The Quadrilateral formation: guarding Indo – Pacific region

Context

  • The regional Quadrilateral group: India, Japan, Australia and the United States (U.S) are making China restless.

What is Quadrilateral?

  • The quadrilateral is a natural expression and convergence of interests between democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region and it’s a natural stepping stone from the very productive trilateral conversations, exercises, and cooperation between India, Japan, Australia and the US.

Why is it required?

  • Countries that share values have an opportunity to provide alternatives to countries in the region who are seeking needed investment in their infrastructure and in their economic development.
  • Such formation makes sure that they coordinate all their initiatives and provide these countries with alternatives that don’t include predatory financing or unsustainable debt, that would certainly be on the agenda.

Formation of QUAD

  • The ‘Quad’ has formed nearly a decade after the failed first attempt to bring the four countries together.
  • A decade ago, the ‘Quad’ was formed on the initiative of Japan, with a strategic naval exercise, code named Malabar 07, in which Australia, the US and India also participated. But later Australia pulled out, apparently bowing to Chinese pressure.
  • Later, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also backed out. China, then, perceived a probability of these countries ‘ganging up’ with the US — it issued demarches to these two countries.
  • In these years, the world experienced a recession, the US has lost some of its global power and influence, China has grown its military and economic might and a resurgent India has aimed to position itself as a counterweight to China in Asia.
  • China’s ‘One Belt One Road'(OBOR) initiative which aims to create the world’s largest economic platform and, along with Xi Jinping’s 20 year plan to become a superpower, is worrying other global powers, resulting into formations like Quad.
  • The concern is not merely about China’s ambitious agenda but also over the absence of an alternative force to contain it. This explains the emergence of ‘Quad’.

The functioning of Quad

  • Quad is functioning on the sidelines of the East Asian Summit at Manila.
  • Diplomats from India, Australia, US and Japan sat together for first time to work out the modalities for co-operation and work out a strategy to take on an assertive China.
  • China factor is the reason behind bringing the quadrilateral together. China has already put on record its displeasure over the formation of this coalition.

Quads concern over China

  • Australia is troubled by China’s growing interest in its land, infrastructure and politics and influence on its universities.
  • Japan suspects Chinese support to North Korea which led to the two missile-launches over its territory. Aforementioned, Japan believed that China has tried to bully it on several territorial issues.
  • China has border disputes with India and the recent Doklam standoff hit bilateral relations. To India’s dislike, China’s closeness with Pakistan, not only blocks its path into the Nuclear Suppliers Group but also work against its interests on the issue of terrorism.
  • Moreover, both India and Japan will have to counter China to balance the power equation in the region.
  • US already annoyed with China, sees this as an opportunity to regain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • China’s continuous addressal of the region as Asia Pacific clearly depicts the change in US strategy which is Washington keeping India at the centre of its game plan in Asia.

India’s role

  • India would have to work hard to make things work for the ‘Quad’.
  • India will have to push the other three countries to work towards creating an environment for free and fair trade in the region.
  • Ensuring peace and stability will be India’s major concern.
  • India by refusing to join OBOR is charting its own strategy to connect Central Asian and Southeast Asian markets.
  • There is a proposal to build a ports-based model with Japan including African countries and Australia might be willing to join the network.
  • It will be in the interest of ‘Quad’ to provide an alternative to China globally.
  • There is another proposal to promote free trade and defence cooperation across the Indian Ocean – from South China Sea to Africa, to countervail China’s OBOR.

Key issues of common interest

  • Key issues of common interest in the “Indo-Pacific region” were discussed, with an eye on China and the aim reaching a common ground on a “free and open” Indo-Pacific
  • The boiling regional tension with China and Beijing’s assertiveness over the South China Sea issue, a statement from the Australian Foreign Ministry informed that freedom of navigation figured at the ‘Quad.’
  • Also, part of the discussions were proliferation threats, “including North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, against which maximized pressure needs to be applied, ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, and countering terrorism and other issues.
  • The officials examined ways to achieve common goals and address shared challenges in the region.
  • This includes upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation and over flight; increases connectivity; coordinate on efforts to address the challenges of countering terrorism and upholding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.

Hurdles on the way of Quad

  • The main obstacle standing in the way remains the three countries’ very different ideas of how to take on China along with, to a lesser extent, the unpredictable nature of President Donald Trump.
  • But even if the four are not set on what must be done about Beijing, the grouping will likely see them work towards better cooperation on security, trade and freedom of navigation, which in turn will send a message to other countries in the region.
  • The quad’ is still little more than a concept. It is not a military alliance like the NATO.
  • Though China’s coercive behaviour has forced “like-minded democracies” to converge, it’s still an amorphous alliance with an inclusive agenda.
  • The near-term aim of the quad, therefore, is not “containment” of any country (though it may certainly be perceived as such in Beijing), but to ensure that the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions remain free and open for multilateral trade and commerce.
  • Its stress remains on a rules-based order, connectivity ventures are not fuelled by “predatory” funding, and disputes are mitigated peacefully in accord with international jurisprudence.

Way ahead

  • Though a start has been made, which is important, much will depend on interoperability, cooperation and convergence.
  • Each of the sovereigns will face internal and external pressures and the challenge lies in finding areas of mutual interest amid inevitable roadblocks.
  • The 2007 dialogue died a premature death when Kevin Rudd-led Australia buckled under Chinese pressure, as did the UPA government in India which strived to stay within the good books of China and subsequently kept Japan out of the annual naval exercise with the US.
  • The art of diplomacy lies in finding the right balance. The emergence of ‘Quad’ favours India. But the emergence of China is a reality India has to deal with. Hence, India might have to build bridges with their neighbour and biggest trade partner as well.

What is OBOR?

  • The most ambitious project of Xi Jinping announced in year 2013 is referred to as One Belt One Road.
  • There are 2 components of this initiative: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (exhibit
  • The Silk Road Economic Belt is envisioned as three routes connecting China to Europe (via Central Asia), the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean (through West Asia), and the Indian Ocean (via South Asia).
  • The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is planned to create connections among regional waterways.
  • It focuses on improving connectivity among Asian countries Africa, China and Europe.
  • The main crux is to grow land routes as well as maritime routes.
  • The policy is significant to China as it aims to boost its deistic growth.
  • China’s uses OBOR as a strategy for economic diplomacy.

What is ASEAN?

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises of Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.
  • India’s relationship with ASEAN is an outcome of the significant changes in the world’s political and economic scenario since the early 1990s.

What is the East Asia Summit?

  • The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 14 December 2005.
  • The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a forum held annually by leaders of, initially, 16 countries in the East Asian, Southeast Asian and South Asian regions.
  • Membership expanded to 18 countries including the United States and Russia at the Sixth EAS in 2011.
  • EAS meetings are held after annual ASEAN leaders’ meetings.
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