By: Dr. Jayasree Nath
The recently held Quad summit on May 24, participated by Quad leaders in-person at Tokyo Japan conveys significance for the Indo-Pacific region. The leaders discussed the issues relating to the region that has global implications. The discussion emphasis on wide ranges of areas for advancing cooperation among the nations that includes maritime cooperation, trade, security, terrorism, post-covid trade challenges, rule based maritime order, Russia-Ukraine war etc.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, in short written as Quad is a strategic security dialogue between the member countries of India, United States, Australia and Japan. It was initiated in 2007 by the then Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe which was supported by the then Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh along with the Australian Prime Minister John Howard and US Vice President Dick Cheney. The first meeting of the ‘Initial Quad’ took place on the sidelines of ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila. The ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’ combined with freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law outlined as the motto of this group. The group initially created on humanitarian ground in 2004 after Tsunami devastation, named as ‘core group’ joined by India, Japan, Australia and US to provide urgent assistance providing troops, humanitarian responders, helicopters, cargo ships and planes to the needy country. However, post-Tsunami the group emerged as ‘Quad’ to provide a common platform and framework in order to provide protection to trade routes across the South China Sea, maritime navigation and counter the Chinese influence and threat in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region especially South China Sea through diplomatically and militarily.
The vision document of ‘Quad’ envisioned the concept of ‘Democratic Peace’ that encompasses both economic and geostrategic interest in the region commonly shared by the member countries. Since its establishment, the alliance is capturing the momentum since it has a parallel joint military exercise named ‘Exercise Malabar’ to counter any future military threat to the region from China. The multilateral grouping is against the hegemonic control of Indo-Pacific region which has important maritime trade routes connecting most of the Asian, South east Asian and far east Asian countries. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report of an estimated worth of more than $ 5.3 trillion us dollars which is nearly more than 60% of maritime global trade 22% of global trade passes through the South China Sea trade routes annually. One third of the global shipping passes through this sea every year. It is major trade route for the adjacent countries of the region. However, China has been playing a critical role that intensified a territorial dispute between the countries of the region. According to United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) the territorial boundary of a country is fixed at 12 Nautical miles from the coast and further 12 Nautical miles areas of contiguous waters. Notwithstanding, Chinese government proposed its own policy of ‘Nine Dash Line’ violating international obligation and raising maritime conflict with several countries of the region Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. China claims an over 80% of South China Sea.
Besides, Chinese government issuing formal diplomatic protest against the creation of the ‘Quad’ alliance accused the member countries calling it as ‘Asian NATO’. However, the alliance getting support from the countries of the region in its first ‘Quad Plus’ meeting held in March 2020 that included the representative from South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam. In a joint statement in 2021, the member countries described the spirit of the Quad as ‘a shared vision for a free and Open Indo-Pacific’ region. It committed to safeguard the Indo-Pacific region and South China Sea based on maritime order in the East and South China seas. The member countries through this platform able to establish a common ground for enhancing maritime cooperation, trade, freedom of navigation, maritime security, climate change to combating terrorism as areas of concerns for future cooperation.
India, being one of the most important developing economies, fifth largest economy in terms of GDP growth and third largest economy by purchasing power parity (PPP) has been able to mark a place in global politics that is persistently challenged by the Chinese government. Since 1960s, China has been continuously following rhetoric challenging India’s territorial integrity in its shared border and the policies that work against India in terms of economic, geostrategic or political both at regional and global level. These considerations are important factors for India in its support and becoming an active member of the grouping. India shares adjacent maritime border with South China Sea. It provides waterways to India and nearly 55% of India’s trade with Indo-Pacific region including most important commodities like energy and raw materials passes via these trade routes. New Delhi also signed an agreement with Vietnam in 2011 for the exploration of energy resources in its part of the South China Sea. In addition, India perceives the Indo-Pacific countries as potential partner without any conflicting interest for economic growth and regional prosperity as it compliance with India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and ‘Extended Neighbourhood policy’. The nexus between China and Pakistan and China’s new economic, geostrategic adventure with the development of new connectivity project BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) in the PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) region extending to other neighbouring countries posing a threat for India. In view of all these factors, New Delhi positively responded in the initiative to establish a concrete dialogue and action plan furthering cooperation with likeminded democratic countries those who shares same concerns for the region.
The challenges for New Delhi in pursuing the Quad dream is to make a balance in its relations with the group at the same time fulfilling its own interest. While the grouping intended to balance China’s dominance in the region may affect the New Delhi’s engagement with the neighbouring region including China. Both India and China share multi-lateral platform such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Orgainsation) while in SCO, China is a founding member and dominant player. New Delhi’s continuous effort to strengthen its relations with Central Asian countries to get access of the Central Asian energy market is another area of concern. Moreover, in the group, India is only share border with China. The military exercise carried out by this group may increase the hostility between India and China since Beijing had already opposed the grouping in the region. Contestation among the Quad member countries in terms of New Delhi’s relations with Moscow, Tehran might hamper Quad to emerge as an important multilateral regional platform in the region vis-a-vis it may cause harm New Delhi’s relations with not only Russia and Iran but with China or neighbouring countries.
The opportunities and challenges in front of New Delhi in furthering the Quad dream is real. An active, engaged and pragmatic foreign policy is required from Indian side to confront the same rather than playing a passive role in its engagement with the region. New Delhi has to be very careful in advancing its relations with the country like USA which might take the advantage of India to get access the South China Sea or Indo-Pacific region. India should be careful to not fall in the proxy trap Washington mostly preferred to check hostile country which is China in the region. In final, New Delhi has to be very careful in balancing and enhancing the aspiration of the ‘Quad’ group member countries at the same without losing its own interest.
(The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Morigaon College. She can be reached at 882638868)