Four-nation strategic talks will be useful

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Japan’s recent proposal to have a quadrilateral strategic group with the US, Australia and India, besides itself, as members is far from surprising. India’s cautious but positive response too is on expected lines. India has said, in an official statement, that it has an open mind on the issue involving “like-minded countries” if the proposal “advances its interests” and promotes its “viewpoint”. Chinese pushiness in the Asia-Pacific zone, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, in terms of aggressively claiming through a military build-up practically all of South China Sea and a good deal of the East China Sea, is a worrisome and potentially destabilising factor that can disturb pan-regional peace. Beijing’s efforts through its Belt-Road Initiative (OBOR) to expand its geopolitical influence at the cost of running up against the sovereignty of nations and India’s in particular, is no less disruptive of stability. China’s moves in the past two to three years in these areas have come under the leadership and personal initiative and supervision of President Xi Jinping, whose term was extended in an almost indefinite manner by the recently-ended 19th congress of the Chinese Communist Party with overt comparisons made between Mr Xi and Chairman Mao, suggests that Beijing’s strategic board will give primacy to Mr Xi’s much-touted initiatives. This alone is cause enough for concerned powers to find common ground to build a common narrative. Under the Japanese scheme, the four nations will get together to formulate maritime and land-based infrastructure initiatives linking Africa and Asia. Since economic investments of a very high order are envisaged, a security back-up to the effort will be needed as a necessary complement. It should be clear, however, that this is by no stretch a military alliance, of which India would necessarily have to be wary. In any case, in the post-Cold War era rigid military alliances have lost their meaning as countries across the earlier ideological divide have been doing business with one another without any serious difficulty. For India, there is also a new element to consider. Japan was the only country that unequivocally and publicly backed India during the Doklam crisis with China this summer. The Japanese proposal naturally has a clear strategic dimension. With Chinese obstreperousness affecting Tokyo and New Delhi, and Tokyo’s overt support to our broader cause is an indication that Japan and India are looking at a long-term strategic convergence. This is a positive development. The talk of a US-Australia-Japan-India strategic huddling is not new. It had surfaced in 2005-2006, but India had been more cautious then. Chinese assertiveness had not come out in the open and US-Australia-Japan had been decades-old allies from the Cold War era. That had made India step warily without being a rejectionist. But the moment today is so patently different.

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