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Quad: Asian NATO or Arc of Democracy?

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    30th May, 2022


  • Leaders of the four Quad nations met in Tokyo today and discussed wide range of topics from the war in Europe to dealing with China, and their cooperation on non-security initiatives such as tech and infra.


Background of Quad:

  • Following the Indian Ocean tsunami, India, Japan, Australia, and the US created an informal alliance to collaborate on disaster relief efforts.
  • In 2007, then PM of Japan, Shinzo Abe, formalised the alliance, as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad.
  • The Quad was supposed to establish an Asian Arc of Democracy but was hampered by a lack of cohesion amongst its members and accusations that the group was nothing more than an anti-China bloc.
  • The early iteration of the Quad, largely based around maritime security, eventually dissipated.
  • In 2017, faced again with the rising threat of China, the four countries revived the Quad, broadening its objectives and creating a mechanism that aimed to slowly establish a rules-based international order.
  • In March 2021, the Quad leaders met virtually and later released a joint statement titled ‘The Spirit of the Quad,’ which outlined the group’s approach and objectives.

What is the structure of Quad?

  • The Quad is not structured like a typical multilateral organisation and lacks a secretariat and any permanent decision-making body.
  • Instead of creating policy along the lines of the European Union or United Nations, the Quad has focused on expanding existing agreements between member countries and highlighting their shared values.
  • Also unlike NATO, the Quad does not include provisions for collective defence, instead it focuseson the conduct of joint military exercises as a show of unity and diplomatic cohesion.

In 2020, the trilateral India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercises expanded to include Australia, marking the first official grouping of the Quad since its resurgence in 2017 and the first joint military exercises among the four countries in over a decade. 

What are the Objectives of Quad?

  • According to the Spirit of the Quad, the group’s primary objectives include maritime security, combating the Covid-19 crisis, especially vis-à-vis vaccine diplomacy, addressing the risks of climate change, creating an ecosystem for investment in the region and boosting technological innovation.
  • Quad members have also indicated a willingness to expand the partnership through a so-called Quad Plus that would include South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam amongst others.
  • However it is considered that despite the Quad’s seeming commitment to a broad range of issues, its raison d’etre is still considered to be the threat of China.
  • Each of the Quad’s member states have their own reasons to fear the rise of China and curbing Beijing’s regional advances is in all of their national interests.

What are the issues faced by members of Quad with China?

  • Each of the Quad members are threatened by China’s actions in the South China Sea and its attempts to extend its sphere of influence through initiatives such as the One Belt One Road Project.
  • The US has long been concerned about the global competition with China and successive US presidents have maintained that China aims to subvert the international rules-based order.
  • Japan and Australia are likewise both concerned about China’s expanding presence in the South and East China Seas.
  • Japan and China have been traditional rivals and have competing territorial and maritime claims.
  • For Australia in particular, relations with Beijing are at a considerable low after Australia passed foreign interference laws in 2018 which China responded to by restricting trade to Canberra.
  • Australia’s apprehension about China’s rise has grown even more due a defence agreement signed between China and Solomon Islands which allows the former to station its armed forces on latter which is very close to Australia.
  • As the only Quad country to share a land border with China, India is also suitably wary of Beijing but also reluctant to allow tensions to spill over.
  • India’s territorial concerns with China have grown over the last few years especially after the latter’s aggressive posturing in the Ladakh region.
  • The Trans-Karakoram highway built by China which passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is seen by India a challenge to its security which can be answered through a multi-lateral forum.

China’s response to Quad:

  • China initially opposed the formation of the Quad and in the 13 years since, Beijing’s position has not changed.
  • In 2018, the Chinese Foreign Minister referred to the Quad as a “headline-grabbing idea” and after the joint statement that was issued Quad members in 2021, the Chinese foreign ministry accused the group of openly inciting discord among regional powers in Asia.
  • Beijing sees the existence of the Quad as part of a larger strategy to encircle China and has pressured countries like Bangladesh to avoid cooperating with the group.
  • China flying its fighter jets over the Japanese airspace before the recent meeting of Quad was an example of who apprehensive it is about the grouping.
  • Though it has to be pointed out that there is no direct reference to China or military security in any statement issued on behalf of Quad.
  • This in turn has led experts to speculate that the Quad will refrain from addressing the military threat posed by China and instead focus on its economic and technological influence.
  • The Quad’s decision to establish working groups on vaccine development and critical technologies can then be viewed as an attempt to constrain China but more importantly, to create a democratic, inclusive blueprint that will encourage other states to work with the Quad.

What were the outcome of the recent Quad meeting?

  • The leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia have launched a maritime initiative to combat illegal fishing and pledged to invest more than $50bn in developing infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific as part of their efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
  • Quad leaders also discussed climate change, technology and COVID-19, as well as the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – an issue that has risked division among the group.

India, which has close ties with Russia, is the only member that is yet to condemn Moscow’s war.

  • In a joint statement the leaders of member countries said the Quad’s latest measures are aimed at demonstrating that the group “is a force for good” and that it is “committed to bringing tangible benefits to the region” at a time of profound global challenges.
  • And while the statement did not mention China by name, the leaders said they “strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo” in the Indo-Pacific.
  • These include “the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities” – all accusations that have been levied against China.
  • The leaders also announced a new maritime surveillance initiative – the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) – that it said will work with regional partners to respond to humanitarian and natural disasters and combat illegal fishing.
IPMDA will support and work in consultation with Indo-Pacific nations and regional information fusion centers in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands by providing technology and training to support enhanced, shared maritime domain awareness to promote stability and prosperity in seas and oceans of the region.

Q1. Discuss the significance of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity for India?

Q2. China is alarmed by the Quad but its threats are driving the group closer together. Elucidate.


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