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China Grows Wary of a New Alliance in Asia Pacific

As the Asian giant intimidates its neighbors, world powers attempt to encircle it. 
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Experts say there are only two ways to address China’s inevitable rise as a superpower: To contain it or to accommodate it. The world, it seems, is bent on enforcing the former. At least four of the world’s major powers are cooperating to keep the status quo.

The “Quad” is a burgeoning alliance of world powers composed of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia. It is short for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a security forum and military alliance formed in 2007 and reestablished in 2017 to address China’s economic and military rise. 

Two weeks ago, in what was largely seen as an uncalled-for statement, China’s diplomat in Bangladesh told reporters Dhaka should be careful of warming up to the Quad unless it wants to “substantially damage” its ties with Beijing. It left a bad taste in the mouth of Bangladesh’s foreign minister, who described it as “aggressive.” It is considered rude for an envoy to bash or intimidate its host nation. 

What’s interesting is that the Quad is not inviting new members to the club, nor is it open for applications. Even more puzzling is how Bangladesh has no history of offending Chinese sensibilities, writes C. Raja Mohan, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. 

But Dhaka is not an isolated case. 

Back in April, Palau’s leader strongly rejected China’s demand to cut ties with Taiwan. “We shouldn’t be told we can’t be friends with so and so,” Whipps told AFP.  “I’ve had meetings with them and the first thing they said to me before, on a phone call, was, ‘What you’re doing is illegal, recognizing Taiwan is illegal. You need to stop it,’” he said. 

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It cannot be denied that America’s fingerprints are all over the place. Palau had been a U.S. protectorate for the longest time, which explains how a country of 21,000 with no military is able to assert itself against a neighboring giant.

Columnist Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post accurately summed up how the world is pushing back against China’s substantially more assertive stance on geopolitical affairs. 

“Both in Asia and afar, China is facing a world that’s growing more wary of its reach and fearful of its ambitions. Its maritime adventurism in the South China Sea prompted the foreign minister of the Philippines to tell Beijing to “get the f--- out” on Twitter earlier this month. Its feuding with European diplomats and officials plunged a landmark E.U.-China investment deal into deep freeze. Its ongoing multi-front row with Australia is now being seen as a test case—and cautionary tale—of China’s powers of coercion in wealthy nations,” writes Tharoor

Another salient consideration is how President Joe Biden has taken a tougher stance on China than his predecessor, sans Trump’s high-octane rhetorics. By explicitly renewing America’s commitment to its defense treaty obligations, Biden has emboldened littoral states in the Pacific, particularly the Philippines, to stand up to China’s expansionism in the South China Sea. He has also sent carrier strike groups to the region and tasked his destroyers to shadow China’s own carrier strike group during its maritime drills, resulting in a very annoyed protest from China. 

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In Southeast Asia, it seems only Indonesia has managed to keep Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea at bay while forging closer economic ties with China. Indonesia’s resolute stance on the waters surrounding the Natuna Islands is a line China does not want to cross. Any Chinese paramilitary vessel caught within these waters is confiscated and blown up. 

Beyond Southeast Asia’s prolonged wariness, China still has to watch out for the Quad. One of the first actions Biden took when he assumed office was to call for a meeting of the four members of the Quad alliance, hoping to make it more than a talkshop but a regional alliance with actual teeth. 

China was not very pleased.

“We all know what kind of mechanism the Quad is,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a recent news conference. “China opposes certain countries’ efforts to form an exclusive clique, portray China as a challenge, and sow discord between regional countries and China.”

“The advance of the Quad as a geopolitical bloc has particularly irked China,” writes Tharoor. 

But China’s rise as a superpower is inevitable. The only problem is how the world will “manage” it. If we’d take a look at a thousand years of history, we’d see that containing a rising power has always led to conflict, with proxy states like the Philippines always bearing the brunt of destruction. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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