Frustrated in their efforts to persuade India on criticising Russia over its military campaign in Ukraine, the US and allies seem to have started propagating gossip, perhaps as feelers, signalling to India that there are other choices to forge ahead with the Indo-Pacific strategy. It is being speculated; what if India is replaced with South Korea in the Quad? Although it has not been officially expressed, yet the discussion is on amongst analysts, which can be an indirect strategy to pressure India.
The rumours gathered traction when Major General Jung Hae-il, President of the Korean National Defence University, revealed during Raisina Dialogue 2022 in New Delhi, India that South Korea would attend the forthcoming Quad summit as an observer, hitherto denied. Remember this statement carries weight in the backdrop of a seemingly arduous relationship the Quad members have been going through most notably with India post the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Consideration to include South Korea in an alliance aimed at a common opponent isn’t totally unfounded. Given South Korea’s geographical location, its reputable democracy as well as the burgeoning capacity of the military industrial complex, it suits the Quad configuration. However, the analysts also opine that South Korea can although be a good addition, yet it may not be a substitute to any other existing member of the Quad including India. Besides, South Korea has somewhat different approach towards the region. Despite its quite credible defence forces, the country has not been in to an expeditionary deployment except for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They therefore seem to lack both the intention and experience of overseas deployment.
Another important factor is the fact that South Korea and China are in a strategic partnership despite differences over issues in the region. South Korea has not been extra vociferous on issues in the South China Sea and doesn’t seem to take China head on. China is the biggest export market for South Korea and both have entered into several trade agreements. Of particular interest to South Korea are its relations with North Korea, who is influenced by China. It is thus not in the interest of South Korea to garner animosity against China who can play an effective role in a tussle with North Korea and keep it under check from going overboard. Whether South Korea would like to join Quad as an anti-China alliance or not, is something South Korea will have to minutely calculate.
Another significant gossip related to Quad is to let Japan join AUKUS; a purely military alliance and convert it into JAUKUS. Again, Japan is although averse to China’s so called hegemonic designs in the region yet it doesn’t seem to take on China in a military confrontation which will have the potential to hurt its economy. One thing is however certain that JAUKUS will diminish the role and effectiveness of Quad expeditiously to an extent of its extinction. Will the US like to consider a multilateral approach through various platforms against China or will it resort to one forum only is a question that will be focussed in coming times.
Meanwhile, Australia hosted a multinational maritime exposition from 10th-12th of May, 2022 in Sydney. It was named the Indo-Pacific International Maritime Exposition 2022, in which around 700 delegates representing defence industrialists and militaries from over 40 countries including Pakistan participated. Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi NI(M), represented Pakistan. It is a forum where leading defence entrepreneurs directly interact with the customers and offer their products.
There are two significant aspects of this exposition which are noteworthy. One that it was previously known as the Pacific International Maritime Exposition until last year when its title was changed to the current one, highlighting the way the term “Indo Pacific” is creeping into the strategic thoughts of the regional countries. The other is that China and Russia were barred from attending this exposition in the backdrop of their strained relations with the US and allies. There seems to be a deliberate effort by the member states to shape an environment of confrontation notably with China.
As is evident, the major actors are preparing grounds for open confrontation with China and endeavouring to garner support from every nook and corner. So it is also obvious that it is going to be a sea-based confrontation this time. Needless to highlight, whatever happens in the Indo-Pacific canvass has implications for Pakistan as we very much lie in the area encapsulated by the Indo-Pacific strategy. Pakistan, therefore, has to tread a cautious path while preparing for the greater tussle between the major actors on the world’s stage. It needs to be clearly understood that it is not our choice, but a compulsion to be proactive and not reactive with regard to Indo-Pacific strategy as our future is linked to our sea and the CPEC. Let it not be another situation like several previous ones when we were susceptible to surprises by outside powers.