Last year when reports of India and Japan taking the lead in reviving the “quadrilateral” with the United States and Australia first emerged, Beijing appeared unconcerned. After all, pooh-poohed its strategic experts, the first iteration a decade ago was short-lived and fizzled out.
The Quad’s second coming, however, has so far appeared more robust — or robust enough to concern Beijing. Two top officials who travelled to Delhi in December — state councillor Yang Jiechi and foreign minister Wang Yi — both made oblique references to the danger of “small groups” getting together with the aim of containing others. They both also referred to what they saw as unhelpful meddling by the US in the South China Sea and hoped India would continue its “independent” foreign policy.
So, when four top naval officials of the Quad countries took the stage together in Delhi in January’s Raisina Dialogue, Beijing duly saw red. Especially when the commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, openly called China a disruptor, and Japan’s naval chief Admiral Kawano called for countries to come together to counter Chinese naval expansionism amid muscle-flexing in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
The hawkish Chinese tabloid The Global Times wrote that “the Raisina Dialogue was elaborately planned to serve as a platform for countries like the US, Japan and Australia, to show their tough stance towards China and Russia, and meanwhile demonstrate India’s position of trying to balance between Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific region, in addition to India’s independent major power status and dissatisfaction with China.”
The unprecedented joint attendance of 10 ASEAN leaders, days later at the Republic Day parade in Delhi, further deepened the angst in Beijing, with the same newspaper in an editorial raging that “some members of the Indian elite enjoy engaging in geopolitical bluster. But they cannot truly gauge the reality of India’s comprehensive strength and diplomatic experience. They are beginners playing at geopolitics.”
“New Delhi is not Beijing’s major trading partner, and, despite border disputes, is not an imminent security threat to us Chinese,” the editorial said. “However, some Indians keep pestering us, asking us to acknowledge that India is developing better than China.”
New Delhi, with a GDP that’s only one-fifth of China’s, has been striving to prevail over Beijing in almost all aspects.” It concluded, “Honestly speaking, Chinese people are not occupied by India.” But apparently occupied enough to warrant a stream of concerned editorials in the state media.