THE QUAD COMES TO MONGOLIA, OR IS IT REALLY THE QUADRUPLE ENTENTE?October 20, 2020
As regular readers here know, in recent weeks I've been covering the emergence of "The Quad" (as it is being called by the pundits), or the "Quadruple Entente" as I have dubbed it. Both terms are meant to symbolize an emerging geopolitical consensus that "China is a problem," cannot be trusted, and must be "contained." There is a small difference between the two. In most people's thinking, the "Quad" is the emerging alignment of India, Japan, Australia, and the USA, fast-tracked by the recent Sino-Indian border clashes, and evidenced by the recent bilateral pact between India and Japan to provide each other logistical support in the event of a military conflict with you-know-who. As readers here know, I've been proposing the very bizarre idea that Russia, rather than Australia, is the real "fourth member" of this emerging bloc. At first glance, that seems absurd, since Russia has stated it remains committed to its relationship with China. Indeed, it will remain so, but such analyses tend to overlook in my opinion what Russia does as it concentrates on what Russia says.
What Russia has done recently is to move more missile batteries into Siberia, to suspend delivery of its S400 surface to air missile system to China, while at the same time allowing a delivery of the same system to proceed to India in the immediate aftermath of the border Sino-Indian border clashes, and in return, receiving a credit from that country in excess of a billion dollars. One should also add the arrest of a Chinese spy in Russia for passing along nuclear secrets to the Communist Chinese. None of these are moves that will endear Russia to the Chinese leadership, and they're a clear message to the Chinese leadership.
With that context in mind, G.B. sent the following article, which on the face of it does not seem like a "big deal" but I contend it's highly significant, and perhaps even crosses into "whopper doozie" territory:
The article appears innocent enough:
The foreign ministers of Japan and Mongolia agreed Friday to cooperate in promoting a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” a vision that Tokyo is pushing with the U.S. and other “like-minded” countries to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi held talks in Ulaanbaatar on Friday with his Mongolian counterpart, Nyamtseren Enkhtaivan. Motegi’s visit came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a trip to Mongolia because of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 infection.
Motegi, who agreed with counterparts from the U.S., Australia and India at “Quad” talks in Tokyo on Tuesday to seek more countries’ support for the FOIP concept of security and economic cooperation in ensuring open sea lanes to the Middle East. China claims most of the South China Sea.
Mongolia, of course, shares a long common border with China and of course was once the occasion for China's building of the Great Wall. But power relationships between the countries has changed over the centuries. China's enormous population, industrial might, technological prowess have far eclipsed poor Mongolia. Enter Japan, no slouch in those areas either. But adding Mongolia to the scales of the Quad is rather like adding a feather to the scales which are otherwise weighted down with more massive material. Its addition does not add much by way of changing the balance of power...
...that all this conveniently ignores a historical relationship that Mongolia has had with another country in the region, a relationship that has persisted before the turn of the last century, and that country is Russia. Throughout the entirety of the Cold War, for example, Mongolia was virtually a puppet state of that country.
Or to put it country simple: Tokyo negotiating with Ulaanbaatar is really Tokyo negotiating with Moscow, for it almost beggars belief that Mongolia would come to such agreements with Japan without a wink and a nod from Moscow, and similarly, Japan would not negotiate directly with Mongolia without a wink and a nod from Swampington, D.C. In this context, it should not be forgotten that Japan and Russia were able, under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to set aside outstanding disagreements concerning the two countries' claims over the Kurile islands to ink some trade agreements. Russia needs capital to build out its Siberian infrastructure and to modernize the Transiberian railroad, a route which runs close to Mongolia along many miles. It's to Russia's interest to prevent Chinese penetration of that country. Japan has the needed capital for Russia's infrastructure projects, and the high-speed rail technology to match Russia's infrastructure aspirations, while Russia has energy resources close to hand, and not subject to Chinese interdiction of energy supplies flowing through the South China Sea, that Japan needs. It's in the geopolitical interest of both countries to work together over the long term regardless of what Swampington, D.C. may say.
So my bottom line here is, Japan negotiating with Mongolia with the implied "nod and wink" from Moscow to my mind highlights once again the possibility that Russia, while not a formal member of "the Quad" is acting an awful lot like it's at least a member of the Quaduple Entente.
See you on the flip side...