China can retaliate economically

Wang Qi

Beijing: China should keep a close watch on the Indo-Pacific region and mark its red lines, Chinese experts said, right before the third Quad meeting of the US, Japan, India and Australia since 2020.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price announced this week that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak with his counterparts from Australia, Japan and India in the Quad framework, the NATO’s Indo-Pacific version normally regarded as the counter-China efforts initiated by Japan and the US.

The spokesperson disclosed that topics like coordinating COVID-19 response and climate change will be discussed, as well as “to advance our shared goals in the free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Japan hosted the latest Quad foreign ministers’ meeting in October 2020 and the four countries held a joint large-scale naval drill, “Exercise Malabar 2020,” in November. The virtual meeting also came after a “comprehensive” conversation between Blinken and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on February 9, reaffirming to enhance partnership across the Indo-Pacific.

“The Quad is the centerpiece of the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy, and the framework will play a greater role in the Biden administration’s efforts to contain China,” Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Ni said that the Biden administration has inherited the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the Trump era.
Ruan Zongze, executive vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that US President Joe Biden, who is also familiar with the “Asia rebalancing” policy from the Barack Obama era, is good at using a variety of mechanisms and tools to contain China’s peaceful development with its allies.

Biden hopes to take a multilateral approach, using Quad as a diplomatic vehicle to advance US regional interests in the Asia-Pacific region and declare that “Captain America is back,” said Ruan.
Reuters reported that Biden said he will work closely with allies to employ a strategy toward China, in which he said the US will aim to “out-compete” Beijing.

Although the China strategy is not the only topic on the agenda at the upcoming Quad meeting, China should remain concerned about whether the US wants to turn the Quad into a complete anti-China club, and respond to words and deeds that harm China, said Ruan.
Some analysts said that in the short term, the Quad may be more of a hedge against the integration of a new China-led Asian order after the signing of RECP, given Indo-Pacific countries’ economic and trade ties with China.

The type of hedging is also taking place in the Europe. US orbits have become more distant from the Uncle Sam in Trump’s era. CNN reported that Biden will participate in a virtual G7 event on Friday, discussing topics like combating COVID-19, economic recovery and dealing with tensions with China and Russia.
China surpassed the US as the EU’s largest trading partner in 2020. With the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) making progress while the future of transatlantic trade remains unclear, experts say bilateral ties between China and EU members will be further cemented in 2021.

Japan has been China’s second largest trading partner for four consecutive years, while China has been Japan’s largest trading partner in goods for 12 consecutive years, according to an official investment report issued by China Council for the Promotion of International Trade in 2020. China is also India’s largest importer and third largest exporter, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce.

Some analysts said that the geopolitical tricks are unlikely to affect Asia’s regional ties with China as the ecosystem is not only culture but also economics centered.
“Quad members have different national interests. When the US draws them to take sides, they also plan to push the US to the battlefield,” said Ni.

China needs to make full use of its economic cards to counter possible provocations, Ni noted, given that one of the Quad members, Australia, has already tasted what it feels like as an anti-China pioneer.