It would not be correct to endorse the grouping as anti-China as ironically China has strong economic ties with the Quad members, especially Australia which can be used to turn nations in its favour. This can turn out to be problematic for India. For example, in response to Australia’s call for an independent international inquiry over the origins of Covid-19, China banned Australian beef imports and imposed fresh tariffs on barley.
Finally, the parallel exercises in the Indo-Pacific last year, including a trilateral exercise between the US, Australia and Japan in the Philippines Sea and an Indian naval exercise in the Indian Ocean have shaped into a concrete structure. The virtual summit that took place on March 12 last signals a more collaborative platform. The Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) grouping structure is set to crystallize the idea of a security structure thereby countering any perception of a mere fancy grouping.
The key takeaways from the virtual summit include focus on pressing crises such as Covid-19, climate change and emerging technologies. The Quad members pledged to promote a free, open rules-based order in line with international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats both with respect to maritime and cyber security in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The Quad vaccine partnership has targeted a billion vaccines by the end of 2022 with cooperation among the members. Also, the allies appreciated the Vaccine Maitri initiative of India, which is a part of India’s vaccine diplomacy. With a target on emission reduction, it showcased America’s renewed intention under the presidentship of Joe Biden on climate change after the latter’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal during the Donald Trump tenure.
The Quad initiative can be traced back to 2007 at the behest of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the quest for a bold vision and a ‘broader Asia’ after four countries – the US, India, Japan and Australia – came together but could not take shape into a concrete structure due to Australia moving out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure. The idea was finally revived in 2017 after almost a decade due to increasing significance attached to the Indo-Pacific region and the growing assertiveness of China.
Growing significance: The Belt and Road Initiative of China passing through the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir region is perceived as a threat to India’s sovereignty. It also tries to establish China’s hegemony in the old silk route. India in its response has geared up its engagement in the littoral states through its SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative and Quad. The coming of like-minded countries ensures India of territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes. This is extremely crucial in present times as relations between India and China have been worsening due to military tensions at the Ladakh border. India also has convergence with the Quad members on issues such as connectivity and infrastructural development, counter-terrorism, maritime, cyber security issues, etc. The pandemic also has brought to the forefront challenges that had affected the global supply chain. It is in this context that Quad can help India not only to recoup its losses but also secure its place in the new world order. For example, India has already exported 37% doses of Covid vaccines to friendly countries as part of its vaccine diplomacy.
Quad also supplements India’s defence capabilities among its members through joint naval exercises and exchange of strategic information. This can help India overcome its limitations pertaining to finances, naval capacity and other technological shortages. India routinely conducts bilateral and multilateral military exercises with its Quad partners, for example the JIMEX with Japan, the Malabar Exercise in 2020 in which all four Quad countries together took part for the first time. India also holds a 2+2 ministerial dialogue with all Quad members. Thus, Quad provides India with a security apparatus in the vision for free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Apprehensions of China: Often perceived by China as the ‘Asian NATO’, China has its own set of apprehensions with Quad. The recent clashes across the LAC or the aggression of China in the South China Sea appear to be China’s response for India’s alignment to Quad. China has firmly outlined that exchanges and cooperation between countries should contribute to mutual understanding rather than targeting a third party and refrain from pursuing any exclusive blocs, clearly signalling its intent against the grouping. India too has its own set of challenges in countering China as China is the No 1 trading partner of India in 2020. The two-way trade in 2020 reached 87.6 billion dollars. Also, it is the only Quad member country that is not in the West Pacific and the only one that shares a 3500-km undemarcated border with china. India needs to play its card safe on an Indo-Pacific maritime alliance with aggressive China on the one side and the push from the partners on the other.
It would not be correct to endorse the grouping as anti-China as ironically China has strong economic ties with the Quad members, especially Australia which can be used to turn nations in its favour. This can turn out to be problematic for India. For example, in response to Australia’s call for an independent international inquiry over the origins of Covid-19, China banned Australian beef imports and imposed fresh tariffs on barley. To add to it, all four members share a substantial part of their trade with China. India too has wide ranging groupings with China such as the SCO and the BRICS which belie the hope of transforming the grouping as a militarily coalition.
Thus, the Quad members should form a firmer posture on its priorities. The joint article from the four leaders committed to an open Indo-Pacific ‘free from coercion’ tries to build a safe environment in the western pacific and the Indo-Pacific region. The Quad members should collaborate and build a positive agenda that is constructed around collective action in infrastructural assistance, connectivity initiatives, and humanitarian assistance. This will help address the apprehensions of China and fulfil India’s long-term purpose of free and open Indo-Pacific and provide a vision for inclusiveness.