Current Developments

Security Commentaries #009

The Quad is Back with a Vision to Navigate Indo-Pacific Affairs

The Quad virtual meeting not only reaffirmed the concept of Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategies, but also accommodated crucial issues in the region. Some of the Quad initiations probably aimed at countering China, but does not necessarily pose a serious threat to China.

Elpeni Fitrah – Taiwan Center for Security Studies
 


 

The Quad or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal strategic forum of four nations: The US, India, Japan, and Australia, has successfully organized a virtual summit last Friday. This was the first official meeting of the four leaders, currently along with US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The US under the new Biden administration proposed this summit since the first week of Biden moving into the White House earlier this year. In the past, the highest level of this bloc meeting was among the foreign ministers of the four countries and has conducted semi-regular summits and information exchanges since 2007. Acting as the initiator and host of this meeting, the US obviously demonstrated its leadership in directing Indo-Pacific affairs. 

As it appears on the Joint Statements released by the White House official site, titled: “the Spirit of the Quad,” the group leaders reaffirmed its strong commitment to the vital challenge on Indo-Pacific affairs. They agreed on tackling a variety of issues, including development, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, COVID-19 vaccination programme, climate change, technology and assured supply chain management. They also paid attention to issues such as restoring democracy in Myanmar, denuclearization of North Korea, and cybersecurity. Some people interpreted that the specific aim of this forum is actually to encounter China’s growing military and economic power in the global political arena, even though the transcript of joint statements did not mention China at all. Nevertheless, it is not easy to alienate China, as each Quad member has articulated unique outlooks on the Indo-Pacific region. One absolute fact is that the rise of China in the past two decades has been a matter of concern for all four Quad partners.

Within the communique, the bloc announced its common vision on Indo-Pacific construction with the term “Free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.” Besides strengthening the group’s internal cohesiveness, this association also expanded its political network and external collaboration by mentioning “strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality, as well as ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.” This phrase is meant to show a serious commitment of the Quad leaders to work with other countries who share the same goals and idealism.

Furthermore, the Quad also commits to provide “equitable vaccine access” for the benefit of other Asian and Pacific island countries by involving the World Health Organization and COVAX. Interestingly, this statement was followed by a call for “transparent and results-oriented reform at the World Health Organization.” So far, China has been accused of dominating this international institution. The US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan said that the vaccine initiative was expected to deliver up to a billion doses by the end of 2022, with Indian manufacturing, U.S. technology, Japanese and American financing, and Australian logistics support. This effort probably aims to encourage alternative medical supply chains to reduce dependency on China, which are now encapsulating vaccine diplomacy as a tool of soft power.  

Moreover, the statement implicitly showed the alliance’s position on the East and South China Sea where China has been embroiled in territorial disputes with other countries. This is one of the crucial issues pointed by the Quad since China was accused of violating international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The ratification of Chinese Coast Guard Law in the previous month is believed to have influenced Asia’s maritime resilience and potentially raises tension of an all-out conflict.  

This diplomatic initiative does look promising in the first stage, especially for the US who need to win back allies after previously disrupted by Trump's “transactional” diplomacy characteristics. Nonetheless, the Quad still embraces much challenging homework related to how this group will execute “democratic values” as its binding ethos comprehensively, not just an anti-China platform. Besides, when the ambition of this bloc is to become a dominant player in Asia, it is crucial to understand what exactly Asia really wants.

 

US-China High-Level Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska
 

The US and China had their first high-level talks since the new Biden administration came into office. What does the meeting mean for the two nation’s regional and global partners, and will the two great powers create lasting change to the current tense situation brewing in the Indo-Pacific?


Evgenii Iastrubinskii, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

 

 

The US and China’s officials held the first senior-level meeting since the inauguration of President Joe Biden in Anchorage, Alaska. The US side included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Their Chinese counterpart envoy included Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chinese Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director Yang Jiechi.

