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A Quad is a group of four countries: the Australia, India, Japan and the United States of America. After Post Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Maritime cooperation among them began. The dialogue was initiated in 2007 by the then Prime Minister of Japan; Shinzo Abe with the support of the then Vice President of the US Dick Cheney, the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The dialogue was paralleled by a joint military exercise; Exercise Malabar. The diplomatic and military arrangements were widely viewed as a response to growing Chinese economic and military strength. As could have been expected, China issued a formal diplomatic protest to its members. Anyway, the Quad slowly continued to evolve as a Loose grouping of democratic nations with vibrant economies. During the 2017 ASEAN Summit at Manila, all four former members led by PM Malcom Turnbull of Australia, PM Narendra Modi of India, PM Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Donald Trump of the USA, agreed to revive the Quad to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Tensions between the Quad members and China have led to fears of a ‘New Cold War’ in the region.
China’s Aggressive Conduct and Concerns of Member Countries– Japan and its Quad partners share concerns about China’s role in the region and Beijing’s continued manifested actions to defy the rule of law. Beijing’s assertion of its sovereignty over the South China Sea, and her aggressive approach toward The Senkaku Islands or Diaoyu Islands as Chinese call them and Tiaoyutai Islands as Taiwan refers them are claimed by both China and Japan in the East China Sea, has made Japan wary of China’s military build-up.
Map-1: Nine-Dash Line and Chinese Expansionism
One of the important point of dispute between Japan and China is the Senkaku Islands.
Map-2: Senkaku Islands: Point of a dispute between China and Japan
It needs to be noted that, though Uninhabited, the importance of these islands lie in the fact that they are close to key shipping lanes, are rich in fishery wealth and above all are believed to be having oil. China’s relations with each of the Quad members have become more tense during the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on US economy is an extension of the ongoing trade war between US and China since 2018. It has not abetted even with the change of US administration in Jan 2021. Australia continues to bear the brunt of Chinese economic offensive and coercion, after the former’s insistence to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate into the origins of COVID-19 last year. India and Japan have clashed with China over the territorial disputes in Ladakh and in the maritime domain respectively during the summer of 2020. While with India it was physical standoff in Ladakh, with Japan was a show of aggressive Naval presence near Senkaku islands by China.
Collaboration on Broad Agenda– It needs to be underlined that it is not a formal alliance They collaborate on a broad agenda which includes; tackling security, economic, and health issues in the Indo Pacific Region (IPR).The IPR spans two oceans and several continents, making it important to U.S. maritime interests. In 2019, US $ 1.9 trillion worth of U.S. trade passed through the region. According to an UN report, this year, 42 percent of the world’s exports and 38 percent of global imports are expected to pass through the IPR. This kind of stake flags off a bigger worry of the US, which is on account of China’s growing assertiveness to challenge the regional status quo including militarization of reclaimed islands in South China Sea.. In this connection it is relevant to appreciate the thought process the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who conceptualised the Quad. He was a strong believer in the Quad’s power to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, probably because Japan depends heavily on open sea lanes for its trade with the world. However, Quad’s agenda is not all about China. Leaders of the four nations also see a need for a more proactive approach to solving humanitarian and economic challenges caused by COVID-19.
Objectives of Quad
It will be interesting to realize the initial objectives of each of the member countries. Japan emphasized the democratic identity of the four nations, whereas India seemed more comfortable emphasizing functional cooperation. Australian leaders have been reluctant about creating the impression that the group is a formal alliance.Working closely with these countries is natural for the United States. Australia and Japan are U.S. treaty allies, and India is an important strategic partner. The previous US administration worked closely with these countries, and the Biden administration is expanding the Quad’s agenda.
