China Threat Will Unify Indo-Pacific Region post-India COVID Crisis, Experts Say

May 7, 2021 Updated: June 3, 2021

Experts said that U.S. support and China’s behavior during the current Indian COVID crisis would make the security alliance of the Quad (U.S., Australia, Japan, and India) more robust.

Although unnamed in the March Quad summit (The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) joint statement, the China threat would bind the geopolitical union in the long run. Political factors, next year and beyond, drive the long-term regional outlook more than how the Indian government is handling COVID now.

“Our (U.S.-India) relationship is still very strong,” said Major Randy Ready at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM). He told The Epoch Times that the outbreak didn’t have any current impact on security operations between U.S. and India, as no exercises were planned during this time. “If anything, the U.S. support to India has made the partnership even stronger.”

Initially, America was silent for a few days before it pledged support to India, which stirred some misgivings in the Indian media and public. Rahul Mishra, a senior lecturer at the University of Malaya, described the U.S. delay as “one rough patch” that wouldn’t affect the long-term U.S.-India relationship. Mishra grew up in India and is  teacher in Kuala Lumpur. He acknowledged the perception that “perhaps Russia was more reliable” came up again in India, and said the perception would probably be managed in the next six months.

The current COVID outbreak in India would strengthen the Quad cooperation, according to Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. In his view, the outbreak highlights the importance of the vaccine partnership, a centerpiece of the Quad where India will produce at least 1 billion COVID vaccines for the world by the end of 2022.

“The future for the Quad is pretty bright,” said Mishra, who added that the four countries are “keen in strengthening and institutionalizing the Quad.” And European powers, including the U.K. and France, are also showing interest. He said that European support might help the Biden administration take more concrete actions, as Biden wasn’t doing enough on China.

Epoch Times Photo
Rahul Mishra, a senior lecturer at the University of Malaya, grew up in India (Courtesy of Rahul Mishra)

China Threat Will Unify Indo-Pacific Region

Tosh Minohara, professor of U.S.-Japan Relations and Diplomatic History at Kobe University, doesn’t believe the Quad should be about vaccine partnership or climate change as it currently is. “The Quad should be about how to maintain liberal democracy and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region,” he told The Epoch Times.

The Quad would start to evolve and function, with Quad-plus countries such as the Philippines and South Korea acting more in unison, according to Minohara, as the elections in both countries next year would probably generate governments tougher on China.

As a historian, he sees the analogy between the 1930s and now. During the 1930s, Japan was the challenger to the existing established order. The world restricted Japan’s aggressive expansion with the ABCD encirclement. ABCD stands for American, British, Chinese, and Dutch.

As the Quad evolves, Minohara believes that it should redefine itself as more than an ABCD encirclement, a strong partnership with lots of cooperation. It creates more anguish for the encircled country. The difference is that in the 1930s no countries were so economically dependent on Japan as they are on China now.

He said that it’s good to have friends in Europe, but the U.S. and regional players are the keys. In his view, Xi Jinping has to take Taiwan, probably before 2030, ideally without a war or military conflict, because Xi wants to surpass Mao Zedong, as the greatest communist leader of China.

Minohara made another analogy—between Poland and Taiwan. Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland, out of which Hitler probably didn’t expect a war, was an example of how many wars started with miscalculations. He said that he would not be surprised if a regional conflict would be the outcome when Xi Jinping tries to take Taiwan.

He believes that the U.S. will defend Taiwan as America will lose world leadership if it doesn’t. In 2025, we will probably see a new U.S. administration more aggressive on China. “The China threat is what will unify the United States of America.”

“The Indo-Pacific is the most consequential region for America’s future. It hosts our greatest security challenge, and it remains the priority theater for the United States,” said commander Admiral John C. Aquilino, the new USINDOPACOM  on his first day on the job at the change of command ceremony on April 30. The U.S. Department of Defense announced that Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will attend an Asian security summit in Singapore next month to “make clear how much we are prioritizing the Indo-Pacific theater.”

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Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III attended the change-of-command ceremony for Indo-Pacific Command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, on April 30, 2021. (Sgt. Brittany Chase/Department of Defense)

Minohara shared that, in Japan, many China scholars hold the view that it’s game over already. No matter what America does, China will be the next power. He said that this type of opinion “really underestimates the U.S.: Americans are no pushovers.” He noted that many Japanese didn’t see the link and so treat Taiwan as a separate issue.

To him, the limitation of a dictatorship is that it depends on one person. When Xi Jinping is no longer Party leader, Xinjiang, Tibet, and other regions might splinter off, leading to a smaller China that is a lot easier to manage for the world. “In the end, the U.S. will prevail,” he added.

Negativity on China Nearing Cultural Level in India

The one country Indians are becoming most negative toward is China. An August 2020 “Mood of the Nation” poll by India Today found 91 percent of Indians agreed that banning Chinese apps and denying contracts to Chinese companies is the right approach to counter Chinese aggression. Kondapalli said that public opinion toward China might have become more negative since then.

“Although everybody calls it COVID-19, everybody knows that the virus originated from Wuhan,” said Kondapalli. He said that the CCP was portraying India in a way that, with the latest COVID outbreak, India’s rise would be problematic. His view is that China is trying to convince the world, especially investors, that India is not safe for investment.

He said that during the last week of April, the Global Times organized a live report from India, where they used cash to recruit the Chinese students or workers who had remained. These people reported from the ICUs (Intensive Care Unit) and crematoriums and took many photographs.

On May 1, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Political and Legal Affairs Commission posted a graph on Weibo titled “ignition in China vs. ignition in India,” putting a picture of China’s space mission beside a picture of Indians burning corpses of deceased COVID victims.

It is Hindu tradition to burn a corpse, believing that the migration of the soul happens during cremation, and the flames send the person to heaven. Kondapalli said that the Indians were deeply offended by the images, and the negative feelings toward China began to reach the cultural level. He sees a multi-partisan consensus in India to be tough on China, especially on the border issues.

Epoch Times Photo
Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi (Courtesy of Srikanth Kondapalli)