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Quad Summit and its relevance – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

Indian Prime Minister will take part in the first-ever Virtual Quad Summit on March 12, along with the Australian, US, and Japanese Counterparts. This is the first Quad leader’s meet after the US elections.

The recent power change in the US and China’s aggressive posture in its neighbourhood makes this Quad Summit an important one. The future course of Quad may get shaped in the upcoming Summit.

What is Quad Summit ?

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) or Quad is an informal strategic dialogue between India, the USA, Japan and Australia. It is the collaboration of like-minded democracies across the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. It aims to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.

The idea was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead after Australia pulled out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure.

The grouping regained momentum after 2017. The Quadrilateral coalition was refurbished as ‘QUAD 2.0’ in 2017 on the lines of the ASEAN Summit. Since then the Quad summit meetings are taking place on a biannual basis.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic, China’s bullying nature, changing geo-economic interests in the region, etc. helped it evolve faster, in 2020. This resulted in the recent Quad meeting and the upcoming virtual Quad summit.

Significance of Quad
  1. The development trajectory of Quad: Initially the Quad was seen as a security co-operation. But in recent months, It evolved into the Quad Framework. The co-operation widened to include resilience supply chain initiatives, collaboration in the emergence of critical technologies, etc. The recent development of the Quad summit is a clear example of that evolution.
  2. The centrality of India in Quad: India is much more central to the entire Quad framework. The terming the Indo-Pacific is itself an example of that. By taking a leadership role along with countries like the US, Australia and Japan, India showcases its capability to other countries in Indo-Pacific.
  3. The Focus area of Quad fulfils the demand of the Indo-Pacific maritime domain. The Indo-Pacific maritime region is at present dominated by China. Chinese dominate since there is no maritime security collaboration to oppose them. The Quad will counter the Chinese dominance in the region.
  4. Potential of Quad to influence the Indo-Pacific region: Since the grouping brings together the major countries under one ambit. It can influence other south-east nations to gradually stand up against any illogical claims by China like the South-China Sea dispute, etc.
Reasons for India to avoid Quad

There are many internal and external reasons for India to avoid Quad. They are

  1. Non-alignment: Joining Quad might affect India’s traditional non-alignment policy. By joining Quad will be seen as India’s open support to capitalist countries.
  2. A threat to national interests: There are many occasions when the US followed its own interests in the international arena. Australia and Japan are allies of the US. So,  by joining the Quad group, India cannot actively follow its national interests if 3 countries oppose that.
  3. The recent election in the US: The US international policies, in general, are short-lived. The previous Trump administration maintained a hostile relationship with China. But the current Biden presidency is expected to have a mutual competitive relationship with China.
    So, the US might not take an adequate stand against China and its policies in the Indo-Pacific. This might make the grouping a weaker one.
  4. Individual visions of the Indo-Pacific: The Indo-pacific system, as muted by Quad is not clear. Even the British Empire never managed to combine the Indo and the Pacific into a unitary system. It would be difficult to align the combined vision of the grouping. Apart from that, there are individual visions also.
  5. No clarity on objectives: Quad neither shares a strategic vision nor has any shared agenda. Its members despite being anti-China continue to forge ties with China. For example,
    • In 2020 China became India’s number one trade partner
    • American investors hold $1 trillion of Chinese equity, and 75% of U.S. companies in China continue to invest there.
  6. The vulnerability of India to China: India is the only Quad member that is not in the west Pacific. Further, It is also the only country that shares a non-demarcated land border with China. So, any developments will have more impact on India-China relation. For example, the recent Ladakh stand-off.
  7. De-stabilising the Peace in South-Asia: India was facing a 2 front challenge between China and Pakistan. The recent acceptance of the Ceasefire Agreement with Pakistan and the Disengagement Agreement with China over border stand-off brought some stability to the relationship. But joining Quad now might act as an incentive for China to violate the agreement and Pakistan which is already having a nexus with China might also turn hostile. This will de-stabilise the Peace in the entire South-Asian region for years.
Significance of Quad for India
  1. Defence-related spending: China’s spending on defence ($261 b) is more than the collective spending of India ($71.1 bn), Japan ($ 47.6 bn) and Australia ($25.9 bn). In this time of COVID-19 pandemic and fund crunch associated with lockdowns, joining with the US will provide necessary finances to strengthen the defence.
  2. Challenges on the continental sphere: China is neither keen on ending the ongoing border and trade disputes nor aimed at finalising the border agreements. Further, the geopolitical cooperation between Pakistan and China also makes India vulnerable on the continental side. To contain that pressure joining Quad is like an ‘alternative situation’ for India.
  3. 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 like-minded countries in Quad can counter China’s String of Pearls strategy and debt-trap diplomacy.
  4. Act East policy: Joining the Quad group will strengthen and supplement India’s Act East policy.
  5. Issue-based alliance: As per the statement of foreign secretory of India, India has moved beyond non-alignment towards an issue-based alliance with no formal agreements. Therefore, joining Quad will be in line with the present foreign policies of the government.
Suggestions
  • Need for a Maritime Doctrine: India should develop a comprehensive vision on the Indo-Pacific. This will address India’s current and future maritime challenges, consolidate its military and non-military tools, etc.
  • Strategic autonomy – India should not compromise its strategic interests in the US-based western interests. This has to be clear at every Quad Summit.
  • Bringing in More inclusion in Quad: The countries should work with other countries in the Indo-Pacific Region. This will help to maintain independent security and economic policies, capacity building of other countries etc. Further, such initiatives will provide better alternatives to unilateral Chinese objectives and initiatives.
  • Leverage each other strengths and not focus on weaknesses in Quad summits and Quad frameworks. For example, talks on developing global governance architecture, supply-chains initiatives, etc. can be given priority in Quad summits.

In conclusion, the upcoming Quad summit should focus on building a better collaboration between countries, rather than on countering China. This will make it a holistic initiative rather than an arrangement of like-minded countries against one particular country.  Because “Revenge proves its own executioner”.

7 PM Editorial | Quad and India: challenges and opportunities | 15th October 2020

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