No room for a European-style conflict in the Indo-Pacific

FTA talks between India and Australia should not be driven by anti-China paranoia. Artwork: Tang Tengfei/GT

On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison “expressed his understanding of India’s position on the Ukraine crisis”, some Indian media quoted Indian Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla as saying. This line came after Morrison and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi concluded a virtual summit on the same day.

India’s neutral stance on the Ukraine crisis has angered Washington and its allies. Washington tried to mobilize allies, like Tokyo, to try to persuade New Delhi, but without success. This time it was Morrison’s turn. As Morrison has long been an “agent” of the United States, his expression of “understanding” indicates that allies in the American orbit have given up on pressuring India over the Ukraine crisis. They don’t want to see India’s stance on this issue affect their cooperation in containing China.

Modi and Morrison reportedly agreed that the conflict in Europe should not distract attention from the Indo-Pacific. Morrison said on Monday: ‘Our meeting today is taking place against the very painful backdrop of war in Europe which must never happen in our own region. Despite such rhetoric, Canberra has consistently followed the lead of the United States in undermining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Moreover, Morrison’s notion conveys a sinister geopolitical intent. The United States and its allies like Australia still want to contain China, but the Ukraine crisis has diverted their attention. Morrison hopes that the United States will not reduce its investments in the Asia-Pacific region because of the crisis.

The United States and its allies have not learned the lesson of the Ukrainian crisis. The crisis is a consequence of the United States and some of its allies pushing a large country like Russia into a corner. Has the US considered the consequences if it similarly pushes China into a corner of the Indo-Pacific region?

The Ukraine crisis should be an opportunity for India to reflect on the pro-American diplomacy it has pursued in recent years. Getting closer to the United States and joining Quad has a price – damage to its strategic autonomy.

India still sees China as its main “threat” and wants to contain China with the help of the United States, Japan and Australia. Although the Ukrainian crisis will not seriously affect the Quad, it will influence the scope and depth of the bloc’s cooperation. In fact, it tested how much India would like to cooperate with the United States on issues that are central to the latter’s concerns. If necessary, India would insist on its own principles. India’s participation in the Quad aims to safeguard its own national interests. If the bloc or the United States wants India to do something that could jeopardize its national interests, India will surely resist.

Overall, the outlook for the Quad is slim. The United States is trying to turn the group into an Indo-Pacific version of NATO against China. NATO has already encountered serious challenges in Europe; attempts to create an Indo-Pacific version will certainly fail as well.

India is reluctant to see Quad become an Indo-Pacific version of NATO, as it does not want to become a victim of confrontation between different blocs. New Delhi believes it is in its interest to maintain a balanced position on the world stage.

Moreover, unlike Europe, the countries of the Indo-Pacific appear to be more interdependent. China’s ties with its neighbors are strong in terms of politics, economy and security. The countries of the region have gradually become accustomed to adopting a strategy aimed at development through regional cooperation. The geopolitical confrontation that the United States has created in Europe has no place in the Indo-Pacific.

The author is the head of the Department of Asia-Pacific Studies at the China Institute of International Studies. [email protected]