7 PM Editorial | Quad and India: challenges and opportunities | 15th October 2020

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Topic –Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting the Indian interests

Quad and India

In the wake of recent aggression by China in Ladakh and Taiwan, foreign ministers of the US, India, Japan and Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was held in Tokyo. Countries reaffirmed their “collective vision” of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific in this meeting.

About Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)   

Quad is an informal strategic forum among the like-minded democracies across the Indian and the Pacific Ocean aimed to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region. It comprises of the USA, India, Japan and Australia.

It is rooted in the formation of “core group”, in response to Tsunami in 2004.

The idea was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure.

The Quadrilateral coalition was refurbished as ‘QUAD 2.0’ in 2017 on the lines of ASEAN Summit. Quad meetings are taking place on a biannual basis since then but the inclusion of Australia into ‘Malabar’ naval exercise is still being discussed.

Challenges for India

Non-alignment: India is abandoning its “sacred” tradition of non-alignment in favour of a military alliance with the US in order to counter the China threat.

Trustworthiness of US: At present, political discourse in Washington is hostile to alliance-making. Thus, any military alliance offered by US may not translate into reality. There have been previous examples as well for that, like

  • US never (was close a few times) involved militarily with Pakistan after 1954 bilateral security agreement in its conflicts with India.
  • US military alliances with Japan and the Philippines has not provided any challenge to Chinese aggression in the region.

No clarity on objectives: India wants advancing the security and economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region as stated in Quad ministerial meeting by External Affairs Minister whereas US secretary of the state Mike Pompeo is pitching for mutating the Indo-Pacific Quad into a more formal security grouping modelled on NATO.

Individual visions of the Indo-Pacific: The Indo-pacific system, as muted by Quad is not clear. British empire never managed to combine the Indo and the Pacific into a unitary system It would be difficult to align the combined vision of the grouping with that of their individual visions regarding Indo-Pacific.

Internal economic changes: If India wants to engage the Quad partners on reforming the China-centred economic globalisation, it also requires to engineer many changes on trade-related aspects, which might prove to be difficult, given India’s drive for self-reliance.

Significance of Quad for India

Defence-related spending: China’s spending on defence ($261 b) is more than the collective spending of India ($71.1 b), Japan ($ 47.6 b), Australia ($25.9 b). In this time of COVID pandemic and fund crunch associated with lockdowns, Entry of US will provide heavyweight to the alliance.

Challenges on the continental sphere: China is neither keen on ending the ongoing border stalemate nor reinstating the status quo with India as of March 2020. The situation has been aggravated by geopolitical collusion between Islamabad and Beijing to contain and pressure India, creating a ‘nutcracker situation’ for India.

Keeping in mind the relations of India with Taliban, US withdrawal from Afghanistan will hurt India’s interest in the region and deteriorating Iran-India relations will further dampen India’s ‘Mission Central Asia’.

Looking at the challenges on the continental sphere, India must start giving importance to the maritime sphere which is far more important to China compared to opportunistic land grab attempts in the Himalayas. Joining Quad will strengthen India’s position in the maritime sphere Vis-à-vis China.

Sustainable Development in the Indian Ocean Region: India, as a mistress of the Indian Ocean, holds the responsibility to act as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. India along with likeminded countries needs to counter China’s String of Pearls strategy and ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy.

Act East policy: Joining Quad group will strengthen and supplement India’s Act East policy.

Issue-based alliance or minilateralism: As per the statement of foreign secretory of India last year, India has moved beyond non-alignment towards an issue-based alliance with no formal agreements. Therefore, joining Quad will be in line with the present foreign policies of the government.

Way forward

  • In the wake of recent aggression, India would require to be more aggressive diplomatically, therefore rather than involving in the Russia-India-China trilateral, India should look for reliable partnerships to deal with China. The Quad is not a panacea, but it’s shaping up as the backbone of India’s post-Covid foreign policy.
  • Quad should avoid becoming an Asian-NATO as being projected in the discussions. Such an alliance has the potential to start an arms race in the region. It should be more inclusive, taking into consideration the interest and concerns of littoral and ASEAN countries.
  • India should not compromise on its strategic autonomy unlike Australia and Japan, which are bound by alliance treaties to the U.S.
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