Australian lawmakers on Thursday cleared legislation that gives the federal government power to veto any agreement struck with foreign states. The law is seen to be targeted at China that had signed up the south Australia state of Victoria in 2018 for President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. ”Australia’s policies and plans, the rules that we make for our country are made here in Australia according to our needs and our interests,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra soon after.
A few hours earlier, the United States’ House of Representatives had cleared legislation to delist foreign firms that don’t adhere to US auditing standards, a move that could lead to Chinese companies including behemoths such as Alibaba Group, Baidu Inc and PetroChina getting kicked off American exchanges if they don’t let US regulators review their financial audits.
China watchers in New Delhi said the two laws that seek to curb Chinese influence wasn’t a standalone effort.
“It is QUAD in action,” one of them said, referring to the informal group of Japan, Australia, the United States and India.
Foreign ministers of the four countries met in Japan in October over concerns about Chinese attempts to flex its muscles in its neighbourhood including India’s Ladakh region, the South China Sea and the East China Sea and to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific based on rule of law and freedom of navigation
India has been engaged in a standoff with Chinese troops over its attempts to take control of Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control for more than six months. The two armies even clashed in Galwan valley in June that led to casualties on both sides but have mostly managed to keep the situation under control since then. Japan has been uncomfortable at China’s continuing attempts to undermine Japan’s administration over the Senkaku Islands, the East China Sea islets claimed by Beijing that have pushed Tokyo to increase its defence budget to a record high and scale up defence cooperation.
Last month, Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a breakthrough agreement on a defence pact with Australia that will allow reciprocal visits for training and operations. This pact is the first in 60 years that approves a deal permitting foreign troops to operate on its soil.
“You can see a concerted effort by QUAD; the three middle powers – India, Australia and Japan – backed by a superpower – the US – to not only reduce the influence of China in their respective countries but in their respective regions. Sometimes, far beyond,” the official mentioned above added.
It was a reference to the US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun’s visit to Bangladesh in October facilitated by New Delhi to reset ties and extend its support. Biegun was the first high-ranking US official in at least a decade to travel to Dhaka, a visit that was described as hugely successful. Officials said one immediate fallout of the joint initiative was Dhaka’s reported reluctance to host Defence Minister Wei Fenghe when he travelled to Kathmandu and Islamabad over the past week.
It also was in the context of the larger effort to contain China’s influence that New Delhi has resumed diplomatic engagement with Nepal, sending top officials to Kathmandu to repair relations with the Himalayan nation that had upset India over its controversial political map that included Indian territory. Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali is scheduled to raise the level of engagement when he visits New Delhi later this month.
Simultaneously, India also last week sent National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to Colombo to revive the trilateral maritime security cooperation dialogue with Sri Lanka and the Maldives in face of Chinese attempts to step up defence linkages with smaller countries in the region.
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New Delhi had suspended this dialogue to expand maritime security cooperation in 2014 after its relations with the Maldives soured under the previous Abdulla Yameen regime who was seen to be acting under Chinese influence.
A few weeks earlier, India had gifted Myanmar, another country in the neighbourhood which has come under pressure from Beijing, a 3,000 diesel-electric submarine INS Sindhuvir. People familiar with the developments have said the move had helped New Delhi get an edge over China, which pushes its military hardware among countries in the neighbourhood.