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In the aftermath of the devastating first wave of Covid-19, many countries are on the path to recovery while still reeling from the socio-economic devastation caused by the virus. To add to the global repercussions of the virus, many West leaders feel the need to tackle the growing influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region. China has followed an aggressive and expansionist policy when it comes to its borders. This notion is further solidified by the fact that China shares borders with 14 nations but has territorial disputes with more. The most recent June 2020 skirmish between India & China at the Line of Actual Control is an instance indicating the same. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD was merely envisaged as an informal strategic dialogue between its member countries of Australia, India, Japan, and The United States, which allowed for military and diplomatic arrangements. Founded in 2007 by the then Japanese head of State Shinzo Abe, the Quad was an organization to counter China, although this was never explicitly stated. After being defunct for a decade, the Quad was revived in 2017 in the wake of a trade war between the USA and China, which resulted in many trade sanctions implemented by the Trump administration. India, having been an attendee to the first QUAD summit in March of this year, has a unique opportunity to gain economic footing with the help of its allies to compete with China's international trade and socio-political positions.
The diplomatic relations between India and China started off on a positive note with India being one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic Of China ( mainland of China ) as the actual representative of China in the United Nations instead of the Republic Of China ( Taiwan). A strong socialist connection between the then leaders Nehru & Mao laid the groundwork for the sino-Indian friendship This relationship strained however as China set out to conquer the region of Tibet, while the Tibetian government in exile took refuge in India. This was perceived as India not respecting China’s sovereign integrity which resulted in further tensions which erupted in the sino-India war in 1962 with India losing the Aksai Chin which it claimed was a part of Ladakh. The territory is still disputed to this day.
India’s current geo-political position and associations put it in a strange position where it is a member of a group comprising of developed nations (QUAD) motivated to keep the Indo-pacific as well as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), a group consisting of developing countries that was set up to make trade fairer and multilaterally beneficial for all its members. These nations, abundantly rich in natural resources, are set to compete with economic superpowers. In an attempt to improve the financial structure of their governments, the BRICS countries unanimously agreed upon several arrangements, such as the creation of a BRICS contingent reserve arrangement to ease the liquidity pressures on the currencies of its member nations. It can also be viewed as a counterforce to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). A BRICS payment system that would serve as an alternative to the SWIFT payment used for international settlements amongst countries was also in one of the summit discussions during 2015. The five member states even went ahead in multilaterally setting up New Development Banks (NDBs) in all the BRICS nations to foster development projects and economic cooperation. Headquartered in Shanghai, this ensured direct monitoring of projects by member states in their own countries by themselves. India has been the last on the list. All other members have already set up an NDB regional office in their respective regions.
A powerful tool to assimilate resources for sustainability projects, which also aided the economies during the pandemic. However, the growth of the BRICS has not been at the same rate as prophecized, with Goldman Sachs pulling the plugs on many BRICS investment funds in 2015. Structural bottlenecks in the administering economic policies in India and the rampant corruption plaguing the governance of Brazil have stagnated the projected growth of these nations. In 2017 the armed forces of both nations faced off in what is known as the Doklam Standoff. China was attempting to push its sovereign borders into Bhutan and legitimizing its claims by setting infrastructural projects such as road construction and villages along the border region. India stepped up as an ally to Bhutan to stop China in its tracks. The conflict ended with both sides agreeing to a disengagement from the region although Chinese representatives did not verbally admit to defying international borders. This technique has been dubbed by many as ‘Salami Slicing’ where China tries to encroach upon the bordering region by setting up projects on or moving their army in little by little expanding its boundaries. The motivation behind this may not be to redistribute resources more evenly across regions, instead as a means of keeping possession of resource rich regions while also having an upper hand on strategic resources that permeate across borders such as river water. The aforementioned event can be seen as a catalyst in the stagnation of BRICS.
China has made its displeasure at the idea of the Quad known through 'Global Times', a state-run media mouthpiece of the Chinese Government. The online journal deemed India as a negative asset of the 'BRICS' coalition, having adopted a non -cooperative stance despite having full intentions of using the assets of the group such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank to garner more financial support. Furthermore, China states that having given India the responsibility of hosting the 2021 BRICS summit was a gesture of goodwill which clearly has not been seen by India as compensatory behaviour in response to the 2020 army standoff between the two.
One might argue that China has too been responsible in taking advantage of the Indo-Pakistan status quo by pandering to both nations through various means. This can include providing loans with favourable terms of repayment to Pakistan, the formation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor ( a project in a territory still disputed between India and Pakistan to this day) thus holding a diplomatic advantage over Pakistan. For India however the benefits of their relationship with China have mostly been in terms of trade. This exposes the hypocritical stance of China wherein it has appeased to both the nations while accusing India of favouring the QUAD over BRICS.
Some experts might say that the economic ties between the two nations had started to progress and even reached a peak with China making inroads into the telecom market of India while the leaders of both nations Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi conducted tours of each other’s nations respectively. However, the Coronavirus pandemic along with the 2020 armed border disputes has definitely changed the status quo.
These assertions of power by the Chinese troops have made it imperative for India to ally with democratic nations in the region to protect its security concerns. The QUAD arrangement does not currently possess any formal trade agreements between its member countries. Still, it does provide an opportunity for its constituents to use this new status quo to its full economic advantage and potential. The four-member nations dictate $440 billion worth of trade while representing a quarter of the global population. However, India lags in terms of ease of doing business compared to its QUAD contemporaries. Therefore, it would require structural changes regarding tariffs and companies to incentivize QUAD trade deals and economic freedom. With the Biden administration treating this alliance of paramount strategic importance, India will have to make a call regarding its relations regarding both the QUAD and the 'BRICS' soon. Playing both sides could be detrimental for the nation. China is pressuring the fairly neutral Russia to take its side of the global status quo. It would be interesting to see how this can also affect other organizations such as the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), where India and China are shared participants. China also assumes a leadership role of similar sorts as in the BRICS. India will face a dilemma of choosing between the two organizations very soon, which might be taken for India if it does not diplomatically balance its position well on the global stage.