India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, recently said the rise of China as a “big geo-political event of our lifetimes”. He also added that “The underlying idea is a consistent India. Independent India will express itself very differently and that is today in an example like Quad. Quad is not the only example where four countries have found it useful to consult on issues which are in their common interest”. Now the time has come that Quad can be a game changer in relations between the four democratic countries namely India, US, Japan & Australia.
At the time of the Cold War, Indian foreign policy had been guided by the non alignment movement where India found in its core interest to not take side between US & Russia. After the Cold War, India tried at the time of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajapayee to create an alliance between India, China & Russia. India also became active in BRICS. In the first term of PM Modi, he tried to improve relationship with China but unfortunately failed. In the backdrop of China’s trade wars against the US, an increasingly aggressive China started territorial expansion which resulted in geopolitical shifts in the Asia-Pacific region. Controversies surrounding information security also acted as a catalyst and Quad was finally revitalised after eight long years, by meeting on the margins of the ASEAN Summit in 2017. In 2004, The US, India, Australia and Japan came together as a “core group” to provide humanitarian assistance. They formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in 2007, but it was withdrawn in its nascent stage at the end of the year when Kevin Rudd became PM of Australia. Due to his closeness with China, QUAD was unilaterally killed. PM Rudd had said that “Australia would not be proposing to have a dialogue of that nature in the future”.
Come 2020 QUAD nations have been convening regularly, reaffirming their shared objectives of regional security and non-proliferation, upholding of international law, enhancing connectivity and economic development and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. The year has been a new defining point for Sino-India relations after the Galwan valley clash which had paved the way for framing of a new foreign policy in regard to its neighbours. New Delhi is stressing on “Strategic autonomy” and the new lows in their ties have resulted in a radical transformation in the geopolitical playbooks of the two Asian economies, and the global security architectures as well.
According to S Jaishankar, India’s Foreign Minister who in an event described QUAD as “It is very much in keeping with the times, and we will find increasingly in a multi-polar world, and a more fractured world…these ad hoc combinations of countries who will work together,”
In early 2018, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had referred to QUAD as a grouping nothing more than “sea foam on the Pacific and Indian oceans” which would eventually disappear. Now the things have so quickly changed that Australia is now in conflict with China on areas like origins of Covid-19, spy accusations & trade. Australia joining the drills is a significant development which China cannot ignore. Australian High Commissioner Barry O Farrell in a recent interview to The Hindu had said that it was a ‘mistake’ to have walked out of Quad, Malabar exercise in 2008.
In early October, Indian Foreign Minister participated in the second ministerial meeting of the Quad in Tokyo, where the four countries agreed to continue working for a free and open Indo-Pacific against the backdrop of China’s growing assertive behaviour. Mr. Pompeo (United States, Secretary of State) had said that as partners in this Quad (Australia-India-Japan-U.S.), “it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the Chinese Communist Party’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion.” The important development is that the navies of QUAD countries will participate in the Malabar exercise soon, with Australia accepting India’s invitation to join the drills. It has been agreed that once a year top diplomats would hold regular meetings. China has also now become more worried & cautious as QUAD takes a more important shape. In contrast, India has maintained that it will resolve issues with China bilaterally.
QUAD 2.0 can help in fostering Indian Government to make domestic reforms a corner stone to secure India’s economic growth. QUAD is soon evolving as a strong economic bloc where the like-minded members are not only improving the security cooperation in areas like counter terrorism, cyber & maritime security but also looking in cooperation in areas like vaccine development, “resilient supply chains” & minerals. According to PWC Global AI report, the world’s attention turns to QUAD that can play an important role in the Indo-Pacific as emerging technologies like AI is set to add around 15.7 Trillion Dollars. Quad can increase technology cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region by delivering on a regional AI stack, increase technology collaborations and capacity building.
The future of QUAD 2.0 would depend on how the security situation evolves after the pandemic. If the security situation worsens, there would be huge impact on other coalitions & trilateral which India is a part with China like BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), RIC(Russia-India-China). India might have to leave such organizations & significance of QUAD would become deeper & stronger. Aftermath of Covid might determine how QUAD evolves in the future. Recently US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun has said that Quad should be “more regularised” and at some point “formalised’ with the passage of time. He said that “Once we’ve institutionalized what we’re doing-the four of us together-we can build out a true security framework.”
In times to come, it will be interesting to see how the four countries balance the desire to stop China’s aggression on security issues on one hand and maintain their economic interests with China on the other. This is a big challenge which would be difficult to surpass. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is reported to have said that Japan was not aiming at an “Asian NATO” to contain any specific country. India’s role in the success of Quad 2.0 is most important. All the four democratic countries not only want to counter China but want to create stronger economic ties. India can play a pivotal role in getting QUAD countries closer on issues like Technological cooperation, healthcare, Cyber security etc. If QUAD 2.0 succeeds, then India can take the lead in increasing the scope to Quad Plus where there can be other countries like Israel, UK, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand who can also join the alliance.
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