Monday, 8 August, 2022
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The Quad: A partnership to address the changed geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific

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India, Japan, Australia, and the US attended the ASEAN-India Summit and the East Asia Summit in Manila, and the Quad may be formalised soon.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic relationship between India, the United States of America, Japan and Australia. Originally established in 2007 during the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, the four countries also participated in joint naval exercises with Singapore, much to China’s chagrin.

However, any grand plans for a formal alliance lapsed when Australia withdrew interest — the Australian foreign minister made the announcement in a joint press conference with the Chinese. India, too, developed cold feet.

The 10-year hiatus that ensued can be attributed to the dragon in the Asian room: China.

Initial interest

The Quad was announced in May 2007, a month after the Malabar naval exercises involving India, the US, and Japan. Surprisingly, a second cycle of exercises were carried out in the Bay of Bengal by the Quad with Singapore, which the Chinese saw as distinctly hostile. China sent messages of protest to all countries separately, calling the convergence of the countries “an Asian NATO”.

The exercises had a huge backlash in India, with the communist party cadre protesting against them, taking the Indian government by surprise. The Australians too, had second thoughts: a change in government saw Kevin Rudd as the new Australian Prime Minister, and at a time when there were sudden heightened tensions between the United States and China, he chose to lean towards China, especially given that Australia is economically dependent on China.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Shinzo Abe had also suddenly resigned. The Quad had originally been his idea, and with India and Australia reconsidering their commitment, the new friendship by default looked like it had run its course.

Attempt at reignition

Sunday’s attempt to reignite the Quad is therefore interesting, to put it mildly. All four countries are currently attending the ASEAN-India Summit and the East Asia Summit, in Manila. Official statements from them indicate that the relationship might be formalised, inviting Australia to join the trilateral relationship that already exists between India, Japan, and the US.

In the last 10 years, the geopolitics of Asia has changed. China is now openly expansionist, and changes in the administration in India, Japan, and Australia need to be taken into account. Abe has made a comeback, and the current leaders of India and Australia are both interested in cultivating a better relationship with the Americans. It now looks like the Quad has a very specific intention, even if it refuses to name it.

“Containing” China is thought to be in the interest of all four countries. India and China were on the brink of a military confrontation during the Doklam standoff, and India also boycotted China’s Belt Road Initiative summit. Japan and China came to loggerheads over the Senkaku Islands, and both Japan and Australia are wary of the Nine-Dash Line, and the creeping Chinese presence in the South China Sea.

Official statements by the four countries reference other objectives, of course: especially freedom of trade, better connectivity, and increased security. Statements from all four mention that they are committed to keeping the Indo-Pacific “free” and “open”, but India by far has the vaguest statement. Australia, Japan, and the US have listed their expectations from the relationship, which include dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues.

The statements are also careful to address the region as the “Indo-Pacific”, instead of Asia-Pacific, signalling a shift in international thinking towards India. Trump, especially, has been referring to the region as the Indo-Pacific, which shows that he views India as a main player.

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