According to multiple reports from Reuters, This Week in Asia, and US News, Australia has recently announced it will be joining the United States, Japan, and India in India’s annual navy training drills. These training drills, known as “Malabar,” will be held in the Bay of Bengal as a symbolic sign of cooperation between the four major democratic powers in the South-Eastern Asia region. With Australia joining the exercises, it has officially joined the Southeast Asian military defensive alliance known as “The Quad.” This military group, and its expansion, can be interpreted as a direct challenge to China’s growing maritime and political powers in the Indo-Pacific region.
While China has not yet made an official statement on the Quad’s expansion, we can glean a certain understanding of the Chinese response from previous interviews on the topic. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi dismissed the alliance in 2018 as “headline-grabbing,” suggesting that Chinese growth in the region was not daunted by the growing military cooperation between the democratic nations.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe designed the Quad, which was relaunched in 2017, to be a “democratic security diamond,” made specifically to push back against China’s growing territorial claims and military build-up in the South China Sea. This strategic waterway, which contains vast gas and oil reserves, serves as a water route for approximately one-third of global shipping. The Sea is currently 80% under Chinese control.
Admiral Blaxland, of Australia, notes that China “to a large extent brought this on itself” (in reference to Australia joining the alliance.) Blaxford continues, “[China’s] ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, its unwillingness to negotiate on the South China Sea, its assertiveness across the Indian Ocean, and its assertiveness in the South Pacific have all raised considerable unease and have undermined popular views of China.” All of this suggests a further deterioration of relations between India, China, Japan, the U.S., and Australia within the region.
It is important to note that the U.S. has long been pushing for deeper collaboration between India, Japan, and Australia as a defensive measure against China. India was initially hesitant to allow Australia to join the group, out of concerns for its economic relations with China. However, increased lobbying from both Tokyo and Washington, repeated requests from Australia, and India’s current military crisis with China over a disputed region in the Himalayas have persuaded India to allow for the expansion of the Quadrilateral Alliance.
New Delhi has accused China of sending intrusive soldiers to the disputed Himalayan region. (Beijing denies this.) Australia, meanwhile, has received Chinese trade sanctions on meat and barley and has led an international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. All of this suggests that while America has been pushing for increased resistance against China, all of the nations involved in The Quad have joined for their own personal reasons as well.
As a correspondent for an organization dedicated to non-violent solutions for global crises, this entire situation is concerning. It seems clear that China is the aggressor in almost all of these situations. Blaxford’s above statement, which other admirals have upheld, notes that the increasing militarization of the region is a direct result of Chinese refusal to communicate.
With that being said, however, I cannot help but condemn the growing military alliances. While they are certainly understandable, considering the context of the situation, the growth of even defensive military alliances is an ever-increasing threat towards bloodshed and the loss of innocent life. Both of these are evils that cannot and should not be easily ignored. Unfortunately, we do not live in an idealistic world, and a growing defensive military alliance is an unavoidably necessary evil in this particular situation. With this in mind, I strongly encourage members of the Quad to reach out to China and consistently lobby and pester the country for negotiations on their actions in the South China Sea.
I am not an idealist. Thus, I recognize the necessity for a defensive military alliance. But in keeping with the moral philosophy of Sir Thomas Aquinas, war and bloodshed are only ever defensible when they are for a just cause and all other precautions have been tried. As for the current situation, while it does appear to be escalating closer to violence, there are still multiple non-violent routes that can be taken. Therefore, I encourage the democratic powers in the region to focus their resources on a nonviolent lobbying campaign to bring China to the negotiating table, while keeping close connections with each other to provide more weight behind their demands.
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