Nearly six months after China showcased its One Belt One Road (OBOR) program to the world through an international presentation, aimed at propelling China to the centre of international economy and diplomacy, four countries including India are coming together to provide a counterweight.
After months of speculation, India, US, Japan and Australia are looking to come together to form a 'Quadrilateral' against OBOR. After being proposed publicly by US, Japan, India and now Australia have responded to stitching up a 10-year-old and dormant diplomatic alliance.
It was US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who for the first time alluded to such a diplomatic partnership shaping up a few months ago.
In a question and answer session following his speech, Tillerson mentioned China specifically and talked about how it had devised plans for the host countries, where construction works were to take place, which "oftentimes has very subtle triggers in the financing that results in financing default and the conversion of debt to equity."
While issuing this warning, Tillerson went on to say, "We think it’s important that we begin to develop some means of countering that with alternative financing measures, financing structures. And during the East Asia Summit – Ministerial Summit in August, we began a quiet conversation with others about what they were experiencing, what they need, and we’re starting a quiet conversation in a multilateral way with: How can we create alternative financing mechanisms? We will not be able to compete with the kind of terms that China offers, and – but countries have to decide: What are they willing to pay to secure their sovereignty and their future control of their economies? And we’ve had those discussions with them, as well."
This is was a direct allusion to the Quadrilateral which, following Tillerson, Japanese foreign minister Tara Kono, while being interviewed by Nikkei Asian Review, spelt out clearly.
He said that Japan will propose a "top-level dialogue with the US, India and Australia” to promote "free trade and defence cooperation" across the Indian Ocean.
'The proposition would be aimed at counteracting China's aggressive maritime expansion under its Belt and Road initiative. China's plans would cement a sphere of influence for Beijing well beyond Asia,” the website went on to state.
India has so far not given any hype to the significance of the budding diplomatic conclave. A day after Japanese foreign minister spoke about building the alliance, India’s External Affairs spokesperson, Raveesh Kumar, speaking to the press, said, “India is open to working with like-minded countries on issues that advance our interests and promote our viewpoint. We are not rigid in this regard.”
He went on to state that India was already a part of several trilateral alliances and talks. “We have been doing India-US-Japan (talks) for many years and recently India-Japan-Australia. We also have India-Afghanistan-Iran and we are looking to hold the India-US-Afghanistan meeting. All these meetings are conducted at various levels.”
However, the fact is that India, apart from Bhutan, which doesn’t have a diplomatic engagement with China, is the only South Asian country not to have allied with China on its OBOR program, and has in this regard isolated itself.
All of India’s neighbours – Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Myanmar – have entered into agreements or negotiations with China on its OBOR program.
This has put India in a position in which it would need to ally with the only other South Asian power that also hasn’t joined OBOR, and that is Japan, which has launched its own version of OBOR, called “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure”.
Which is why, to counter OBOR - a translational development program bigger than the one undertaken by 19th century British empire, joining the diplomatic initiative launched by its natural ally – Japan, in coordination with US and Australia makes quite a lot of sense for India.