In a significant development for the region, the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (the QUAD) between India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. held its first Minister-level meeting since it was revived in 2017.
- The group, which met in New York in September 2019, is seen as a regional counter-weight to China and has only met at the Joint or Assistant Secretary level since 2017.
- The Quad was initially intended as a mechanism for responding to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by bringing together the US, Japan, India, and Australia.
- The group was intended to tackle the immediate challenges presented by the tsunami and its aftermath, and so was never meant to be permanent.
- By 2008, Australia had raised concerns about the Quad and its impact on Sino-Australian relations and had withdrawn from further dialogue of that nature.
- India was also worried about the impact the Quad might have on its own foreign policies and international relations.
- The group got entangled in growing strategic competition across Asia and led to collapsing of the group in 2008.
- By 2017, on the sidelines of East Asia Summit, a renewed interest in the dialogue had emerged and the four countries restarted their dialogue.
Interests of QUAD Group Members
- The US expresses a strong focus on maintaining its regional hegemony and resisting China’s rise.
- Japan and India are also seeking to maintain or advance their own regional leadership, keeping a check on Chinese power, and where possible hedge between the US and China.
- For Australia, building closer relations with the great powers of the Indo-Pacific region has long been viewed as an important tool of national interest.
- Australia sees that traditional alliances (i.e. those led by the US) might be usefully supplanted by mini-lateral arrangements to extend shared norms and rules around the region.
Significance of QUAD Group
- The greater functional cooperation might cover working jointly to deal with region-wide disasters through a combined disaster relief policy.
- A broader regional approach might bring in new actors to address major topics of regional concern, such as the issue of maritime accidents.
- The cooperation on military readiness, such as through joint military training, offers a low-key alternative to grand announcements regarding mutual defence pacts, although it may still antagonize China.
- The establishment of the Malabar exercises as a Quad undertaking, therebybringing Australia back into these exercises would constitute a shift toward such cooperation.
- Quad is also moving towards cooperation on supporting regional infrastructure projects.
- Diplomatic Significance: The most significant characteristic of the Quad is that it is relatively exclusive and functional as a forum for diplomatic consultation. They addressed broader agendas in the Indo-Pacific region. There is a high level of policy coordination on a number of issues that impact the rules-based regional order, including maritime security, terrorism, cyber security and connectivity.
- Information Significance: As the Quad is not an alliance, there are constraints on how much intelligence-sharing is possible between its members. After all, even Japan is still excluded from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group to which Australia and the U.S. belong. Despite this, there are increasing signs of information-sharing in a number of military sectors, including maritime domain awareness (MDA).
- Military Significance: While the military component is an essential part of the Quad, it does not play a major part in deterrence since not all of the four have a common mutual defense treaty obligation. Given these constraints, military cooperation among the Quad should be naturally and reasonably limited.
- Economic Significance: There is also the economic aspect of the Quad, which includes two major themes: economic integration and regional connectivity. At this stage, there are no trends toward economic integration of the Quad, but regional connectivity has emerged as both a huge area of challenges and potential cooperation.
Challenges or Concerns associated with QUAD Group
- It is unclear whether the four powers will be able to maximise the potential and opportunities for cooperation while ensuring that wider geopolitical rivalries do not again overwhelm the grouping.
- Though the group has been revived to support the Indo-Pacific order, it is constrained by the vagueness of the Indo-Pacific concept and the absence of Indonesia.
- China’s growing assertiveness has challenged the regional order across a range of issues, including territorial disputes (e.g. in the South China Sea) and economic relationships (as a result of China’s Belt and Road Initiative).
- Trump’s apparent preference for trade wars (or the threat of such wars) is fundamentally opposed to a more sophisticated Indo-Pacific investment and trading order and India is also a reluctant trade liberaliser.
- The US and India’s approaches to global trade policy offer an insight into the difficulties involved in deepening Quad cooperation. The resulting ambiguity about their outlook and role in the Quad reduces the scope for meaningful cooperation.
- The Chinese criticism that the Quad represents encirclement and “Cold War thinking” continues to shape arguments about the Quad’s value.
- Australia’s decision to withdraw from the Quad in 2008 continues to raise questions, particularly from India, as to whether Australia is potentially compromised by Chinese influence.
- India’s commitment to the Quad is complicated by its relationship with China and attachment to non-alignment.
- The contention that the Quad will trigger a security dilemma and subsequent arms racing scenario becomes ever less persuasive.
- India’s continued reluctance towards Australia joining the trilateral Malabar exercises offers a clear example, while US concerns over India’s relationship with Iran could emerge as another thorny issue for the group.
