In the second of a two-part series, as the Indo-Pacific takes central focus in geopolitics, democratic nations must work to keep the region’s strategically located island nations out of China’s sphere of influence
This is all very welcome. India’s role is central to the evolving geopolitical role of the Quad and its clearly stated aim of upholding a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. There is great potential for the Quad to play an even stronger regional security role, notwithstanding the natural differences between its members’ strategic threat perception, risk tolerance and strategic culture - India, in particular, arguably the most exposed to Chinese retaliation, differs from the other members in terms of its overall strategic alignment. It cannot rest, like the others, on a formal military alliance with the United States, and its determination to maintain strategic autonomy will keep it focused on multi-alignment. Notwithstanding these differences, cooperation among the Quad members seems set to strengthen as China continues to challenge the rules-based order. In extending its collaboration across both the military and development sectors, the Quad should focus its collective energy a little more on the Pacific, while still maintaining its existing strong collaboration on the “Indo” side of the greater region. The Australian Government will no doubt want to put some of the focus on the Pacific when Prime Minister Albanese hosts his Quad counterparts in Canberra next year. This collaboration is not limited to the military sphere. The establishment in 2021 of the Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group–an expert panel to identify new infrastructure projects across the region to be part-financed by member countries–signalled a desire to compete with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to strengthen infrastructure investment across the region. Each of the Quad partners have been working in parallel to strengthen their bilateral security and development links with each other. The India-Japan relationship is one of the strongest strands in all this, and each member has its own substantial strategic relationship with the US. Over the last year, Australia and Japan, for their part, have signed a bilateral security partnership and an agreement allowing their forces reciprocal access to each other’s military bases and ports. Australia recognises that Japan has been a consistent supporter of development in the Pacific; it is the third largest bilateral donor there after Australia and New Zealand. And Japan shares Australia’s serious concerns about the detrimental impact of Chinese military engagement in the region. The two countries collaborate extensively on Pacific development projects.
India’s role is central to the evolving geopolitical role of the Quad and its clearly stated aim of upholding a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
The United States has recently swung in with some additional support, announcing the first ever US-Pacific partnership strategy in September and convincing Pacific Island countries, including the Solomons, to embrace an associated framework agreement underpinned by a significant increase in US development expenditure. This followed announcements earlier in the year that Washington would move to expand its diplomatic footprint in the region, establishing missions in Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Kiribati. Each of these countries have, to some extent, fallen into China’s embrace in recent years.
Each of the Quad partners have been working in parallel to strengthen their bilateral security and development links with each other.
France wasn’t the only one. The countries of the Pacific were also surprised by AUKUS. They were not pleased about the announcement of substantial upgrades in defence expenditure in the Pacific, and particularly the headline initiative that Australian nuclear-powered submarines would be deployed in their region. Some of these countries had experienced their own traumas with nuclear testing in the 20th century, and they lashed out. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said that Australia and its AUKUS partners should shift their focus to what the Pacific sees as the highest priority. “If we can spend trillions on missiles drones, and nuclear submarines” he said, “we can fund climate action”. Leaders from across the region said that it would have been nice to be consulted, or at least forewarned. AUKUS has great potential, but the story of its birth is a useful reminder that if the aim is to build influence in the region, it’s important to recognise the people who live there, and to respect their perspective. The Pacific is not a vacant expanse, after all.
AUKUS has great potential, but the story of its birth is a useful reminder that if the aim is to build influence in the region, it’s important to recognise the people who live there, and to respect their perspective
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Ian Kemish is a former Australian ambassador. He is Expert Associate with the ANU National Security College and an Adjunct Professor with the University of ...Read More +