What is Quad Summit ?
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) or Quad is an informal strategic dialogue between India, the United States, Japan, and Australia. This is the cooperation of like-minded democracies throughout the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Its goal is to guarantee and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region. This idea was first proposed in 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
- However, this idea could not be advanced after Australia withdrew, obviously because of pressure from China. The group regained momentum after 2017. The Quadrilateral Alliance was updated to “QUAD 2.0” along the route of the ASEAN Summit in 2017.
- Since then, the Quartet Summit will be held every two years. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of China, the changing geo-economic benefits of the region, etc. Conference and the next virtual four-person summit.
- The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. It is maintained through semi-regular summits, information exchanges, and military exercises among member states.
- Helping the affected countries after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Subsequently, officials from these four countries met in 2007 to “discuss issues of common concern.”
- During his visit to India, the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed the concept of “the intersection of the two seas”, which gave rise to the Indo-Pacific concept. Ten years later, officials from the four countries met in the Philippines in 2017 to speak.
- In 2019, the four foreign ministers met for the first time in Washington.
- In November, the four countries gathered together to participate in the two-phase joint military exercise “Malabar 2020” in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. It is now increasingly regarded as “Asian NATO.”
Focus on Indo-Pacific: For the China-wary world
The latest meeting of Quad comes at a time when all four countries have either trade or security disputes with China.
Despite not explicitly mentioning China, Quad has been openly supporting a “free and fair” Indo-Pacific which is seen as a clear message to Beijing that it needs to curb its assertive behaviour.
The optics were hard to miss when India, the US, Japan and Australia joined their navies for the mega Malabar military exercise late last year, an activity which raised alarm in Beijing.
This posturing by the Quad nations sent a strong signal to China.
US vs China
USA had followed a policy to contain China’s increasing influence in East Asia. Therefore, USA sees the coalition as an opportunity to regain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
The US has described China, along with Russia, as a strategic rival in its National Security Strategy, National Defence Strategy and the Pentagon’s report on Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Both are navigating intense disagreements over trade and human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and the western Xinjiang region, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Australia vs China
Australia is concerned about China’s growing interest in its land, infrastructure and politics, and influence on its universities.
Ties have been on a downward spiral since 2018 when Australia, accusing China of meddling in its domestic affairs, passed a new law against foreign interference and espionage.
It also barred Huawei from building the country’s 5G mobile network, among the first countries to do so, citing national security.
The atmosphere worsened when PM Scott Morrison’s government called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
Japan vs. China
Tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute have recently increased.
China has relentlessly continued attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion in the sea area around the Senkaku Islands.
The more salient indicator is the number of Chinese patrols inside the territorial sea of the islands, which Japan sees as an explicit violation of its territorial sovereignty.
India vs. Quad
India’s strained relations with China needs no explanation. The year long border dispute is the testimony.
The Quad summit is taking place in the backdrop of an ongoing military disengagement between India and China following their months-long border standoff in eastern Ladakh.
China is increasing its footprint in our neighborhood through its Belt and Road policy and political coercion following the debt trap are some of the increasing concerns other than economic imbalance.
India’s engagement with QUAD
- China’s action: India’s engagement with the Quad goes back to China’s expanding footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region over the last few years. China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative was viewed as encroachments into India’s strategic space.
- India’s reaction: India responded with an upgradation of its naval capabilities and enhancement of ties with the Indian Ocean Region littoral states and other major powers in the region.
- Shared Concern with USA: Largely as a result of their shared concerns relating to the rise of China, India has been deepening its security ties with the U.S. focused on interoperability of defence equipment and training based on defence purchases, frequent land and sea exercises.
Opportunities unveiled for India
India’s engagement with the Quad goes back to China’s expanding footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region over the last few years. India can reap some benefits as discussed below:
Checkmating the Chinese
- The maritime sphere is wide open to India to undertake coalition building, rule sets, and other forms of strategic exploration than compared to land borders.
- The maritime space is more important to China than engaging in land grab attempts in the Himalayas. A huge chunk of Chinese trade happens via the Indian oceanic routes that pass through maritime chokepoints.
- There is a growing great power interest in the maritime sphere, especially with the arrival of the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’. For instance, many European countries have recently released their Indo-Pacific strategies.
- The most recent was for France to send its warship in the international waters of the South China Sea.
Maritime domain for India
- Above is the backdrop against which one must see the progressive evolution of Exercise “Malabar”,
- In the beginning, it was a bilateral event involving just the Indian and US navies. It became tri-lateral with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
- And now it has transformed into a four-cornered naval drill that will also include Australia.
Check on China’s India Ocean Ambitions
- The Quad has a valuable role to play as a check on China’s Indian Ocean ambitions.
- India must develop ingrained habits of interoperable cooperation with its Quad partners.
- This interoperable cooperation could pre-emptively dissuade China from mounting a naval challenge in its backyard.
Eccentricity in South Asia
- With India, located right at the centre of the Indo-Pacific geopolitical imagination can realize the vision of a ‘broader Asia’ that can extend its influence away from geographical boundaries.
