‘On the Quad, define the idea, chart a path’

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    8th Oct, 2020

Context

  • The third round of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, comprising India, Japan, the US and Australia is to take place.

Background

  • India, Japan, Australia and the US have been coordinating a joint approach on "free, open, prosperous and inclusive" Indo-Pacific region, based on shared values and principles and respect for international law.
  • After being moribund for a decade, the Quad was revived last November, ostensibly as a hedge against the spread of China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • The Quad’s previous iteration died a quiet death when then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd backed out due to concerns that it would antagonize China.
  • This time around, it is New Delhi, which has deferred to Beijing’s sensibilities.
  • In April, it was alone in rejecting Australia’s request to participate in the Malabar military exercises with the other Quad members. That rejection came the day after an informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Wuhan.

Analysis

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)

  • The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad) is an informal strategic forum between-
    • The United States
    • Japan
    • Australia
    • India
  • It is maintained by semi-regular summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries.
  • The forum was initiated as a dialogue in 2007 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, with the support of Vice President Dick Cheney of the US, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India.
  • The dialogue was paralleled by joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale, titled Exercise Malabar.

Significance of Quad:

  • Matrix of relationship: It’s helpful to examine the Quad less as a bloc of four countries and more as a matrix of trilateral and bilateral relationships.
  • Strong engagements: Trilaterally, US–Japan–Australia engagement is the most advanced, given the legacy of US alliances and the recently unveiled trilateral infrastructure agreement.
    • Meanwhile, the US–India–Japan trilateral dialogue is now held at the ministerial level
    • Japan has been permanently included in India–US naval exercises, and a trilateral infrastructure working group has been established
    • A Japan–India–Australia trilateral dialogue was recently initiated.
  • Growing minilateralism: Other developments point to growing ‘minilateralism’. India’s air force participated in Australia’s Pitch Black exercise, representing a growing degree of comfort with defence cooperation in a regional context. The commonality of equipment—notably maritime patrol aircraft—is significant for improving collective maritime domain awareness and anti-submarine contingencies, and adds another element of interoperability.
  • Major defence platforms: After more than a decade of negotiations, a logistics supply agreement and communications agreement have been signed. India has also acquired several major defence platforms from the US, and preliminary efforts at joint defence production and research and development are underway.

Quad as plurilateral mechanism

  • The Chinese are skilled at obfuscation. They will, perhaps, endeavour to conflate the Quad with the Indo-Pacific vision, and link both to the so-called China Containment Theory.
  • The Quad nations need to better explain that the Indo-Pacific Vision is an overarching framework that is being discussed in a transparent manner, with the objective of advancing everyone’s economic and security interests.
  • The Quad, on the other hand, is a plurilateral mechanism between countries that share interest on specific matters.

The forthcoming Ministerial meeting as an opportunity

  • This time around, the four countries are navigating through more turbulent waters. The global pandemic and the faltering global economy are taking a toll on the region’s growth and prosperity.
  • The two major Pacific powers (China and America), are moving into a more adversarial phase of their relationship. Public opinion about China in all four countries is different from what it used to be in 2007.
  • The fact of the meeting itself will signal to China that assertive or aggressive behaviour is not going to derail this mechanism.
  • A positive agenda built around collective action in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, monitoring shipping for search and rescue or anti-piracy operations, infrastructure assistance to climatically vulnerable states, connectivity initiatives and similar activities, will re-assure the littoral States that the Quad will be a factor for regional benefit, and a far cry from Chinese allegations that it is some sort of a military alliance.

Conclusion:

The forthcoming Ministerial meeting will be an opportunity to define the idea and chart a future path. Needless provocation of China should be avoided. There is no gain in actions that anger the Chinese with no commensurate benefit to the others.

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