 

Prior to the meeting, experts believe that the US and China have many topics to touch upon. As we saw after the second day had ended, the negotiations did indeed cover much ground, some quite rocky. Starting from more general and widely concerned issues like climate change, fighting COVID-19 and global economic recovery and narrowing down to more specific topics like disputes in South China Sea and China’s violation of Human Rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already told Yang Jiechi, that the US would “defend its national interests, stand up for democratic values and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system”. Earlier in January, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also said that the US will impose costs on China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, its crackdown on democracy advocates in Hong Kong and “bellicosity” towards Taiwan.

 

It was expected that during the meeting both countries will try resetting their pivotal relationship. However, due to their cultural differences, it was foreshadowed that China and the US will focus on different topics of negotiations. China will be willing to discuss the general direction and overall framework of bilateral relations, while the US will try to use the meeting to solve specific issues or even try to “lecture” China how it should behave on the international arena. As we see in hindsight, these speculations have indeed come to pass.

 

While both countries really need to meet and restart the official channels of communications after the deterioration in relations during the Trump administration, the Biden administration has clearly signaled that it intends to rely heavily on alliances to counter potential threats from China.

It remains to be seen to what extent the Biden administration can enlist Seoul and Tokyo in confronting China, Washington has already made some steps that can help reveal its intentions. Such as the deal between Washington and Seoul for maintaining American bases in South Korea, or the precision-strike missile network currently being established along the first island chain.

 

In the light of the current events happening prior to the US-China meeting in Alaska, it is obvious that Biden has made confronting China’s military and trade expansion a top foreign policy priority. His administration has continued his predecessor’s hawkish approach towards China with more emphasis on strategic alliances.

 

Unfortunately, American diplomacy in general is no longer as skillful today as it was in the days of Henry Kissinger - a time when the US was able to put aside specific problems and focus on broader issues of concern to both the United States and China. This meeting in Anchorage will show whether American diplomats are still able to take into consideration other countries national interests and work together with other nations, achieving a win-win result, which the US has not been good at for the past few decades.

 

Why Alaska?

Why choosing Alaska as a negotiation venue also remains an issue that has been largely subject to speculation. Some experts believe that Anchorage would be a geographical halfway point for the two sides, away from the global media’s glare and thus giving both sides a chance to discuss their strained relationship in a more neutral atmosphere. According to another opinion, choosing Alaska is just a symbolic gesture to show how important that the first meeting between two countries officials will happen on US soil. There is also a reason to believe that choosing Anchorage has a significant meaning for the history of the US-China relations because as some experts observe, in the past, direct flights from Beijing to New York or Washington in the US mainland had to stop at Anchorage. Another reason could be that climate change would be the nexus that will allow China and the United States to continue diplomatic dialogue and work together. In this regard, the choice of Alaska as a place for negotiations is perfect. After all, it is here in the Arctic that dramatic changes in climate are seen better than anywhere else in the world. 

 

Troubles in the Eastern Mediterranean – A Look Into Western Asia’s Maritime Woes

Tensions continue to rise over the past weeks as Turkey’s maritime doctrine sheds light on its territorial claims in the disputed waters of the Mediterranean, “Mavi Vatan”. The actions that follow indicate further observation to this recent development is necessary, not just for stakeholders in the region, but also for the international community at large.

Harun Ayanoglu, Taiwan Center for Security Studies



 

The tension in the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) increased following the exploration of gas fields and Turkey’s recent maritime doctrine, Blue Homeland, referring to territorial waters, continental shelves, and EEZs as part of its motherland. As part of this doctrine, Ankara has constantly been declaring NAVTEX (Navigational Telex) to inform Greece and other states near designated gas exploration areas in the EastMed, and despite the EU’s protests, Turkey deployed research/survey vessels and drillships escorted with frigates, corvettes as well as drones. Moreover, EastMed has become home to numerous large-scale naval drills launched by Turkey; and other coastal states as a response to Turkish naval activities. Similar to the eastern flank of Asia, the western waters of the continent are heated as well. 