- Further, India with Quad countries can check the imperialist policies of China in the Indian Ocean region and ensure Security and growth for all in the region.
Significance of Quad
- The development trajectory of Quad: Initially the Quad was seen as a security co-operation. But in recent months, It evolved into the Quad Framework. The co-operation widened to include resilience supply chain initiatives, collaboration in the emergence of critical technologies, etc. The recent development of the Quad summit is a clear example of that evolution.
- The centrality of India in Quad: India is much more central to the entire Quad framework. The terming the Indo-Pacific is itself an example of that. By taking a leadership role along with countries like the US, Australia and Japan, India showcases its capability to other countries in Indo-Pacific.
- The Focus area of Quad fulfils the demand of the Indo-Pacific maritime domain. The Indo-Pacific maritime region is at present dominated by China. Chinese dominate since there is no maritime security collaboration to oppose them. The Quad will counter the Chinese dominance in the region.
- Potential of Quad to influence the Indo-Pacific region: Since the grouping brings together the major countries under one ambit. It can influence other south-east nations to gradually stand up against any illogical claims by China like the South-China Sea dispute, etc.
Reasons for India to avoid Quad
- There are many internal and external reasons for India to avoid Quad. They are
- Non-alignment: Joining Quad might affect India’s traditional non-alignment policy. By joining Quad will be seen as India’s open support to capitalist countries.
- A threat to national interests: There are many occasions when the US followed its own interests in the international arena. Australia and Japan are allies of the US. So, by joining the Quad group, India cannot actively follow its national interests if 3 countries oppose that.
- The recent election in the US: The US international policies, in general, are short-lived. The previous Trump administration maintained a hostile relationship with China. But the current Biden presidency is expected to have a mutual competitive relationship with China.
- So, the US might not take an adequate stand against China and its policies in the Indo-Pacific. This might make the grouping a weaker one.
- Individual visions of the Indo-Pacific: The Indo-pacific system, as muted by Quad is not clear. Even the British Empire never managed to combine the Indo and the Pacific into a unitary system. It would be difficult to align the combined vision of the grouping. Apart from that, there are individual visions also.
- No clarity on objectives: Quad neither shares a strategic vision nor has any shared agenda. Its members despite being anti-China continue to forge ties with China. For example,
- In 2020 China became India’s number one trade partner
- American investors hold $1 trillion of Chinese equity, and 75% of U.S. companies in China continue to invest there.
- The vulnerability of India to China: India is the only Quad member that is not in the west Pacific. Further, It is also the only country that shares a non-demarcated land border with China. So, any developments will have more impact on India-China relation. For example, the recent Ladakh stand-off.
- De-stabilising the Peace in South-Asia: India was facing a 2 front challenge between China and Pakistan. The recent acceptance of the Ceasefire Agreement with Pakistan and the Disengagement Agreement with China over border stand-off brought some stability to the relationship.
- But joining Quad now might act as an incentive for China to violate the agreement and Pakistan which is already having a nexus with China might also turn hostile. This will de-stabilise the Peace in the entire South-Asian region for years
Concerns for India
- Pulled into ambit of Indo-Pacific: The U.S.’s focus on the west Pacific due to aggressive Chinese maritime activity gradually pulled India into the ambit of the Indo-Pacific that views the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as an integrated geopolitical space.
- India’s Security concerns ignored: By affiliating with the U.S.-led maritime coalition, India ignored the principal areas of its security concerns in northern borders. Recently with border clashes, China has given India a rude reminder that India’s security concerns lie in its northern borders, not the west Pacific.
- Divergence with US: New Delhi and Washington see eye to eye on maritime strategy, but not on what to do on the Asian mainland.
- Structural Issues due to QUAD’s pivot to US: The Quad has a core structural problem as well in that it pivots around the U.S. The U.S. is a super-power with global interests, but it is also self-centred in defining and pursuing its interests, even as its policies experience major shifts due to government change or domestic lobbies
- Doesn’t have strategic vision: Despite rhetoric relating to the promotion of a ‘rules-based’ world order (the rules being most frequently violated by the U.S. itself), the Quad neither shares a strategic vision nor is it animated by a shared agenda.
- Need for a Maritime Doctrine: India should develop a comprehensive vision on the Indo-Pacific. This will address India’s current and future maritime challenges, consolidate its military and non-military tools, etc.
- Strategic autonomy – India should not compromise its strategic interests in the US-based western interests. This has to be clear at every Quad Summit.
- Bringing in More inclusion in Quad: The countries should work with other countries in the Indo-Pacific Region. This will help to maintain independent security and economic policies, capacity building of other countries etc. Further, such initiatives will provide better alternatives to unilateral Chinese objectives and initiatives.
- Leverage each other strengths and not focus on weaknesses in Quad summits and Quad frameworks. For example, talks on developing global governance architecture, supply-chains initiatives, etc. can be given priority in Quad summits.
In conclusion, the upcoming Quad summit should focus on building a better collaboration between countries, rather than on countering China. This will make it a holistic initiative rather than an arrangement of like-minded countries against one particular country. Because “Revenge proves its own executioner”.
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