The CRIP is an acronym for China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, depicting a de facto emerging strategic alliance of authoritarian regimes as a counter to Quad 3.0.
Since the reincarnation of a new avatar of the Quad 3.0 on 12 March 2021, there is a serious counterreaction from a group of countries that feel strategically contained and threatened. This new avatar of the Quad (3.0) has been presented as an alliance of democracies that will bring peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. Though there are security aspects of it, but more important areas of cooperation are non-military in nature, including humanitarian issues, Covid vaccine supplies, emerging technologies, cyber-attacks and alternative supply chains.
The Quad virtual summit was followed by the Russian peace conference on the future of Afghanistan on 18 March 2021. It did not include India as a party, though China, Pakistan and Iran were invitees. It is presumed that India was excluded owing to Pakistani reservations and Chinese attempts to contain India in the South Asia region. The Moscow conference was attended by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Russia has already started to sell arms and ammunitions to Pakistan despite Indian reservations. Russian and Pakistani special operation troops conducted joint military drills in November 2020 at the Tarbela training grounds in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province as part of the “Friendship 2020 exercise”. Russian warships along with Chinese and Iranian assets also participated in the recently concluded 45-nation AMAN-21 biennial naval exercises hosted by Pakistan in the Arabian sea on 16 February 2021.
On 22 March 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met in Guilin city in Guangxi Zhuang province in southern China, condemning the targeting and the criticism of those two countries over human rights violations. Sergey Lavrov was candid enough to say: “For us, China is a true strategic partner and like-minded friend. Our cooperation in the international arena will have a stabilizing effect on the global and regional situation.” The two countries also discussed the Iran nuclear deal, urging the US to unconditionally return to and Iran to resume compliance with JCPOA. They also discussed the Afghan peace process, the post-coup situation in Myanmar, UN reforms, climate change, Syria, and Sudan. Both countries demanded a special UNSC summit of P5 countries to establish direct dialogue about ways to resolve humankind’s common problems in the interests of maintaining global stability.
Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi was in Iran on 26-27 March 2021 for the signing of a 25-year cooperation agreement between China and Iran. China agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran over a period of 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel its growing economy under this agreement. The signing of the comprehensive economic and security cooperation program of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China is an ambitious strategic move. The agreement brings Iran into China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Ahead of the signing ceremony in Tehran, Wang Yi met President Hassan Rouhani and promised Beijing’s support for Iran’s position on its 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) with world powers. Wang Yi also promised that China would provide more coronavirus vaccines (Sinopharm) to Iran. The final document includes a complete roadmap with strategic political and economic clauses covering trade, economic and transportation cooperation, with a special focus on the private sectors of both countries.
Pakistan and China are iron brothers and “all weather” allies. China proliferated horizontally nuclear and missile technology, nuclear weapons design and facilitated Pakistan’s first nuclear test in its Lop Nur testing range in 1990. China has provided emergency funds to Pakistan repeatedly whenever Pakistan has faced a balance of payment crisis. China is constructing infrastructure as part of the $64 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Russian postures have changed in recent years and have become manifestly anti-India. Russia is miffed with India for increasing arms purchases from the US. There is an astronomical growth in US arms export to India from zero in 2008 to $15 billion in 2020. After India’s notice of lack of invitation in the Afghan peace conference hosted by Russia, Lavrov announced that he will be visiting India. But the ultimate insult to India was delivered by the news that Lavrov would go to Pakistan after visiting India. Lavrov wanted to report to Pakistan about his deliberations with India. A de facto Russia-China-Pakistan (RCP) strategic axis has emerged in recent years. There is a serious talk in the town in the last two weeks about the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Pakistan in the near future to take Russia-Pakistan bilateral strategic relationship to the next level. An invitation has already been issued formally by Imran Khan to Putin. If the Russian bear hugs the international prostitute (aka a rentier state) in a warm embrace, what would be India’s reaction?
An alliance of authoritarian nations is emerging as an anti-Quad counter-reaction to Quad 3.0. This alliance of authoritarians shares similar anti-democratic values and norms. While all four of these countries claim to have genuine democracies, none of them have the democratic d-bone in their governance structures. Pakistan has been perpetually ruled by the army since its inception; democratic governments come and go dime a dozen. Prime Ministers of Pakistan are the “useful idiots” for the army generals and the ISI-GHQ establishment. Iran is ruled by a so-called elected Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will continue to reign till his death, like his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini did. Vladimir Putin has ensconced himself as the President for life by “subverting the Russian Constitution”. In the name of democratic reforms, Putin has become the de facto Czar of the 21st century Russia. And Xi Jinping gave up the pretence of democratic transition in the Chinese Communist Party started by the reformist leader Deng Xiaoping and his successor Jiang Zemin. Discarding the fig leaf of “two terms for the General Secretary”, Xi has proclaimed himself as the Paramount leader of Communist China until he dies or is deposed by rival factions. He has already eliminated all his rivals including Bo Xilai in an anti-corruption drive.
Since the acronym BRIC was coined conceptually by the Goldman Sachs global economist James O’Neil in 2001, BRIC actually emerged in real in 2009 followed by the BRICS in 2011. There are internal contradictions in the BRICS grouping, but it is still relevant. The fact of the matter is that the economic grouping emerged eight years after the acronym was coined and conceptualized. We see a parallel here. An anti-Quad grouping is taking shape and form in a strategic counter-reaction to the reincarnation of Quad 3.0 as an alliance of democracies. This anti-Quad is an alliance of authoritarians and its raison d’etre is the Quad 3.0. We witness a serious clash of values, democratic versus authoritarian, between the Quad and the anti-Quad. Whether this grouping will actually take a concrete shape in the form of an alliance is yet to be seen. The four countries that constitute this anti-Quad are China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran. In the now famous tradition of BRIC, for conceptual clarity, we coin a new acronym, CRIP, that denotes the four authoritarian nations. The CRIP is an acronym for China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, depicting a de facto emerging strategic alliance of authoritarian regimes as a counter-reaction to the Quad 3.0. There is a visible clash of values—democracy versus autocracy. The CRIP represents the autocrats of the world who are resisting democratic values worldwide. The CRIP, once formalized, will try to influence the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. The million-dollar question is obvious for us. Will the CRIP be able to counterbalance the Quad in the Indo-Pacific?
Dr A. Adityanjee is President, The Council for Strategic Affairs.