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France and navigation to the Quad-plus – The New Indian Express

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If two countries conduct joint military exercises, they form a pair. If five countries come together, they make a fist and send a strategic message. The La Pérouse naval war games in the Bay of Bengal from April 5 to 7 involving France and the four members of the “Quad” – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – are springboards for the construction of the ” Indo-Pacific ”. wider traction.

Although the French mainland is over 8,500 km away, the fact that its warships conduct large-scale exercises with their Quad counterparts on India’s eastern sea flank and subsequently continue to sail to Japan via the South China Sea in a five-month deployment, shows that Paris is determined to project itself as “a state on the edge of the Indian Ocean”. Guided by notions of historical grandeur and a belief inherited from former President Charles de Gaulle that France can shape the world order, Macron invested diplomatic capital to form a strategic accord with India and Australia, the two regional powers closest to the poles of French overseas territories. in the Indo-Pacific such as New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Réunion and Mayotte, which face pressure and incentives from Beijing to break with Paris and accept Chinese suzerainty.

The Australia-France-India trilateral, the next dialogue edition of which is scheduled for New Delhi on April 13, is the natural result of France’s desire to thwart possible Chinese encroachments on French outposts. Macron’s call for a “ Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis ” as “ absolutely essential for the region ”, his dispatch of frigates and nuclear submarines to the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea in coordination with the United States and Japan, and its appointment of a full-time French ambassador to the Indo-Pacific, are undeniable reminders to China that it will face a counterbalanced resistance.

France shares with India and other Quad members concerns about “respect for international law by all states, in particular freedom of navigation and overflight” – diplomatic jargon for China’s hegemonic behavior. Yet given France’s limitations as a middle power with a pandemic and economic slump raging in her country, she has championed an effort to forge an Indo-Pacific perspective for the EU as a whole. He pushed Germany and the Netherlands to initiate a naval presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Although many Europeans have not given up on the old concept of “ Asia-Pacific ”, a gradual reassessment is underway, indicating that it has not given due importance to India, did not emphasize democracy and the rule of law and was exploited to allow Chinese rule in doubt. on the United States’ commitment to the allies.

The alternative idea of ​​the “Indo-Pacific” fits the EU’s moral compass as it envisions a rules-based multilateral order in which power is not fair and authoritarianism is not. Standard. President Xi Jinping’s aggressive territorial expansion and ruthless human rights repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, and mainland China itself have created a dual reality where politics and the economy will work side by side. in determining the foreign policies of nations, rather than a factor of cancellation.
The other.

For the main European players, France, Germany and Great Britain, who have explicitly declared an “ Indo-Pacific tilt ”, there is a constraint to remain “ balanced ” in the worsening of the Sino-US “ new cold war ” and to pursue pragmatic economic cooperation with Beijing. . The announcement of the China-EU Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) at the end of 2020 demonstrated that the Europeans wanted to avoid the United States’ hard line on China and carve out their “ strategic autonomy ” ‘vis-à-vis Washington. effects of the double reality, Europe cannot ignore the threat of Chinese totalitarianism and territorial expansionism.

European export-oriented companies lobbied their political leaders to secure access to the Chinese market through the CAI, but that did not prevent the EU from imposing coordinated sanctions with the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada to Chinese officials for the genocide of Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang. . Chinese condemnations and counter-sanctions against the EU are unlikely to soften Europeans, as moral outrage over Xi’s crackdown and his strategic anxiety over his land grab spreads throughout the country. Western public opinion and in the thought of the elites. The CAI itself is sinking in the European Parliament, where anti-Chinese sentiment is growing.

From a medium to long term perspective, it is not improbable to bring the large European countries, if not the whole of the EU, on board the Quad express. The Joe Biden administration’s relentless efforts to correct policy differences with the European allies of the United States and present a united front to authoritarian adversaries will help to this end. As long as China pursues the path of imperial conquest and the promotion of an illiberal world order, Quad can be expected to evolve into a “ Quad-plus ” with other nations following the example of France and converging around an alternative to a Sino-centric international system.

Could European disillusionment with China and Quad alignment inspire Asian countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, which are currently fearful of an economic and military backlash from China? The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is much more closely tied to China economically than the EU and extremely cautious not to win Beijing’s wrath. But the way China has gradually increased threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity paves the way for some ASEAN members to partner with the Quad at least informally and loosely as an insurance policy for their safety.

The economy is not everything. Self-respect and principles are important to ordinary people and politicians. Australia, which is economically heavily dependent on China, has shown the way and remains steadfast in the Quad despite China’s vengeance trade retaliation. Chinese propagandists are attacking the Quad and the Indo-Pacific like American colonial implants in Asia, but they would do better by introspecting why so many countries, including far from Europe, are merging against China. The speed and depth of Quad-plus depends on whether or not China learns a lesson and moves away from territorial expansionism and harsh authoritarianism. The ball is in Xi’s court.

Sreeram Chaulia

Professor and Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs

([email protected])
(Tweets @sreeramchaulia)

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