September 29, 2021
On September 15, 2021, President Biden, Prime Ministers Morrison, and Johnson announced the creation of AUKUS. On September 24, President Biden, Prime Ministers Morrison, Modi, and Suga convened in Washington in person as “the Quad” for the first time. Before the meeting President Biden and Prime Minister Modi delivered remarks to the media.[i] These remarks, choreographed by the former, almost matched the family warmth displayed during Trump-Netanyahu meetings at the White House. Thus, the concluding remarks of PM Modi were, “And I am quite — I’m absolutely convinced that under your leadership, whatever we do, it will be extremely relevant for the entire world. Once again, Mr. President, let me thank you profusely for this very warm welcome.”
This was followed by remarks by the four leaders. Then came the “Joint Statement from Quad Leaders”. In remarks to the media and in the Joint Statement, there was no reference to China.
The Joint Statement mentions cooperation in response to Covid-19, climate change, cooperation in emerging technologies, terrorism, and North Korea’s nuclear program. But, as international observers agree, this was essentially a meeting about containing China.
The Statement says,
“Together, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states…
“… Towards that end, we will continue to champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order including in the East and South China Seas. We affirm our support to small island states, especially those in the Pacific, to enhance their economic and environmental resilience…” (Emphasis added)
In 2011, in remarks to the Australian Parliament President Obama said, “After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region.” He also expressed the desire to build a cooperative relationship with China. He had said that all nations have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China; that China can be a partner from reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula to preventing proliferation; that the US would seek more opportunities for cooperation with Beijing, including greater communication between the militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation. And, he had added that the US would continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people.[ii]
Readout of President Biden’s September 9 call with President Xi Jinping also said that the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.[iii] But looking at the developments which followed this call, one may conclude that Mr. Biden is moving ahead towards fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to pivot to Asia, perhaps with more emphasis on containment if not confrontation.
As I said in an earlier post, the phrase “rules-based international order”, according to the West, is the body of rules, norms, and institutions that govern relations. Among those are treaties, international law, formal structures and institutions and values that have developed around and through these such as support and promotion of democracy, equality, and human rights.
The problem is, the US and its Western allies on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other have different perceptions of the international order. While Russia and China put the emphasis on international law and the UN Charter, the US and its Western allies favor an expanded set of rules.[iv]
Whatever the differences of opinion on these rules, there are no external military interventions on China’s track record. On the contrary, there is what the Chinese themselves call “China’s Century of Humiliation”.
And whatever was said in remarks to the media and the Quad Joint Statement, India and Japan have their own perceptions of China’s emergence as a global power. Despite bilateral tensions, China is India’s top trading partner. And China-Japan relations have a long and complicated history and Tokyo is more likely to balance containment with engagement. In brief, Quad is not AUKUS. Such arrangements may help create a favorable balance of power in the region, but none of this changes the reality that none of today’s major powers are able to intervene decisively in the immediate periphery of the others.
How Washington’s NATO allies view the AUKUS and Quad developments, to what extent they were consulted, and how these developments would impact transatlantic relations remain questions. But with Germany entering the post-Merkel era and French presidential election only seven month away, Europe needs to put its house in order first, easier said than done.
As for Turkey, the announcement of AUKUS, developments in the Indo-Pacific, their implications for transatlantic relations are beyond our radar screen. All we can see with our blurred vision are the developments in Syria, Idlib, the PYD/YPG, all of which are mostly our own doing. On the one hand, the Idlib problem is coming to the forefront once again because Moscow, as could be expected, is getting impatient with the situation six years after its intervention in Syria. On the other hand, Washington, now turning to the Indo-Pacific, continues to see the YPG as a cost-effective tool for maintaining a presence in Syria. Thus, Ankara is under pressure from both sides and on good terms with neither.
The cost of our decline across the political/diplomatic/economic spectrum is rising by the day. And all we do is to complain about others. Because the Turkish government loathes admitting mistakes. The best it can do is to say that it has been deceived or misled, that its goodwill has been abused. Tougher times ahead for Turkey.