US, China Engage in Dueling Narratives Over Quad, India

March 21, 2021 Updated: March 21, 2021

NEW DELHI—The United States, India, Australia, and Japan came together for their first virtual meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) on March 12, while U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited India to boost strategic ties and address common goals in the Indo-Pacific region.

China, Russian, and Pakistan responded to the meeting with lobbying and rhetorical pushback.

Austin, who arrived in India on March 19 for a three-day visit, called the U.S.–Indo partnership a “central pillar” of American policy for the Indo-Pacific. In a statement, the Pentagon noted the joint efforts of India and the United States toward developing a “partnership to protect the Indo-Pacific.” 

Talk of China dominated both the Quad gathering and Austin’s New Delhi visit. Without directly naming China, Austin told a group of reporters traveling with him to India, “I think working together with like-minded countries who have shared interests is the way you check any aggression in any region.”

Meanwhile, in the Quad summit’s joint statement, the leaders of the four nations emphasized an Indo-Pacific “anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion,” which pointed directly at China.

Since the Biden administration started defining its China policy and expressing continuity of the Quad alliance, the Chinese media have downplayed the Quad and cautioned India about losing its strategic autonomy to its partnership with the United States. 

In its pursuit of a counter-narrative to Quad’s “free, open, accessible, diverse and thriving Indo-Pacific,” China is joined by Pakistan and Russia, whose media and think tanks have carried reports and op-eds against the alliance, particularly about India’s central role in it.

“Russia is worried about India slowing down defense purchases from Moscow and switching instead to Washington, which would be expected, the closer India and the U.S. come together in a defense and security alliance,” Madhav Das Nalapat, vice chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group and editorial director of ITV Media, told The Epoch Times in an email.

He said that China wants India to continue with its former non-alignment foreign policy, which was characterized by non-participation in the strategic affairs of the bipolar world, “so that no other country will come to its assistance should Beijing decide to launch a major kinetic attack either by itself or together with Pakistan.”

Jeff Smith, a research fellow for South Asia at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times that China, Pakistan, and Russia don’t appear to have a coordinated strategy to counter Quad.

“China and Russia have both criticized the Quad in public and sought, unsuccessfully, to persuade India to refrain from joining the group, [while] the Pakistani government has not said much publicly,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the heads of state of other Quad nations, addressing the first Quadrilateral Leaders Virtual Summit through video conferencing, in New Delhi on March 12, 2021. (Picture courtesy Press Bureau of India)

Counternarratives

Ian Hall, the deputy director of Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane, told The Epoch Times in an email that China will try to “divide the Quad and disrupt coordination.”

Chen Chenchen, the deputy director and a research fellow at the Institute of China’s Economic Reform and Development at Renmin University of China, in an analysis published early last year by India’s Observer’s Research Foundation, wrote that Chinese leader Xi Jinping called upon Chinese agencies and experts in public diplomacy to tell the “China stories well” when he first came to power.

There are more than 2,000 think tanks in China, according to Chen, which, along with the Chinese overseas media, overseas supported think tanks, Chinese enterprises, and Chinese expats, construct Chinese diplomacy abroad.

Taken together, the experts refer to these institutions and individuals as China’s lobbyists. In today’s context, the China lobbyists are working against the Quad.

A search for the topic “Quad” on the website of Chinese state mouthpiece The Global Times lists more than 15 stories published immediately before and after the March 12 summit—with all running around a central narrative of economic ruin for the members, particularly India.

Coinciding with Austin’s visit, The Global Times ran an opinion piece originally published under the headline “India Will Not Downgrade as a US Appendage Like Japan Since New Delhi Seeks Major Power Autonomy.”

Nalapat said that China is trying to say that India should remain neutral, which, according to him, also means that India should be on its own during a confrontation with China.

“Entering into an alliance the way Beijing did with Washington during the USSR–U.S. Cold War 1.0 is not a ‘downgrade.’ It is an autonomous exercise of national self-interest, which, in Delhi’s case, means tying up with Washington to block the Sino–Russian alliance from dominating the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), in an analysis by Alexander Yakovenko, the rector of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, published on March 16 talks about a highly competitive, emerging environment between the East and the West and defines the United States as an instigator of old geopolitics.

Yakovenko defines the Indo–Pakistan problem in Kashmir, the Indo–Sino problem in the Himalayas and South China, and the East China Sea as local problems.

“But they do not create global tension if the old geopolitics, in the spirit of the Great Games of the 19th century, is not projected onto a given situation. It is obvious that the main instigator here is Washington, relying on its old alliances and trying to reproduce a policy of containment in the region, in particular, through the creation of closed dialogue platforms, such as the Indo-Pacific Quad of the U.S., India, Australia, and Japan,” said Yakovenko, who added that such a “grand strategy” has few prospects.

Nalapat said India joined Quad in its own national interest, and Kashmir and terrorism aren’t mere local problems for India.

“Kashmir and terrorism are important to India. He forgets China’s help to Pakistan against India,” he said about Yahovenko’s comments.

Zamir Ahmad Awan, a former Pakistani diplomat and a professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, wrote in an analysis published on the RIAC website that the Quad is responsible for the widening gap between India and Russia, which, for the first time ever didn’t hold their annual summit last year.

“Moscow communicated severe concerns on New Delhi joining the Indo-Pacific initiative and Quad, thereby leaning more towards the U.S.,” said Awan, who is also a nonresident fellow of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization.

“By joining Quad, … India is entirely in the American block, which is against China–a close ally of Russia and Pakistan.”

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the first Quadrilateral Leaders Virtual Summit through video conferencing, in New Delhi on March 12, 2021. (Pic courtesy Press Bureau of India)

Is QUAD the Asian NATO?

An opinion piece published by the Global Times on the day of Quad’s virtual summit defined the alliance as an “Asian NATO,” while saying that Quad can’t replicate NATO because of China’s economic clout in the region and because of “internal divergence.”

“While the US is trying to contain China through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as Quad, or the “Asian NATO,” such ambition is impossible to realize,” said the Global Times, citing different demands, political and religious situations in the region. A search for “Asian NATO” in Global Times gives at least a page of articles—in one such writeup, Quad is also defined as the “Pacific NATO.”

Smith said the comparison of Quad to an Asian NATO isn’t particularly helpful.

“The Quad is not a formal treaty alliance. It does not have a dedicated purpose or a dedicated bureaucracy. ‘Asian NATO’ is generally a description used by critics of the Quad, although it’s a peculiar line of attack given that many experts view NATO as the most successful alliance organization in modern history,” he said.

“The ‘Asian NATO’ boogeyman is generally conjured to suggest the Quad is an over-militarized organization designed to contain China’s rise. It is also used as a warning to India against moving too close to the Quad, given New Delhi’s historical aversion to treaty alliances,” he said, adding that neither line of attack has proven persuasive.

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