The Big Picture: Strategic Importance of Quadrilateral
Rising of a great power in world has led to convergence of other powers with time. Therefore, the senior leaders from India, Japan, Australia and US met on the side-lines of the East Asia Summit in Manila (Philippines) on 12 Nov 2017. This has led to rising of the 10 year old Quadrilateral Security Dialogue from its embers and has also put India on the forefront in the now termed “Indo-Pacific” region.
- Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) is an informal security dialogue between India, Japan, US and Australia that is maintained by talks between member countries. It was first initiated a decade ago in 2007 by PM Shinzo Abe of Japan, but ceased later following Australia’s withdrawal. The diplomatic and military arrangements (Trilateral naval Exercise – Malabar Exercises) were viewed as a response to Chinese increasing economic and military power.
- India had developed its “Look East Policy” initiated during the government of V. Narashima Rao (1991-1996) to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations with the South East Asian nations providing a counterweight to the strategic influence of China. PM Modi’s visit to Manila to attend the ASEAN-India Summit has put ties with US on the centre-stage in its now called “Act East Policy”.
- Malabar naval exercises which first began in 1992 were held first time off the Japanese island in Bay of Bengal in 2007 including Japan and Australia as non-permanent participants as well, leaving China unhappy then. Japan later became a permanent member in 2015. 2017 Malabar exercises were conducted in Chennai and Bay of Bengal from 10-17 July by India, US and Japan.
- All the countries of the Quadrilateral have major interests in China economically (being their major trade partner) and yet have major security concerns about China. So, there is a need to keep a balance between controlling Chinese rising aggression and, keeping trade relations with China in parallel diplomatically.
- China has been expanding in South China Sea (and says it has its exclusive economic zone there) which has tremendous strategic importance. 1/3rd of the world’s shipping passes through it. It contains lucrative fisheries and huge oil and gas reserves are believed to present beneath its seabed. Patrols have to be done to counter China in this region which is trying to reach further to Indian Ocean region like Sri Lankan coast now.
- It will be good for India to have a forward presence in regions like Vietnamese coasts. US is also being expected to take a more aggressive stance against China in SCS.
- India has taken its own stand in recent past against Chinese aggression. In Doklam issue, it took security issues of land to a third nation Bhutan. It had first taken a stand against China’s OBOR project and also took up security issues in Indian Ocean.
India’s MEA said regarding quadrilateral that a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large”. After this initiation, much will depend on operability, cooperation and convergence of thinking. The Quadrilateral is still little more than a concept and not a military alliance like NATO. How the sovereign nations come up with this successfully overcoming possible internal and external pressures faced in past as well, has to be seen.