As of 2021, leaders in all four countries have become more aligned in their shared concerns about China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region and are now willing to define a constructive agenda of cooperation. After the Quad Summit of 12 Mar 2021, the joint statement, described “a shared vision for a ‘Free and Open IPR’ and a ‘Rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Sea’, with a view to counter Chinese maritime claims. The Quad members also pledged to respond to COVID-19, Simultaneously a meeting of Quad Plus was also held which was attended by the representatives from New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam with a view to curb “China’s growing power. The Quad’s joint statement drew criticism from China’s foreign ministry. As per the Chinese statement, the Quad would openly incite discord among regional powers in Asia.Besides ‘Nine-dash line’ the other contested areas in the South China Sea include the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and various other areas including Pratas Island and the Vereker Banks, the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal. It may be noted that at the end of the Summit Meeting the member countries formed working groups on COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, and technological innovation and supply-chain resilience.
Dimensions of Cooperation among the Quad Members
Military Cooperation– The U.S. and Japanese militaries have already been working closely across the region, and Japan’s Self-Defence Forces have, over the years, built relationships with their Australian and Indian counterparts. For the first time in a show of solidarity all four navies participated in a joint exercise, Exercise Malabar in November 2020.Post the exercise, the US did try to convert the security arrangements into an Asian NATO with shared security and geopolitical goals. However it appears that it has not progressed further.
Economic Support– Japan has played an important role in supporting investment in manufacturing, trade, and infrastructure development across the region. Japan has also joined with US and Australia to deepen the funds available for quality infrastructure. Japan has also been working to improve the sustainability of the critical supply chains for goods such as semiconductors for the Quadcountries.
Cooperation on Other Issues– In the joint statement after the Virtual Summit meet of 12 Mar 2021 the Quad pledged to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. It has also come to light that India had urged the other three countries to invest in its vaccine production capacity. For this the Quad members committed to launch a senior-level Quad Vaccine Experts Group. The member countries also formed, ‘The Quad Climate Working Group’ and ‘The Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group’.
Redefinition of Asia Pacific Region into Indo Pacific Region-The four Quad members have played a major role in purposefully redefining the “Asia-Pacific Region” as the “Indo Pacific Region”, with the view that such a nomenclature will facilitate trans-regional ties between the Indian and Pacific Ocean areas, and to, in their words, deal more effectively with the rise of China, in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The term gained traction in the political lexicon and strategic thinking of not only the Quad members, but in recent times ASEAN also has advocated it’s centrality between Quad and China. Similarly, UK and members of EU; like Germany; France and Netherlands have also been working for an inclusive Indo Pacific.
Map-3: Indo Pacific Region
Impact on Environment
Growing Sino-Russian Strategic Relationship– Although Sino-Russian strategic cooperation was growing even before the QUAD Summit, but post the meet the relationship has got a fresh momentum with a number of military exercises and fresh diplomatic initiatives, including a new engagement with Iran, North Korea, Myanmar Junta and even Pakistan is also getting factored into the matrix.However, the tough language bordering on being threating,used by China on the formation of Quad, is quite intriguing. Probably it reflects on China getting a bit nervous on the formation of the group and no wonder she has decided to upgrade her relationship with Russia. Although it is true that even a cursory look at history, flags the fact that Chinese and Russian interests in Asia had normally been in conflict but in the current context they are likely to be in sync because the formation of Quad, a group espousing the cause of democracy and freedom in all forms, poses an existential threat to their governance model. The growing economic might of China and the proficiency of Russia to cause disruptions make the challenge stiffer for the Quad. Increased Sino-Russian defence cooperation, the recent foreign ministers meeting of the two countries, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s strong condemnation of the Quad are the manifestations of the emerging opposing alignment. The growing Sino-Russian relationship is a reflection on the growing geopolitical scenario for some time. Starting with the strategic Partnership in 1996, with Crimean annexation by Russia in 2014 and the violent response to this act of Russia by the western World, alleged use of chemical weapons (Novichok agent) by Russia In March 2018, to assassinate a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in the UK, reported human rights violations in Russia in recent times & not a very enviable human rights’ record of China, alleged