China’s expansionism is no new news. It’s been taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation, having tackled it early on. While the other countries are still slowly traversing up the ladder to normalcy, encountering some falls along the way, the ‘Wolf-Warrior’ diplomats in Asia have been leaving no stone unturned to assert their intrusive global stance at every opportunity presented to them- they are, of course, well backed by their own People’s Liberation Army. Europe, which had hitherto been bystanders, often even extending support to the good-intent of China in holistic and collaborative approaches, has now turned the tables on the discourse. The discussion on a new Indo-Pacific strategy has been highly intense in each of the European nations.
Wikipedia for QUAD: The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad) is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India that is maintained by semi-regular summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries.
There are multiple congruent spheres where constructive collaborations are possible with the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region. Even in the absence of a wholly formed strategy per se for this part of geopolitics, the EU is being proactive now to encounter Chinese intrusions that could threaten European security and interests. Chinese FDI in Europe has shot up monumentally reaching $840 million in 2017 – the largest investments are spread across UK, Italy, Germany, and France. 5G infrastructure and network penetration also proves to be reason for critically deconstructing the actions of China. There are also concerns about the smaller European economies falling into the famed Chinese ‘debt trap’. The BRI also leads up to the West and certainly has larger implications in the form of Beijing’s trade ‘gulp’. Countering these unflinching advances becomes important now, though these were well in the works even before the pandemic struck. A neo-colonial setback with Beijing concretizing its position in the European markets cannot be allowed to bloom.
While France had in 2008 released a white paper on ‘smart engagement’, Germany has now even unveiled its 40-page Indo-Pacific policy aimed at “diversifying its supply sources” and also preserving the “international-rules based order.” China’s actions are now not perilous merely to neighbours in the South China Sea and Himalayas – its expanse is graver and larger. The picture is now centred around checkmating a ‘systemic rival’ in its own abode. But, unseen to the general eye, there could be an additional underlying target in Europe’s renewed attitude towards the Indo-Pacific – it plans to counter the rival at Moscow as well. There couldn’t have been a better diplomatic choice than ally with those with converging objectives in the region – Europe has received a perfect crony in the QUAD if it chooses to get on the ground.
However, there are a few factors that the EU would be paying close attention to before they progress too far ahead in this matter – the US elections, further developments in the Indo-Pacific (perhaps altering bilateral ties in the region and a subsequent calm), and most importantly how Germany’s plans of diversification turns out in terms of a real model. Cautious is indeed the word for this. The multi-faceted significance that the region holds, be it economically or geopolitically, makes it a desired spot for countries to tap into for greater cooperation and mutual benefits.
EU’s preoccupation with other diplomatic standings (like that in the case of Greece) may keep this region-specific action lingering for a while before assuming reality. Vital for Europe’s China Strategy is engagement with the Indo-Pacific. This is why a slumber cannot do well for the West in this case. The challenges to a democratic and all-access liberal order cannot be tolerated with a mediocre complacency. The post-Cold War ideological status quo which settled in to secure balance and ward off the dominion of a singular political entity, must be preserved. For this, Europe might have to shed some hesitation now more than ever.