05.10.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the major players’ activities on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly


Perhaps more than ever, the 77th regular session of the UN General Assembly is being actively used by major world players in events missing from the agenda of this esteemed organization. It is by no means an exception in this regard, as the same is observed during scheduled meetings of other international configurations, forums and even some very particular events. An example of the latter was the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held in Tokyo on September 27, which is understandable. If, at a certain cost, statesmen of ministerial level or above are gathered together in one place at the same time, why not take advantage of the opportunity to do some good? That is, to continue discussing issues of real importance to the participants in “friendly company.”

During the “high-level week” (September 20-27) of the regular UN General Assembly, such “companies” formed at the initiative of the United States were very active on the sidelines of the Assembly. This was particularly the case in the meetings of the foreign ministers of the AUKUS and Quad configurations that took place on this occasion.

As for the former, the author continues to have some doubts about the validity of its frequent definition as a “political and military bloc,” i.e. a rather serious interstate structure whose members are bound by clear-cut commitments. Meanwhile, the only concrete outcome that stands out when reading the very loosely worded Joint Statement on the formation of AUKUS from a year ago is the willingness of the two big Anglo-Saxon brothers to help the little one acquire nuclear submarines.

This little brother, i.e. Canberra, must have seriously upset London and Washington a few years ago by tendering for modern submarines without their involvement. At that time, the French shipbuilders won against the Japanese competitors. The fact that the hapless junior gave the Frenchies a $60 billion order was, of course, intolerable.

It is difficult to say what arguments were used to explain to Australia’s recent Prime Minister Scott Morrison the “fallacy” of his country’s decision, but it was he who informed totally unaware Paris a year ago that the aforementioned deal would be broken off. And one can understand the public jubilation of the current French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian (in his previous role as Minister of Defense, he oversaw the project in negotiations with Canberra) over the defeat of the party bloc headed by Scott Morrison in the recent Australian general elections.

Meanwhile, the new government of Anthony Albanese, two weeks after his election, said it was ready to compensate the French company Naval Groupe for the $600 million it had incurred by the time the contract was torn up. Both sides then declared that the incident had been over and that friendly relations had been restored.

AUKUS, on the other hand, continued to operate. This was evidenced by the regular ministerial meeting of the participants on September 23 in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA. And, judging by the new Joint Statement adopted, the same theme of building a nuclear submarine for Australia was again central. Already the second paragraph of this document states that “over the last 12 months, we have made significant progress towards Australia acquiring conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.”

This last point is crucial, for suspicion that with nuclear submarines Australia could also gain access to nuclear weapons arose almost immediately with the announcement of AUKUS. Therefore, drawing on the authority of the IAEA, the document quoted above states that such suspicions are unfounded.

But China, which has its own historical experience of interaction with the Anglo-Saxon world, is clearly not inclined to trust the words coming from it. Especially since Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines (eight “for now”) could potentially dramatically increase the country’s weight in the various anti-China inter-state combinations being built by Washington in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing’s suspicions towards the very formation of AUKUS are perfectly understandable. Although, once again, it has not brought any fundamental novelty to the defense and political situation in the region. For the participants in this configuration themselves say that they have been in “bilateral” political and military alliances for over 70 years.

Beijing is no less suspicious of the activities of another product of Washington’s anti-China foreign policy engagement, the Quad, which includes India and Japan in addition to the US and Australia. The foreign ministers who were in New York at the same time did not miss the opportunity to demonstrate once again the viability of this configuration.

Although the scope of activities declared by the participants is even less likely to define the Quad as a political and military bloc, the anti-Chinese intent of the very fact that Washington has formed the configuration can hardly be questioned. All the more so as intentions to counter Beijing’s economic and trade cooperation activities with the outside world have become increasingly prominent in US policy towards the PRC.

There is another equally (or even more) important element in the very motivation for creating the Quad, which can be summarized as “positioning India at the present stage of the Great Game.” Once again, despite New Delhi’s willingness to exploit to its own advantage (for example, in the acquisition of modern military technology) the obvious interest of the US and some other leading Western countries in developing a comprehensive relationship with India, its leadership has skillfully “kept the distance.” This allows it to develop mutually beneficial relations with Moscow (rejecting calls to join anti-Russian sanctions), maintain a dialogue with Beijing and work together with both as part of the BRICS configuration. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attended the recent ministerial meeting in New York as well.

It is important, however, to avoid inflated expectations in the process of building relations with India, whose leadership is maneuvering in a highly complex foreign policy environment. New Delhi continues to regard the various problems with China and Pakistan as the most serious challenges to its national interests.

Just one manifestation of the Indian leadership’s concern over the state of these relations was the implicit criticism of both countries in the 77th UN General Assembly address by the same Jaishankar when he touched upon terrorism in the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory.

However, Jaishankar voiced (also implicit) criticism of the US as well. This was directly caused by Washington’s intention to provide assistance to Pakistan in maintaining the available fleet of US F-16 fighter jets, which had been previously discussed in the NEO.

So it should come as no surprise that during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo for the September 27 funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated on July 8, discussions continued about the state of affairs in the Quad. After all, a “one-off site” formed by the Japanese government for these purposes isn’t any worse than others.

However, some of the circumstances surrounding the ceremony (already dubbed “funeral diplomacy” in journalistic circles), which involved many foreign guests at various levels, are worth commenting on separately.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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