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Insights into Editorial: On the Quad, define the idea, chart a path

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Introduction:

It is reported that the second Ministerial meeting of the four countries under the Quad will be held in Japan.

Mr. Abe was a strategic thinker who thought beyond the limited timeframe of Japanese revolving-door politics.

In 2007, the Quad (the United States, Japan, India, and Australia) was an idea whose time had not yet come. That was a different world.

About Quad:

  1. Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is the informal strategic dialogue between India, USA, Japan and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
  2. The idea of Quad was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure.
  3. In December 2012, Shinzo Abe again floated the concept of Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” involving Australia, India, Japan and the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific.
  4. In November 2017, India, the US, Australia and Japan gave shape to the long-pending “Quad” Coalition to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence (especially China).

An evolution of QUAD grouping:

  1. The global financial crisis was still lurking in the shadows as America continued to enjoy its ‘unipolar moment’.
  2. China’s shrill reaction to the idea of four like-minded countries establishing a plurilateral platform was, prima facie, intriguing. The idea was barely on the table; there was no clearly enunciated concept or proposed structures, much less joint understandings.
  3. The Chinese, however, labelled it as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It became evident years later that the real reason for China’s hyperreaction was out of concern that such a grouping would “out” China’s plans for naval expansion by focusing on the Indo-Pacific maritime space.
  4. China was hoping that its naval build-up might slip under the radar because the Americans were distracted by continental challenges including Russia, Afghanistan and Iran, and would not look sea-ward.
  5. Once the idea of Quad 1.0 had died down, China gained in confidence to reveal its hand. It advanced a new claim the Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea;
  6. Then China undertook the rapid kind of warship building activity reminiscent of Wilhelmine Germany before 1914; it built its first overseas base in Djibouti; and it started systematically to explore the surface and sub-surface environment in the Indian Ocean beyond the Malacca Straits.
  7. This entire activity was coordinated by a Central Leading Small Group for Protecting Maritime Rights and Interests, established in 2012.
  8. The manner of China’s dismissal of the Arbitral Award in the dispute with the Philippines on the South China Sea and its brazen militarisation of the islands after its President had publicly pronounced to the contrary, has once again brought the four countries onto the same page and given a second chance to the Quad.

Significance of the grouping:

  1. Quad is an opportunity for like-minded countries to share notes and collaborate on projects of mutual interest.
  2. Members share a vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific. Each is involved in development and economic projects as well as in promoting maritime domain awareness and maritime security.
  3. It is one of the many avenues for interaction among India, Australia, Japan and the US and should not be seen in an exclusive context.

There are also common references to the creation of a free, open and inclusive regional architecture, rules of the road, freedom of navigation and over-flight, and, ASEAN centrality.

A 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 entire focus on the Indo-Pacific makes the Quad a maritime, rather than a land-based grouping, raising questions whether the cooperation extends to the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian regions.

In 2016, China itself established a Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan and, more recently earlier this year, another one with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. The Quad is no exception.

The world today suffering with global pandemic:

  1. 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.
  2. The two major Pacific powers (China and America), are moving into a more adversarial phase of their relationship.
  3. Public opinion about China in all four countries is different from what it used to be in 2007.
  4. The fact of the meeting itself will signal to China that assertive or aggressive behaviour is not going to derail this mechanism. Needless provocation of China should be avoided.
  5. There is no gain in actions that anger the Chinese with no commensurate benefit to the others.
  6. In a recent address to the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State spoke about making sure that all the countries were moving at the same speed.
  7. This is an important statement because a plurilateral mechanism should also serve national interest. He also suggested that other countries might be invited to join in the future. This too is welcome; India has many other partners in the Indo-Pacific.

Reaching out to develop a comprehensive vision:

The forthcoming Ministerial meeting will be an opportunity to define the idea and chart a future path.

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.

India should develop a comprehensive vision on the Indo-Pacific which would ideate on the current and future maritime challenges, consolidate its military and non-military tools, engage its strategic partners

Conclusion:

An outreach to the Indian Ocean littoral states is especially important since there are motivated reports from some quarters suggesting that India is, somehow, seeking to deny access, or to create infrastructure that impedes the legitimate movement of some extra-regional countries through the Indian Ocean.

The Quad nations need to better explain the Indo-Pacific Vision in an overarching framework with the objective of advancing everyone’s economic and security interests.

Prime Minister Abe had presciently said in the Central Hall of the Parliament of India on August 22, 2007 – “A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.” It is the right time to realise this dream.