers upwards to the top has ensured that a succession of mistakes have taken relating to countries across the present frontiers of the PRC. President Duterte is known to have a soft corner for General Secretary Xi Jinping, and there are several tycoons in that country who have made immense profits by tying up with Chinese businesses. Despite their influence, the manner in which the claim (upheld by an international tribunal) of the Philippines to the Spratly Islands was rubbished by Beijing has cooled much of the goodwill towards that country. Given the way in which Manila is being treated, it is only a matter of time before “money ceases to speak”, and even Duterte will need to establish close links with the Quad, something the armed forces have been seeking for two years.
Now that it is clear that the US under President Biden is committed to the protection of a free and open Indo-Pacific against efforts to convert much of its waters into a PRC lake, it is expected that Hanoi will also establish an increasing number of linkages with the Quad, with Indonesia certain to follow. Just as the UK and France are natural members from Europe of the Quad Plus format, so are the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam within ASEAN. Indeed, a strong case can be made for renaming the South China Sea the ASEAN Sea, as the latter designation would more closely fit the ground reality of littoral rights over the waters. The PRC claim is based on ahistorical accounts and maps deliberately drawn for the purpose. Just as the time has come for the G-7 to morph to the G-10 (with the addition of Australia, South Korea and India) as suggested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the time is approaching for the Quad Plus format that includes the five additional countries mentioned, two from Europe and three from ASEAN. Both Laos and Cambodia will be outside the grouping, as they have joined Pakistan in becoming a state that has adopted a position of subservience to the dictates of Beijing.
OLYMPIC BOYCOTT GAINS SUPPORT
Once again, thanks to Global Times accurately reflecting the thinking of the CPC leadership core about the situation in BRICS and the SCO, it is clear that Beijing seeks to ensure that both groups bend to the dictates of the PRC. Any country that dares to assert its independence from PRC dictates is to be thrown out. India should never fall into the trap of leaving on its own, but should participate fully in BRICS and SCO meetings. In each, its views need to be presented forcefully, even as Beijing and Islamabad join together in presenting an India-phobic viewpoint. Should General Secretary Xi Jinping not come to India for the BRICS summit, that unfriendly gesture could be reciprocated by PM Modi declining to travel to China for the next future conference held there.
Serious thought needs to be given of a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, as public opinion in several countries is leaning towards a boycott as comprehensive as that seen during the 1980 boycott of the Games at Moscow. India erred in not joining ASEAN and in allowing Pakistan back into the Commonwealth. Neither SCO nor BRICS are the personal property of any of the member countries for them to discard those who refuse to bend to their dictates. It is astonishing, given the pride of the Russian people, how completely under the tutelage of Beijing that Moscow appears to have become, and by extension a facilitator for the Pakistan military in its operations against certain countries.
PRC, RUSSIA, PAK LOBBIED AGAINST QUAD
Enormous lobbying had been resorted to by the PRC-Russia-Pakistan lobby in the US, the Pakistan and PRC lobby in India and the PRC lobby in Australia and Japan to prevent the Quad summit that took place on 12 March. This has happened despite the billions of dollars that have been spent on such efforts, especially in the US. Both President Biden as well as Vice-President Harris have shown that they are aware of the reality of Cold War 2.0, including that this may switch to a kinetic form, especially given the assertive and aggressive moves being made by the PRC across the southern and eastern arc of its borders. In this, they are joined by Prime Ministers Modi, Suga and Morrison.
Now that the Sino-Russian lobby together with Pakistan have failed to block the first ever Quad Summit, the next focus is to mobilise the well-paid assets that the PRC in particular has in Washington to lobby for the same de-coupling of commerce from security-related tensions between China and the US. It will be remembered that until 2020, profits from the operations of PRC-controlled entities in India financed the PLA in its offensives across the Himalayas as well as the finances needed for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In effect, thanks to the de-hyphenation of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, tensions and conflict with trade and commerce, India remained the second biggest contributor to the balance of payments surplus of the PRC, after the US. The effort will be to ensure that a collective of voices rise to a crescendo in the US demanding that “tensions with China not stand in the way of business”. In other words, an India-style de-coupling of commerce from security that ended only when PM Modi announced the apps ban that stunned the Chinese side.
QUAD TO QUAD PLUS
The outbursts of the Global Times about the Quad, specifically the increasing role of India in the group, underline the frustration felt in Zhongnanhai at the progress being made towards a matrix of cooperation that covers several issues, including health and technology. In an age of bio-terrorism health too is security-related, as is technology. It cannot be forgotten that General Secretary Xi has made no secret of his plan to equip the military with high-tech weapons. These are not just meant for parades but for use against countries that need to be “taught a lesson”. Once the architecture of the Quad reaches a certain threshold of effectiveness, it is not India that will be taught a lesson but its adversaries.
A future Quad must evolve into a Quad Plus, with only the four original members having the veto power. Ultimately, the Quad will overshadow a UNSC that has become dysfunctional as a consequence of Cold War 2.0 in much the same way as was the case during Cold War 1.0. The next steps are a small secretariat as well as air, land and sea bases where the militaries of the four countries can train together. The Daulat Beg Oldi airfield would be a good location to have joint air exercises, while the waters around the Senkaku islands would be the perfect location for naval exercises. War is inevitable if those at the top fear war. This is the lesson of the 1930s and needs to be remembered while dealing with another revisionist, expansionist power that is threatening peace, prosperity and stability across the Indo-Pacific.