Quadrilateral Security Dialogue -The Quad – Anti-China Alliance? – Where Does India Stand?

anil chopra, air power asia, QUAD, QSD, China,

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad) is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India that is maintained by semi-regular summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries. The forum was initiated as a dialogue in 2007 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, with the support of Vice President Dick Cheney of the US, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. The dialogue was paralleled by joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale, titled Exercise Malabar. The diplomatic and military arrangement was widely viewed as a response to increased Chinese economic and military power, and the Chinese government responded to the Quad by issuing formal diplomatic protests to its members.

The Quad Countries Location. Image Source: Wikipedia

          Australia withdrew in February 2008, shortly after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took office, after a joint naval exercise between the Quad and Singapore drew diplomatic protests from China. Other reasons for the discontinuation of the Quad were that in late 2007, more Beijing-friendly Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda replaced Abe in Japan and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s state visit to China in January 2008, during which he stated that the India-China relationship was a priority. Under Rudd and his successor Julia Gillard, military cooperation between the United States and Australia was enhanced, leading to the placement of US Marines near Darwin, Australia, near the Timor Sea and Lombok Strait. India, Japan, and the United States continue to hold joint naval exercises through Malabar.

US Marines near Darwin. Image Source: tonyseed.wordpress.com

          However, during the 2017 ASEAN Summits all four former members rejoined in negotiations to revive the quadrilateral alliance. With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and President Donald Trump of the United States agreeing in Manila to revive the security pact among tensions in the South China Sea caused primarily by China and its territorial ambitions.

ASEAN 2017. Indian PM Modi, Japanese PM Abe, US President Trump in Manila. Image Source: http://www.dailyo.in

The Broad Strategic Framework

          The initiation of an American, Japanese, Australian and Indian defense arrangement, modeled on the concept of a Democratic Peace, has been credited to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Quad was supposed to establish an “Asian Arc of Democracy,” envisioned to ultimately include countries in central Asia, Mongolia, the Korean peninsula, and other countries in Southeast Asia: “virtually all the countries on China’s periphery, except for China itself.” This led some critics, to call the project “an anti-Chinese move,” while others called it a democratic challenge to China, mounted by Asian powers in coordination with the United States. While China has traditionally favored the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Quad was viewed as an “Asian NATO.” The arrangement could either lead to military conflict, or could alternatively lay an enduring foundation for peace if China were to become a genuine democracy.

Image Source: bellschool.anu.edu.au

Hegemonic China & Global Power Shift

          Fears over Chinese military spending and missile capacities had helped drive Australia towards a defense agreement with the United States, as outlined by the 2007 Canberra Defense Blueprint. It also appeared that the United States was backing it as a “counter to a rising China.” A report published by the American think tank Center for a New American Security, CNAS, called for greater American engagement in Asia, arguing that in the early twenty-first century, ” America’s strategic preoccupation in Iraq and Afghanistan is undermining its ability to adapt to major power shifts in the Asia-Pacific that are actively challenging America’s traditional balance of power role in the region.” During the 2008 US presidential campaign, President Obama called for a new worldwide concert of democracies to counter the influence of Russia and China. John McCain also called for a “league of democracies,” and Rudy Giuliani for incorporating Asia’s militarily capable democracies into NATO. The development of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue took place in the context of Chinese military modernization, geared towards contingency in Taiwan Strait but also towards “force projection capabilities.”

Image Sourced From: http://www.opendemocracy.net

Beginning of Indo-US Military Cooperation

          US-Indian military cooperation could only kick start after India’s economic liberalisation in 1991. It began with army-to-army cooperation. This cooperation got further expanded in 2001 when India offered the United States military facilities within its territory for offensive operations in Afghanistan. India and U.S. signed a “New Framework for India-US Defense” in 2005, increasing cooperation regarding military relations, defense industry and technology sharing, and the establishment of a “Framework on maritime security cooperation.” India and the United States conducted dozens of joint military exercises in the ensuing years before the development of a Quadrilateral dialogue, interpreted by some as an effort to “contain” China.

Indo-US air Exercises. Image Source: http://www.aspistrategist.org.au

India Evolves as a Key to QUAD

          The 2007, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quadrilateral Initiative”, of Japan expected India to join a formal multilateral dialogue with Japan, the United States and Australia. China sent diplomatic protests to all four members of the Quadrilateral before any formal convention of its members. Japan downplayed the importance of China in Japan-India pact signed following the creation of the Quadrilateral, stating, “There was no mention of China – and we do not have any assumption of a third country as a target such as China.” India similarly argued that the defense agreement was long overdue because of Indian freight trade with Japan, and did not specifically target China.

India-Japan-US trilateral maritime exercise concludes off Guam coast in 2018. Image Source: http://www.indiatvnews.com

          In May 2007 in Manila, Australia participated with other members in the inaugural meeting of the Quad. This was one month after joint naval exercises near Tokyo by India, Japan and the United States. In September 2007 further naval exercises were held in the Bay of Bengal, including Australia. These were followed in October by a further security agreement between Japan and India, ratified during a visit by Indian Prime Minister to Tokyo, to promote sea lane safety and defense collaboration. Japan had previously established such an agreement only with Australia.

          But just before Indian Prime Ministers visit to China in January 2008, India declared that “It was not part of any so-called contain China effort,” after being asked about the Quadrilateral.

