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Quad, China and the Indo-Pacific churn
In the wake of COVID-19 catastrophe, China has escalated its actions on various fronts, which seems to be a calculated strategic diversion and risk. In the Indo-Pacific, tensions between China and the U.S., Australia, India and others are building momentum. As a geopolitical partnership, the relevance of the Quad is now proven.
India has distinctively carved a space with its emphasis on the principle of freedom of navigation and respect for the laws of the sea, finding resonance with the central ideas of the Quad.
The COVID-19 Pandemic proved that the old ways of thinking and old policies needs to change, and adapt themselves to new power realities and dynamics. This applies in particular to the Indo-Pacific, which is currently the most active region in the global political landscape.
What is Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD)?
Quad is an informal strategic forum among the like-minded democracies across the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. It comprises of the USA, India, Japan and Australia.
The idea 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. The Quadrilateral coalition was formed in 2017 on the lines of ASEAN Summit.
However, there are more questions than answers regarding structure, intentions and goals of the Quad at this moment, making it difficult for each member of the Quad to align their combined vision of the grouping with that of their individual visions of the Indo-Pacific.
What constitutes the term ‘Indo-Pacific’?
The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is a single strategic construct linking the contiguous waters of the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The Indo-Pacific construct means different things to different people.
For the US, it extends up to the west coast of India which is also the geographic boundary of the US Indo-Pacific command whereas for India it includes the entire Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. While the US does not consider China a part of its Indo-Pacific construct, India has gone to great length to highlight it as an inclusive construct for the whole region
The focus of the Indo Pacific initiative is on connectivity, enhancing maritime security, counterterrorism, non-proliferation and cyber issues. It aims to enhance support for a free, open and inclusive region that fosters universal respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight and sustainable development.
India’s policy perspective on Indo-Pacific includes “inclusiveness”, “openness”, “ASEAN centrality” and that the concept was not directed against any country.
Relevance of QUAD
- To counter China’s assertiveness:It has given way to plain aggressiveness, in speech and action, as witnessed on a whole spectrum of issues:
- Beijing’s resistance to international calls for investigation into the origin and outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s culpability in it.
- Aggressive manoeuvres in the South China Sea through its 9 dash line.
- Threatening the democratic principles and autonomy of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
- Trade and technology disputes with the U.S. Example: 5G technology of Huawei.
- Serious tensions with Australia. China has imposed tariffs on Australians meat and barley.
- The still unresolved India-China border standoff, which has resulted in a violent conflict at Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh.
- To ensure rule-based order and respect for international law:The four countries shares a vision to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo- Pacific.
- Success of India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and USA’s ‘Asia Pivot’:Both the democracies are struggling to ensure that their influence in the ASEAN region and South China Sea remains intact through their Act East policy and Asia Pivot. Free and inclusive South China Sea is the key to the success of these policies.
- Sustainable Development in the Indian Ocean Region:India, as a mistress of the Indian Ocean, holds the responsibility to act as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. India along with likeminded countries needs to counter China’s String of Pearls strategy and ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy.
Issues with QUAD
- Narrow Definition: Thinking of the Quad in narrow terms—cooperation solely and exclusively involving the US, Japan, India and Australia—misses a far more important trend in regional security dynamics.
- Military alliance against China:QUAD should not be seen as a military alliance against China. This may hinder other smaller nations that are in conflict with China to join the meetings of QUAD in future. The idea of Quad as a military alliance to contain China is very provocative, divisive and unnecessary.
- Disengagements:Stopgap sub-unions and disengagements at various levels in the Quad have raised questions as to whether the group can transcend into a productive mini-lateral arrangement from a forum of inhibition.
- Individual visions of the Indo-Pacific: It would be difficult for each member of the QUAD to align their combined vision of the grouping with that of their individual visions of the Indo-Pacific.
- Over-dependence on China:The economies of India and Australia are heavily dependent on China. India imports 70% of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API’s) from China. On the other hand, China offers a large market for Australian exports of iron ore, aluminium, uranium, meat and dairy products, etc.
Challenges for India
- Dilemma of alignment vs autonomy:New Delhi seeks to ensure a nimble-footed balance in the Indo-Pacific between alignment and autonomy. India’s increasing tangible cooperation with the QUAD should not be seen as a threat to its strategic autonomy at the international stage.
- Fear of provoking China:China already sees QUAD as a security structure to contain China. India shares the longest disputed boundary with China and thus needs to find a proper balance.
- Decoupling the Quad and the Indo-Pacific: New Delhi has drawn conceptual and structural policy demarcations between the Quad and the Indo-Pacific. Instead, Quad is the need to view the Indo-Pacific as a strategic continuum rather than an assemblage of sub-regionally divided goals, partnerships and alignments.
Specific measures for QUAD to become an effective coalition
- Promoting plurilateral dialogues:The Quad needs to refine its approach towards ASEAN. None of ASEAN’s ten members are inclined to join the group but several may be open to forging ‘side relationships’. Plurilateral dialogues must be promoted such as India-Australia-Indonesia, India-Japan-Indonesia, etc.
- Economic and technological cooperation:To enhance its diplomatic and strategic gravitas, the Quad should work seriously on strengthening its pillar of economic and technological cooperation. Example: Fast-tracking FTA between India and USA.
- Expanding Naval Exercises:The desirable inclusion of Australia in the upcoming Malabar Exercise should be an essential take-away from the successful New Delhi- Canberra virtual summit.
- Leveraging European powers strength:They have assets such as political strength, diplomatic acumen, existing naval and maritime connections, and a reservoir of know-how, technology and capital, which can be leveraged.
- Increasing level of engagements within the members of QUAD:The level of engagement needs to be elevated to at least one meeting at the foreign secretary and foreign minister levels every year. The ministers should consider issuing joint statements post meetings.
India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. Indo-pacific strategy is not about cornering or side-lining China in the region, India also stands for a positive vision of the Indo-Pacific that harps on ASEAN centrality and emphasises inclusivity with South East Asia as a core area in the region.
The tensions building in the Indo-Pacific, due to the COVID-19 crisis and other underlying issues, send a clear message – neither appeasement nor bravado but fortitude and resilience are necessary. In this context, QUAD must transform and re-purpose itself in order to truly achieve the free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region as well as the true aspirations of democratic nations.
1.What is Quad? How is the India’s definition of Indo-Pacific different from that of USA? What challenges does India face as a member of Quad and also suggest measures for strengthening Quad? (15 Marks)