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.
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.
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.
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).
Quad Nations and China
USA: 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.
Australia: Australia is concerned about China’s growing interest in its land, infrastructure and politics, and influence on its universities.
Taking into account its overwhelming economic dependence on China for prosperity, Australia has continued its commitment to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China.
Japan: In the last decade, Japan has expressed concerns related to China’s territorial transgression in the region.
Trade volume with China remains the key lifeline to the Japanese economy, where net exports contributed exactly one-third of Japan’s economic growth since the beginning of 2017.
Therefore, considering its importance, Japan is balancing its economic needs and territorial concerns with China
Japan has also agreed to involve in the Belt and Road Initiative by participating in infrastructure programs in third country. In this way, Japan can mitigate Chinese influence in those countries while improving relations with China.
India: In recent years, China’s violation of international norms, particularly its construction of military facilities on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, and its growing military and economic power, pose a strategic challenge to India.
Considering China’s strategic importance, India is carefully balancing China on one hand and the US on the other, by remaining committed to strategic autonomy to China, which has generally proved reassuring to China.
Opportunities for India under Quad Arrangement
The maritime space is a lot more important to China than engaging in opportunistic land grab attempts in the Himalayas.
A huge chunk of Chinese trade happens via the Indian oceanic routes that pass through maritime chokepoints.
In the event of any Chinese aggression on borders, India by cooperating with Quad countries can potentially disrupt Chinese trade.
Hence, unlike in the continental sphere where India seems facing a ‘nutcracker like situation’ due to China-Pakistan collusion, the maritime sphere is wide open to India to undertake coalition building, rule setting, and other forms of strategic exploration.
Emerging as a Net Security Provider:
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.
With India, located right at the centre of the Indo-Pacific geopolitical imagination can realise the vision of a ‘broader Asia’ that can extend its influence away from geographical boundaries.
Moreover, India can build 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.
Further, India with Quad countries can check imperialist policies of China in Indian ocean region and ensure Security and growth for all in the region.
India has supported a rule based multipolar world and QUAD can help it in achieving its ambition of becoming a regional superpower.
Post COVID Diplomacy
There have been disruptions of supply chain across the world due to the Pandemic, and this might result in an over dependence on China for Global Value chains. Under such a situation, India should use it diplomacy with QUAD group to establish a base for its expertise in manufacturing sector.
Further, Japan and the US want to shift their manufacturing companies out of China in order to curb its imperialistic behaviour, which could be capitalised by India as well.
China’s Territorial Claims: China claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region of South China Sea, which gives it the right to manufacture islands. However, the International Court of Arbitration rejected the claim in 2016.
China’s Closeness to ASEAN: The ASEAN countries also have a well-knit relationship with China. The Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a recent example of China’s increasing influence over ASEAN nations.
Economic Power of China: Considering the economic might of China and the dependence of Quad nations like Japan and Australia on China, the Quad nations cannot afford to have strained relations with it.
Convergence among Quad Nations: The nations in the Quad grouping have different aspirations, aims at balancing their own interest. Therefore, coherence in the vision of Quad nation as a grouping is absent.
Issues Related to Quad
Undefined Vision: Although there is potential for cooperation, the Quad remains a mechanism without a defined strategic mission.
Lacks Definitive structure:
The QUAD despite its lofty ambitions, 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.
Additionally, unlike NATO, the Quad does not include provisions for collective defence, instead choosing to conduct joint military exercises as a show of unity and diplomatic cohesion.
Maritime Dominated: 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.
India’s Aversion of Alliance System: The fact that India is the only member that is averse to a treaty alliance system, has slowed down the progress of building a stronger Quadrilateral engagement.
Lacks coherent actions: The USA Administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which may spawn the rise of terror networks in the troubled nation, may undercut the Quad’s joint commitment to combating terror besides raising questions about America’s willingness to recommit resources to the grim task of dismantling the terror networks.
The Quad will need to have a clearer vision for itself. It is important for members of the Quad not to be reactive. It is also important to exhibit openness, and ensure that all talk of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ is more than just a mere slogan.
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.
India has many other partners in the Indo-Pacific; therefore, India should pitch for countries like Indonesia, Singapore to be invited to join in the future.
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.