Building Small Circles in Name of Multilateralism is Groupism: China on Quad

'Selective multilateralism is not the right choice,' Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong has said.

New Delhi: China on Sunday, April 4, criticised the ‘Quad’ as an example of groupism and said it functioned by creating closed circles within the international community rather than genuine multilateralism.

In a conversation with activist Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong reiterated Beijing’s criticism about the ‘Quad’ countries – US, India, Australia and Japan, whose leaders recently held their first summit.

“Building small circles in the name of multilateralism is in fact ‘group politics’,” said the ambassador, in answer to a question related to the ‘Quad’.

He added, “Multilateralism prioritising one’s own interests is still unilateral thinking. Selective multilateralism is not the right choice.” The conversation took place on April 2, and the transcript was released on Sunday.

Sun further asserted that “true multilateralism” meant “upholding the UN-centred international system and the international order based on the international law”.

“It means openness and inclusiveness instead of closeness and exclusion. It means equal-footed consultation instead of supremacy over others.”

While the ‘Quad’ does not specifically mention China in any of its public documents, its emphasis on the shared values of democracy and the rule of law has ensured that its existence is seen as a response to the rise of Beijing’s influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Relations between India and China had plummeted last year since the military stand-off between the two armies in eastern Ladakh in May 2020. A violent face-off at Galwan valley in June 2020 led to the death of at least 24 soldiers – the first casualties along the Line of Actual Control in over four decades.

In February, India and China completed the disengagement of troops on the northern and southern shores of Pangong Lake. However, there are still multiple friction points where both troops continue to face-off on the icy heights of Ladakh, but there has been no further movement towards disengagement from the Chinese side.

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“I think the incidents which occurred in the border areas last year was unfortunate. Neither China nor India would like to see it happen. As China has repeatedly emphasised, the rights and wrongs of the incident are clear. So are the stakes involved,” said Sun.

He noted that the recent disengagement at Pangong Lake is “area is conducive to building mutual trust and further easing the situation on the ground”. “Against this backdrop, we should implement the consensus reached by the two leaders and strictly abide by the existing agreements, step up dialogue and communication, and improve the border management and control mechanisms to further ease, stabilise and control the border situation, avoid relapse and jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” Sun added.

However, the Chinese ambassador did not indicate a timeline for the resolution of the remaining points of stand-off on the border.

After relations had deteriorated last year, the Indian government took several steps to throttle Chinese economic influence in India, including banning mobile apps of Chinese IT companies and exclusion from infrastructure projects.

Sun asserted that efforts to ‘decouple’ economies would not be plausible in the globalised world. “China has been India’s largest trading partner for consecutive years, and India is China’s largest trading partner in South Asia. This is the result of the market functions and enterprises’ choices. Whether it be “complete decoupling” or ‘selective decoupling’, it will not be realistic and harm others without benefiting oneself,” he said.

He also claimed that China has never deliberately pursued a trade surplus with India. “The current imbalance in China-India trade is mainly caused by the difference in the trade structure. According to China’s statistics, despite the impact of the pandemic last year, the bilateral trade reached $87.6 billion, of which India’s exports to China were $20.8 billion, a year-on-year increase of 16%. It shows that the Chinese market will always welcome marketable commodities,” said the Chinese ambassador.