The Indo-Pacific region is today one of the most significant trade regions in the world. The statistics of the region approves why it has become quite an attractive region of interest for global superpowers. It includes about 38 countries comprising 44% of the world’s surface area and close to two-thirds of the world population. Owing to the improved manufacturing and logistics capabilities of nations like China, Vietnam, India, South Korea, etc., it accounts for 62% of the World GDP and 46% of total merchandise trade in the world.

China’s aggressive, expansionist diplomacy has been the talk of the town when it comes to the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region. From the East and South China Seas to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Himalayas, China is slowly biting into territories of other sovereign nations. In the East China Sea against Japan, in the South China Sea primarily against the Philippines and Vietnam, in the Himalayas against India, Nepal and Bhutan, China has now entered into conflicts even with Tajikistan and the Russian Federation over territorial claims. Over and above, with the Belt and Roads Initiative combined with Debt Trap and Chequebook Diplomacies, China aims to slowly establish its presence in even more nations. However, Beijing’s imperialist plans have faced major step-backs with the anti-China sentiments emerging internationally due to the mishandling of COVID-19 and its aggressive territorial stands. It is in this context, the re-advent of QUAD becomes even more significant for stability in the region.

QUAD Journey So Far

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, popularly known as QUAD, was originally formed in 2004-’05 as the Tsunami Core Group to coordinate the response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It consisted of four democratic nations, namely, Australia, India, Japan, and the USA. The Tsunami Core Group was highly effective in reducing the impact of the 2004 tsunami by efficient sharing of resources, information and a high level of cooperation.

Though a working-level meeting and a maritime exercise were conducted in 2007, the QUAD did not kick off subsequently. The reasons were many but primarily was due to the Chinese response to the grouping. Two members of QUAD, Australia and India, dropped out of QUAD in order to appease China. China was Australia’s largest trade partner and upsetting them was not an option for Australia. In a press meet along with the Chinese counterpart, the Australian Foreign Minister even affirmed that a dialogue of such nature would not happen again. India was quite careful in its approach as it was seeking association with the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) which was subject to China’s approval then (and even today). India was also involved in a Nuclear deal with the USA making QUAD less important at that point. Along with this, stepping down of PM Shinzo Abe in 2007, cut out Japan’s zeal in the group. QUAD saw a revival in 2017 and has, since then, conducted regular working and ministerial-level meetings.

Present-day QUAD

With the suspicious COVID-19 outbreak and China’s aggressive stance at various fronts, the QUAD is currently at its highest capacity ever. The reasons for its strong comeback are multi-fold and exclusive to each of its member nations. USA is apprehensive about China’s swift economic and military growth. It also supports its allies like Taiwan and Japan against China. US forces have conducted multiple exercises in the South China Sea (which China claims to be it’s own), to ensure free and open navigation. China has responded aggressively to US actions and held its own share of military exercises in South and East China seas against US presence. Trade disputes between the two superpowers have also added fuel to fire, over and above the espionage, allegedly sponsored by Beijing. Japan, on the other hand, is involved in conflicts with China over territorial claims on Senkaku and Diaoyu islands. Situated in the East China Sea, these islands which have been administered by Japan since 1972, are now claimed by China as their own. Japan has slashed these claims and has turned towards QUAD for reinforcing their position along with nations of similar interest. Australia and India have realized it is not worth pleasing China anymore as it continues to grow more aggressively. Australia has entered into multiple tussles with China beginning this year. In response to Australia’s demand for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, China threatened to cut its imports drastically and also imposed tariffs on products. Australia has banned certain Chinese giants including Huawei and also comes up with proofs of Chinese influence in its politics and universities. For India, China has been for long, a trusted ally of Pakistan. India had several reasons to pursue QUAD like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, blocking of NSG and permanent UN Security Council memberships by China, supplying military power to Pakistan and increasing Chinese presence in IOR which India considers to be its backyard. However, the most prominent factor which has taunted India to take an iron fist against China has been China’s recent intrusions into Indian soil in Ladakh and subsequent LAC stand-off. In 2019, China had attempted similar adventures in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

QUAD Foreign Ministers in Tokyo (6th October, 2020)                           

Since 2017, QUAD members have held meetings regularly, with the latest being a Ministerial-level meeting held on 6th October 2020 in Tokyo. While the US smashed China openly before and after they meet, the other three nations did not explicitly mention China. All four nations reaffirmed they would stand for maintaining free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific and extended firm support to ASEAN. This latest dialogue can be seen as cementing the QUAD for all future acts. The move has certainly irked China which is visible through its state-run media houses. Global Times, run by the Chinese Communist Party, responded to the QUAD meeting as ‘All US’ bark and no bite in Quad meeting’. It has published an article ‘Quad gears up but should mind perils’ and several others. India is seen as one of the strongest members now in QUAD. With its rock-solid defense at LAC, it has proved its ability as a counterbalance to China’s aggressiveness in the region and is looked upon by like-minded nations in the region. Vietnam and the Philippines have strong strategic cooperation and Taiwan is eyeing to establish diplomatic ties with India. India has also inked the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement with all nations of the QUAD now, which will pave way for more military cooperation. Beijing’s insensitive, unbalanced economic relations and advanced cooperation between the leaders and officials of the QUAD nations are also reasons for the rebirth of QUAD.

QUAD’s Way Ahead

Institutionalizing QUAD will be the next major milestone to watch out to determine how QUAD will function in the future. Though formed as a counterbalance to contain China’s growing aggression, if institutionalized, QUAD can benefit nations economically as well. Like how the European Union (EU) influences Western Europe strategically, politically and economically, QUAD must be able to create a regional impact in the Indo-Pacific region when institutionalized. Institutionalization also opens up new frontiers in policy formulation and setting up rules-based practices in the region. Additionally, it acts as an instrument to deal with complications in the region and work for its solutions. As all its members are democratic nations with similar interests like open, free Indo-Pacific and rules-based practices, QUAD will become much more effective compared to existing institutions and groups in the region.

QUAD must also concentrate on strategic cooperation with other nations of similar interests. India has joined in telephonic discussions with QUAD plus Vietnam, South Korea, and New Zealand for COVID-19 related discussions. Nicknamed ‘QUAD Plus’ since then, these nations can also be roped in to make QUAD even stronger as they are based on democratic values and similar interests. Like China’s Belt and Roads Initiative, QUAD may in the future come up with quality infrastructure development for easy trade and military cooperation with its friendly nations.

In a nutshell, China is now reaping the seeds which it had sown, but the product is not what they had expected. With the dubious COVID-19 outbreak, international sentiments against China is gaining momentum and the biggest among it is QUAD. As long as Beijing continues with its unfair policies and aggressive territorial expansionism, Xi Jinping moves farther away from realizing his dream of making China the world’s most powerful nation. If QUAD strengthens as expected, it would be a massive blow to China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific as matching QUAD economically or militarily, will be tough for China and its allies. Whether QUAD will pave way for the much-required balance in Indo-Pacific or will it fall like a decade ago without much impact, will be a matter to wait and watch.

<strong>Shaun Thomas Alex</strong>
Shaun Thomas Alex

Shaun likes to read, observe and write about geo-politics

By Alpha Defense

Alpha Defense initially a solo venture but now a defense group by people from various demographics of India covering defense news and updates. We believe in unbiased analysis of every subject in hand. Our mission is to provide simplfiied defense information to the public.

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