Importance of QUAD Group to India
- The QUAD could provide an alternate route for India to look for membership in the nuclear suppliers group which is blocked by China and India has also found itself on the receiving end of direct military coercion by China.
- The Quad framework derives its geopolitical validation from India’s association and presents a unique opportunity for India to be an active participant in shaping regional security architecture with global undertones.
- It can also play an important role in shaping the future trajectory of Sino-Indian relations.
- It offers New Delhi a powerful platform to advance its interests in East Asia, coordinate strategies with powerful friends and add more strength to its Act East initiative.
- Through the Quad, India should promote its flagship ventures like the Sagarmala port modernization and connectivity project and the Asian Development Bank led East Coast Economic Corridor, which aims to industrialize the entire Eastern Indian coastal belt and extend value chains to Southeast Asia.
QUAD’s 2.0 Challenges for India
- The first danger of India’s participation in the revived Quad is that it could stoke larger regional palpitations in the Indo-Pacific, leading to backlash (overt, covert, or both) from China.
- India joining the Quad could result in Chinese reactivating tensions with India on multiple fronts, from disputed border points across the Line of Actual Control (the de facto Sino-India border) to a certain hostile western neighbor that already enjoys significant Chinese support.
- While India might find the idea of a partnership with a global power and like-minded regional powers appealing, it also risks alienating two key Indian allies i.e. Iran and Myanmar.
- The Quad’s objectives have been in the public domain but its operational mandate and the respective roles of the four nations are yet to be defined.
Future of QUAD Group
- The new Quad thus holds out the promise of achieving enmeshment as well as balancing objectives.
- The wider defence cooperation may also be possible, particularly in terms of sharing military technologies or establishing procedures for greater intelligence sharing,
- The focus should be on working on those infrastructure projects that better integrate the Indo-Pacific as a coherent maritime regional order.
- A more ambitious order-building endeavour would be to use the Quad to push for a more sophisticated Indo-Pacific investment and trading order.
- Geopolitically, the crucial juncture between the Indo and Pacific sub-regions is maritime Southeast Asia and, especially, Indonesia as it is adjacent both to the region’s most complex maritime territorial dispute and to its major shipping routes.
- Indonesia is also democratic, a rising power, and has an uncertain relationship with China. As a new piece of the Indo-Pacific strategic architecture, the revised dialogue might be boosted if it swapped its “quadrilateral” format for a “pentagonal” one.
- Establish working groups on defence and infrastructure – Fleshing out the Quad from a biennial meeting at the senior official-level will require an agenda and contacts among lower-level officials. The establishment of working group meetings will go far toward laying the groundwork of the recommendations.
- Develop an Indo-Pacific Infrastructure and Development Coordination working group – A working group on infrastructure stands out as the opportunity most ripe for Quad cooperation.
- Establish an Annual Head of Government meeting – The 2+2 working group formats will be useful in laying the groundwork for an annual or biennial head of government meeting among the Quad nations.
- Pursue an annual meeting of joint operational commands and encouragement of exchanges – any Quad project involving the military will prompt concern in some members that the initiative is taking too sharp of an anti-China focus. But there is no need for a meeting of operational commands to concern it simply with high-end war fighting.
- The Quad would do well by collaborating on actionable issue areas like piracy.
- It should focus on building a robust regional consultation mechanism and coordinate with ASEAN nations on issues of regional importance.
- Initiatives like the Indo-Pacific business forum could be expanded and alternative institutions like Indo-Pacific Bank or Indo-Pacific infrastructure investment agency could be contemplated to encourage private investment in crucial sectors like energy, the digital economy, the blue economy, and infrastructure.
- The Quad needs to be better at communicating core objectives, coordinating policy efficiently, developing an agenda that is more focused, and diversifying the arrangement beyond the current membership.
- The Quad offers a way to manage the uncertainties of regional rivalries by embedding them in the Indo-Pacific region.
- At present, Indonesia’s absence reinforces both the Quad’s underdeveloped status and the persistent doubts as to whether the Indo-Pacific is in fact a single, coherent region. As it stands, the Quad remains an idea whose time is yet to come.
- Despite the faltering start of the initial rendering of the Quad group, it appears that Quad 2.0 after a decade of increased ties and the ongoing building of relationships as well as the context of Chinese coercion is tighter than ever.
- With the aid of further in-depth discussion and the implementations of the recommendations in the brief cited could ensure that a more cohesive focus moving forward may be achieved and even tighter bond between the participating countries.
- Rather than confronting Beijing’s military muscle-flexing, a focus on stronger geo-economic ties could help the nations of the Indo-Pacific create a “soft” hedge against China.
Source: The Hindu