interference by Russia in the elections of US and Europe have all added to alienate Russia from West and brought her close to China, who was also being looked suspiciously by the West. Thus conflict of interest of past between Russia and China has been replaced with a need to join together to fight the diplomatic offensive of the West in the geopolitical arena and the formation of Quad just provided that necessary impetus. Moscow, however, is also motivated by practical considerations. As a Pacific power, it is concerned about the U.S. military build-up in the region. The sale of more than 100 fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters by the US to Japan, last summer prompted Russia to strengthen its air defence grouping in the Far Eastern islands, deploying S-400s and S-300V4s in addition to short-range anti-aircraft missile systems and extending Russia’s power projection capabilities. Reports that the Biden administration could seek to deploy ground-based intermediate-range missiles in Japan were met with a stern warning from Minister Lavrov that Russia would “retaliate.” Moscow views the U.S.-led Quad security arrangement in the way as it sees NATO—as an instrument of American hegemony veiled as multilateralism.As the US and its allies increase their military posture in the IPR, Russia’s defense cooperation with Beijing will grow because China, more than any other Asian power, enhances Russia’s standing globally, and in the Indo-Pacific region to a lesser extent. Moscow will subordinate its relations with other regional powers, such as India and Vietnam, to its strategic partnership with Beijing. Russia’s goal will not be to engage the USA directly or contribute direct military support to China, but rather to extend the geographical scope of contestation in order to dilute U.S. power in the region and demonstrate its own value to China as a strategic partner.Though the Russian and Chinese economies are highly compatible—China requires energy, food and diverse shipping routes for its exports, which Russia provides in the form of oil, liquified natural gas, wheat, and the Arctic-based Northern Sea Route—their economic disparities are great, and their economic relations are negotiated on China’s terms, not Russia’s. Russian arms sales to China have increased, but China’s indigenous military technological capabilities are catching up to and in some areas, such as artificial intelligence, shipbuilding, and stealth aircraft, surpassing Russia’s. This carries security as well as business implications, since Russia will likely sell fewer weapons to China. Perhaps more worrisome to Russia is its long, sparsely populated border with China, which, for Moscow remains a natural security concern.
Concerns of Smaller Regional Countries and Coercion Efforts by China– The foreign secretary of Sri Lanka raised the concerns in October 2020 about the militarization of the Quad in the Indian Ocean. It is not certain whether it is a genuine concern of Sri Lanka or it is based on some sort of ‘Arm’s twisting’ by China whose influence in Sri Lanka has increased substantially in recent times due to a debt trap in which Sri Lanka appears to have sucked into (Remember the cases of docking of the Chinese submarine and a warship in the Colombo Port in Nov 2014 and the likely Air Craft maintenance facility coming up at Trincomalee against the provisions of the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord which says that both the countries will not allow their territories to be used for the activities which are prejudicial to each other’s, unity, integrity, and security). In 2021, Li Jimming, the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, warned Bangladesh not to join the Quad saying any attempt to do so would seriously damage relations with China. Within Bangladesh, these comments attracted criticism both from the government and otherwise for infringing on Bangladesh’s sovereignty.
Appraisal of Indian Decision to Join Quad
Ever since India decided to join Quad in 2017, the decision has become a matter of great discussion amongst the Strategic Community of India. Some of the arguments against Indian decision which are forwarded are as follows:-
- India is becoming a pawn in the power game between US and China.
- It will antagonize Russia an all-weather friend of India, because like China, Russia is also against grouping in the Indo Pacific because they also feel that it is a plot of US to isolate China and by implication them also because post Crimea’s annexation US is also finding ways and means to cut Russia to size. There is another common argument from China and Russia is that this grouping will undermine groupings like SCO, BRICKS and India-Russia -China Trilateral.
- China’s fear and apprehension of many smaller littoral countries in Indo Pacific Region is that this grouping may jeopardize the BRI/ MSR. In fact, countries like Sri Lanka are openly vocal about it.
- It is argued that India is the only member country that has an almost 4300 km land border with China and a very substantial portion of it is disputed and India as a part of QUAD will invoke more hostility from China and that may not only push India to be more vigilant along the LAC but will reduce India’s capability to dominate Pakistan along the LC and on the contrary with the possibility of Af Pak border becoming relatively peaceful post US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the capability of Pakistan in collusion with China, may get boosted up and that may force India to get ready for a ‘Two Front’ scenario.
