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Date: 17 March 2021 Author: Łukasz Kobierski
China’s Reaction to the March Meeting of Quad
On March 12, US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually with Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India, Scott Morrison of Australia and Yoshihide Suga of Japan as part of the Quad forum. As a result of the talks, a joint statement of the leaders was published and concerned the future of mutual cooperation as well as plans for its further development. The new US administration is rebuilding its alliances. Beijing is concerned and dissatisfied with that – it attempts to indicate the weaknesses of the initiative.
The online meeting of the Quad forum (the USA, India, Australia, Japan) reaffirmed the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values and territorial integrity. Strong support was expressed for the unity and central role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the region. It was announced that three working groups (on vaccines, climate change as well as critical and emerging technology) would be established and regular meetings of the representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs would be held at least once a year. Moreover, it was communicated that the leaders of the member countries would have one more meeting this year, this time held in person. A pledge was made to deliver up to one billion vaccines to the countries of the ASEAN and Indo-Pacific, among others, by the end of 2022. This would be possible thanks to a joint effort of Indian manufacturing, US technology, Australia’s logistical capabilities as well as Japanese and US funding. The four leaders also agreed to further cooperate in terms of securing the supplies of rare earth metals. The statement did not explicitly mention China, but after the meeting, the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged that “the four leaders did discuss the challenge posed by China.”
When asked by a Bloomberg reporter about the Quad format summit, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said such meetings should lead to mutual understanding and trust between countries in the region instead of “targeting third parties.” He also said that no “exclusive cliques” should be created.
In a commentary for the South China Morning Post, Liu Zongyi, an associate research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, argues that the Quad will create disruption in the region and a more hostile environment for China in terms of security. “The nature of Quad will still remain largely military or strategic, despite their approach to discuss other topics. One main reason is because China’s ability and willingness to invest in the region will still be ahead of these other countries,” he added. Experts warned that if the Quad format maintains the “Cold War mentality,” a good cooperation between China and the US would be difficult to achieve.
Chinese journalists are warning India against rapprochement with the US. According to one of the articles “New Delhi needs to take a more cautious attitude and think twice” and “India shouldn’t play with fire, or it will end up burning itself.” The author adds that cooperation with the Americans will disrupt India’s strategic autonomy and even that it will become a “cannon fodder.” Additionally, its development will be hindered in terms of cooperation within the organizations of which India and China are members, such as BRICS or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
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Chinese analysts pointed out that contrary to the typical military alliances created by the United States, now this country is trying to cover more ground, especially the economic one, in order to suppress China. According to them, this is against multilateralism. Moreover, they highlighted that the role of the PRC is crucial in the economic recovery of the region and that the trade volume between China and the ASEAN countries is twice as big as the one with America. The experts added that most Asian countries do not share the American version of “democratic values” and alliances such as NATO. In their opinion, nations in the region should focus on their economic interests.
A lot of attention was devoted to one of the Quad’s challenges – mining and selling rare earth metals. According to Chinese experts, the PRC has and will continue to have a dominant role in this sector. However, a lack of appropriate technology and talent may hinder the progress of Quad countries in establishing new supply chains. According to Chen Zhanheng, deputy head of the Association of China Rare Earth Industry, “China has invested substantially in improving its refining technology over the past years, forging a definite advantage.” Experts have reassured that Beijing will not use rare earth metals as a countermeasure in political conflicts.
The articles of the Chinese media outlets express concern about the Quad and attempt to diminish its strength in many fields, for instance, military, economic and political ones. Yet again, the US is portrayed as a country that is unstable domestically and seeks to use other countries to pursue its goals in foreign affairs. On the other hand, Beijing is portrayed as a peaceful player that every now and then extends a friendly hand to the Quad members, but faces rejection. It is also apparent that New Delhi’s increasing willingness to cooperate with Washington is not welcomed by Beijing. India, which initially approached the Quad forum with caution, is crucial for the implementation of the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific. After recent border disputes with China, India is more and more interested in establishing a counterweight to Beijing in the region. Another matter which makes the PRC so nervous is the ambition of Quad to decouple from China and build its own rare earth mining capacity. The Chinese Communist Party authorities would thus slowly lose the economic leverage they use in the case of, for example, Australia and Taiwan. Hence, experts’ opinions that discourage other countries from such actions and argue that breaking supply chains is unprofitable, even more so in times of pandemic.
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