In 2007, the Quad (the United States, Japan, India, and Australia) was an idea whose time had not yet come. That was a different world. The times have changed now.
Events leading to the formation of QUAD –
- The global financial crisis was still lurking in the shadows as America continued to enjoy its ‘unipolar moment’. The American establishment still believed that it could, somehow, persuade China to become a ‘responsible stake-holder’ and, in any case, required Chinese goodwill in dealing with America’s priorities — the nuclear issue with North Korea and Iran, and the War on Terror.
- Japan and Australia were riding the China Boom to prosperity. If India was ambivalent at the time, it was because this mirrored the uncertainties of others.
- China’s shrill reaction to the idea of four like-minded countries establishing a plurilateral platform was, prima facie, intriguing. The idea was barely on the table; there was no clearly enunciated concept or proposed structures, much less joint understandings.
- The Chinese, however, labelled it as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It became evident years later that the real reason for China’s hyperreaction was out of concern that such a grouping would “out” China’s plans for naval expansion by focusing on the Indo-Pacific maritime space.
- China was hoping that its naval build-up might slip under the radar because the Americans were distracted by continental challenges including Russia, Afghanistan and Iran, and would not look sea-ward.
- Once the idea of Quad 1.0 had died down, China gained in confidence to reveal its hand. It advanced a new claim — the Nine-Dash Line — in the South China Sea; it undertook the rapid kind of warship building activity reminiscent of Wilhelmine Germany before 1914; it built its first overseas base in Djibouti; and it started systematically to explore the surface and sub-surface environment in the Indian Ocean beyond the Malacca Straits.
- This entire activity was coordinated by a Central Leading Small Group for Protecting Maritime Rights and Interests, established in 2012. The manner of China’s dismissal of the Arbitral Award in the dispute with the Philippines on the South China Sea and its brazen militarisation of the islands after its President had publicly pronounced to the contrary, has once again brought the four countries onto the same page and given a second chance to the Quad.
Recognising the true identity –
- The Chinese are skilled at obfuscation. They will, perhaps, endeavour to conflate the Quad with the Indo-Pacific vision, and link both to the so-called China Containment Theory.
- The Quad nations need to better explain that the Indo-Pacific Vision is an overarching framework that is being discussed in a transparent manner, with the objective of advancing everyone’s economic and security interests. The Quad, on the other hand, is a plurilateral mechanism between countries that share interest on specific matters.
- There are other such mechanisms in the region. In 2016, China itself established a Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan and, more recently earlier this year, another one with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. The Quad is no exception.
- The two major Pacific powers (China and America), are moving into a more adversarial phase of their relationship. Public opinion about China in all four countries is different from what it used to be in 2007.
Way forward –
- A positive agenda built around collective action in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, monitoring shipping for search and rescue or anti-piracy operations, infrastructure assistance to climatically vulnerable states, connectivity initiatives and similar activities, will re-assure the littoral States that the Quad will be a factor for regional benefit, and a far cry from Chinese allegations that it is some sort of a military alliance.
- Prime Minister Abe had presciently said in the Central Hall of the Parliament of India on August 22, 2007 – “A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.” It is the right time to realise Mr. Abe’s dreams.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Discuss the journey of QUAD as a grouping founded on the positive agenda of collective action in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.