However, a pragmatic foreign policy in conjunction with the historic consideration of the Chinese psyche and an assessment of the related security imperatives will bring out the following:-
- China understands only one language and that is of power. Given the current force and economic asymmetry between India and China, India has limited capability to force China to work as equals. They are used to bullying and coercion. There are numerous examples. They want India to follow ‘One China’ policy but to Indian citizens from J&K, they give only staple visas. They are occupying Depsang plains since 2013 and incrementally they have done enough of ‘Salami Slicing’ since 1962, but despite several round of the Corps Cdr level talks and talks at FMCC level no forward movement happened but the bloody nose that they got at Galway and later Indian initiative to occupy Kailash ridge forced them to do two things. Firstly, it forced them to come to negotiating table and secondly, it forced them to go back east of Finger-8 in North Pangong Tso as a QPQ. Post they de-escalation no further progress has been achieved because as per Chinese assessment India no longer has any bargaining chip.
- China’s economy is trade based and also their almost 71 % of oil and gas comes from West Asia. As Hu Jintao famously described Malacca Strait as Malacca Dilemma China’s biggest vulnerability is passage of his trade through the SLOCs passing through the Indian Ocean, where India is still reasonably dominant. Despite their best of efforts, Gwadar, Kyaukpyu and Kra of Isthmus are still not operational. Therefore, Indian Navy with its capability to dominate Six Degree Channel, Ten Degree Channel & Duncan’s Passage and presence in Great Nicobar Island and North Andaman Island can unhinge China and hurt her where it hurts the most. Further her degree of difficulty can be enhanced due to QUAD in South China Sea. This where it also needs to be appreciated that if China thinks that they can cause a ‘Two Front’ Challenge to India in conjunction with Pakistan, with QUAD India can also cause a ‘Two Front’ Challenge to her. She is making an all-out effort to enhance its presence in the Indian Ocean by having a Base facility at Djibouti, Gwadar, Kyaukpyu and Hambantota and also recently coerced Sri Lanka to allow docking of her sub-marines at Colombo Port which in normal course is done at military ports only.
- It also needs to be appreciated that though BRI/MSR are relatively a failure concepts because China does not give any grant but gives soft loans. With the example of Pakistan and Sri Lanka getting into the ‘Debt Trap’ even the smaller countries are quite apprehensive of China but do not have many choices. If India can offer alternative options, it is felt that many of them may review their choice. However, it is also true that India alone can not do that and that is where support of G-7/ QUAD will be handy. In this regard recent decision at G-7 meet to go for a new initiative of Build Back Better World (B3W) and India- Japan’s response articulated during Nov 2016 rival to BRI as ‘Asia- Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC).
- Among many other agreements of as far as Russia is concerned India will have to make a diplomatic an economic outreach to ally the apprehension of Russia. In this regard, acquisition of S-400 missile system, collaboration to build Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) guided-missile stealth frigates and joint production facility of the Kamov Helicopter and finalisation of Indo Russian cooperation in Oil and gas sector among many other agreements of mutual benefit during Indian PM’s visit to Vladivostok as the Chief Guest during Far East Asian Forum in Sep 2019 are quite significant. .
In overall analysis it is felt that the Quad is a grouping which will be in the national interest of India. While it gives certain strategic leverage to India against China, but other members of the grouping also realize that the Quad is possible only if India joins it. After all, Japan had been making efforts to give shape to this grouping since 2008 but only when India, leaving behind her policy of ambivalence, decided to join in 2017, it took shape. Australia also had been reluctant to join the group earlier due to her economic engagement with China but their growing apprehension since 2018 with increasing Chinese interference in various aspects of society in Australia and trade reached a tipping point in the post-COVID-19 Pandemic phase when Australia insisted on an independent inquiry into the origin of the Virus and China threatened her of dire consequences.
Nine-Dash Line– refers to the ill-defined demarcation line used by the People’s Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan) for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea. The contested area in the South China Sea includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and various other areas including Pratas Island and the Vereker Banks, the Macclesfield Bank, and the Scarborough Shoal. The claim also encompasses the area of Chinese land reclamation known as the ‘Great Wall of Sand’. However, despite having made the claim public in 1947, neither the PRC nor the ROC has (as of 2018) filed a formal and specifically defined claim to the area.