The Blue Homeland, which has been praised domestically, has come with a cost of unanimous bloc against Turkey in the region. It has forced Greece, Israel, Egypt, Italy, France, UAE, and Jordan to unite and solve their decades-old maritime disputes. The formation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which aims to empower the regional energy market, with Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Italy, and Jordan (also the US and the EU as permanent observers) alienated Turkey even more, as it is excluded from the Forum.

 

Egypt-Turkey Rapprochement?

The eight-year-long disruptions in the relations between Turkey and Egypt may come to an end since the statements from both sides are to be promising for the future. “A new chapter can be opened; a new page can be turned” said Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman of the President, the day after an Egyptian intelligence officer’s statement (on March 12) that Cairo welcomes Turkey’s meeting request in Cairo based on economic, political, and diplomatic cooperation.

In the wake of the military coup in Egypt in 2013, which ousted the Ikhwan government, Ankara strongly condemned the new government. However, recent statements from both sides are promising for peace and stability in the EastMed and other issue areas between two countries, such as the civil wars in Libya and Syria. President of Turkey, Erdogan also confirmed the need to reset the relationships with Egypt.

In the EastMed, Egypt upheld the so-called anti-Turkey bloc by signing agreements on EEZ with Italy and Greece, respectively, on June 9, 2020, and August 7, 2020, which later Turkey announced that these agreements considered legally null and void, as these designated EEZs fall in the area of Turkey’s continental shelf as well as violate Libya’s maritime rights and Libya-Turkey maritime deal.

Despite the relatively positive developments in relations, according to Egyptian officials, for normalization, Egypt expects Turkey to stop questioning president Sisi’s legitimacy, stop supporting Ikhwan and stop harboring them in Turkey, also to respect international rule of law in maritime disputes and not involve themselves in Arab countries’ domestic affairs. Nevertheless, it is prudent to foresee that Erdogan would not give up easily on these issue areas, as his domestic political and ideological priorities would not allow him to do so. According to some commentators, Erdogan cannot officially renounce his attitude towards Sisi and Ikhwan. Instead, his “anti-Sisi” stance slowly fades away.

However, there is no other way before Turkey to normalize relations with Egypt. Ankara’s attempts to denounce and alienate the Sisi government failed; on the contrary, it resulted in Turkey’s alienation, especially in the EastMed. Moreover, the cost of relying on hard power in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the EastMed is getting higher and higher for Turkey. Hence, to breach the “anti-Turkey bloc” in the EastMed, any agreement with Cairo would be welcomed by Ankara.

On the flipside, Greece is not content with any ice-breaking improvements in relations between Egypt and Turkey. Thus, Athens attempted to reinforce bilateral ties with Egypt. High-level visits to Cairo following the recent developments proved this point.

In sum, bringing peace and stability to the EastMed requires all parties to compromise. Egypt, Greece, and specifically Turkey have attempted to make use of high tension in maritime delimitation disputes to reinforce their popular support in domestic politics. One can assume that this is the “Cold War of Attrition”.

As it relates to the maritime disputes in the China Seas, where the dynamics at play despite being excessively different in nature—the tussle in the Mediterranean is between regional powers, whereas regional powers have to confront a superpower in South China Sea—could shed some light on state’s behavior in pushing an agenda that infringes upon the rights of others. For instance, the coast guard law passed by Beijing earlier this year prompted Japan to respond proportionally. As it stands now, regional dynamics in East Asia has reacted to the crossing of “red lines” by the Chinese, arguably strengthening alliances and fanning domestic anti-Chinese sentiment. 

The ongoing maritime woes that are playing out in the Eastern Mediterranean are as heated as it is on the other side of the Eurasian continent. Thus, drawing attention and shedding light to the lessons learned from both may perhaps prove invaluable to maritime-watchers and security professionals from both Europe and Asia.