New Delhi: At a meeting of Quad leaders in Tokyo Tuesday, the United States, Australia, India, and Japan agreed to launch a new maritime initiative to combat illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific.
For this, the leaders of the four countries jointly committed to the ‘Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness’ (IPMDA).
The partnership will use advanced and integrated satellite imagery and technology to combat illegal fishing and “dubious operations” of the Chinese maritime militia, which allegedly acts as an extension of Chinese law enforcement agencies — such as the Chinese coast guard — fulfilling the political objectives of China whilst at sea, though it is said to be operating commercial ships.
China is reportedly the source of 80-95 per cent of the illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific. The Illegal, Unregulated, and Unprotected (IUU) fishing index (which maps the scale of illegal fishing activity globally) ranks China as the worst offender vis-à-vis illegal fishing globally.
“Essentially, the IPMDA will be a pivot against China’s illegal fishing and political activities in the Indo-Pacific,” said a defence expert who did not want to be named.
The ‘Quad Summit’ in Tokyo was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
This was the third time since 2021 that Quad leaders held a summit-level meeting of the grouping. In March 2021, the first-ever Quad summit was held in virtual format, followed by an in-person meeting in September 2021 at the White House in Washington.
A special meeting of the Quad was held virtually in March this year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Satellite-linked platform to counter illegal fishing
According to reports, the IPMDA will create a platform that will connect existing satellite surveillance centres in Singapore, India, and the rest of the Indo-Pacific, to create a centralised and cohesive system for monitoring illegal fishing in the region.
The new platform will provide near-real-time feed and intelligence to countries to monitor shipping routes across the Indo-Pacific.
The Quad will reportedly provide funding for a satellite imagery company to set up this platform, through which multiple feeds will be collated and shared with the Quad countries.
The platform will run as an interconnected and interoperable surveillance system, which will allow the countries to track radio frequencies and radar signals even when boats and vessels have turned off their monitoring systems.
The Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), based in Gurgaon, will reportedly be an essential fulcrum in the information supply network.
Security component of Quad is slowly developing
“Until now, the security aspect of the Quad has been underutilised. With this satellite monitoring initiative, signs of greater cohesion are emerging in the security domain. It is a step in the right direction,” Admiral (retired) Arun Prakash, former chief of India’s Naval Staff, told ThePrint.
“Actions and operations involved in ‘combating illegal fishing’ can be numerous. With satellites, and perhaps, patrol aircraft and vessels monitoring ‘illegal fishing’ across the Indo-Pacific, the extent of surveillance will be broad. This surveillance could encompass all forms of shipping, including tracking the People’s Liberation Army’s navy warships”, Prakash added, referring to plausible covert motives for the initiative.
Essentially, this will enable the quad countries to track not only China’s fishing exploits, but also their larger movements and manoeuvres across the Indo-Pacific. Further, the partnership will also enhance interoperability and security coordination between the Quad partners, beyond the routine naval exercises, the former chief of India’s Naval Staff explained.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)