Australia Vacillates

          In February 2008, following his nomination as Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd unilaterally announced Australia’s departure from the Quad. Many in U.S. criticized Rudd’s decision to leave Quad. Rudd was apparently trying to please China. Rudd did not consult United States before leaving the Quad. After Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard in June 2010, there was fresh debate. It was considered that Australia’s national interest was best served with long-standing ally, the US, to retain its primacy in the region. Australia’s decision not to sell uranium to India had weakened Quad, a move also criticized by the Liberal Party. Gillard’s support for a US military presence near Darwin, overlooking the Timor Sea and the Lombok Strait was a plus. With support from the United States, Gillard and the Labor party reversed the policy and backed the sale of uranium to India, despite India not having signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with PM of Australia Scott Morrison at the first India-Australia Virtual Summit | PIB. Image Source: http://www.strategicfront.org

QUAD Regroups

          In November 2017 Japanese, Indian, Australian and American officials met to continue security cooperation ahead of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits. The meeting included discussion of China’s increased prominence in the South China Sea, and may have signaled U.S. President Trump’s interest in reviving a formal Quad. The Quadrilateral met five times in 2017–2019. The organization’s primary agenda now was to promote free and open Indo-Pacific amid China’s aggressive postures. In March 2020, officials from the Quad met to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. They were joined by New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam for the first time. In July 2020, India, Japan and USA were in talks to invite Australia for a coordinated Navy exercise at Malabar 2020 which was re-scheduled in the end of 2020, owing to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Australia is mostly likely to join the navy exercise.

US President Trump, Indian PM Modi, Australian PM Scott John Morrison, Japanese PM Abe Image Source: blogs.griffith.edu.au

Not Openly Naming China

          Since the Quad’s resurrection in November 2017, the group has met five times and has emphasised maintaining the liberal rules-based international order, which China seeks to undermine or overturn. The Quad has thus far resisted openly naming China as the primary target. Initially for some time Quad was moving slowly, because Australia and India were unsure how much to push China without impacting bilateral security and economic relationships. Japanese and Australian electoral politics also had its dynamics. For the Quad to sustain, a harder line on China would have to evolve. Getting Vietnam to join the alliance could greatly boost the Quad’s credibility. Vietnam, is unlikely to  join the Quad if it evolves as a military alliance. South Korea and New Zealand, would also be reluctant. An openly anti-China Quad might convince Russia to more closely align with China, or Beijing could play the Southeast and South Asia nations against each other to weaken Quad objectives.

Image Source: http://www.gisreportsonline.com

China’s Unilateralism Antagonizing The World

          Beijing has been antagonizing more and more countries around the world. Its unilateral approach in the South China Sea, aggressive actions against Taiwan, state sponsored promotion of Huawei’s 5G networks, heavy hand in Hong Kong, and arm-twisting of economically poor nations in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has angered the world. Australia released a defence strategic update on 01 July 2020, clearly naming China as seeking to exert influence, in the Indo-Pacific. Australian approach is a stark departure from the evasions, platitudes, and niceties of normal diplomatic discourse.

Beijing tightens its grip on the periphery. Image Source: http://www.ft.com

India Also Taking Stand

          At one point India appeared an unsure link of the Quad. Since May 2019, India has been taking stronger stand. In June 2019 India along with all four Quad country leaders sat together across from Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting. This was much more than symbolic. India’s relationship with China has also deteriorated markedly. The two armed forces are standing face-to-face on Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. The strong anti-China feeling has spread to the 1.3 billion Indian masses. There is a general feeling to ban all Chinese goods and software Apps. The  damage in relations cannot be repaired so easily.

India-China Stand-Off Galwan. Indian soldiers in Ladakh | Representational image. Image Source:  theprint.in

Japanese Strong Support for QUAD

          Japanese have supported Quad since first mooted the idea in 2006. Japan needs to build a counter balance to China the most. Tokyo has been driving the partners. Japan recently revised its intelligence sharing legislation to allow for sharing with Australia and India, in addition to USA and UK. Japan also now has a special division in its Ministry of Defence for cooperation with India and Australia on ASEAN and Pacific Island issues. Japan’s annual Defence White paper released in July 2020 mentions China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo and coercive approach on Senkaku Islands.

Image Source: Wikipedia

U.S. Strong Support to QUAD

          The United States finds Quad a good mechanism to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region. The Trump administration has taken an active anti-China stand in its bilateral relations, attacking it on many issues including trade, intellectual property theft, corona virus spread and fallout, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and human rights in Xinjiang, among others. They openly call China an adversary, and that is reflected in its entire foreign policy and defence structure and statements. USA would like the QUAD to actually become an anti-China alliance.

South China Sea dispute. Image Source: http://www.the-american-interest.com

Greater Military Interaction

          The US is already considering inviting the air forces of Australia, India and Japan to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam for training exercise and to increase interoperability. India has been asking Australia also to join the Malabar naval exercises this year. This could be a strong message to Beijing that continues to play hard in Ladakh. All four nations continue increase their bilateral defence and security cooperation in the face of rising Chinese aggressiveness in Indo-Pacific region. Quad cannot continue to be symbolic. It has to create deterrence against China, to stop its unilateralism. It need not be a military alliance, but clearly a signal must go out that the countries would come in support in case of tension or armed conflict with China.

Andersen US Air Force Base in Guam. Image Source: Pinterest

India’s Closer Linkages  With QUAD Partners

          Jeff M. Smith, in a commentary of 13 August 2020 avers that Australia, Japan, and the United States are already bound by a deep network of formal treaty alliances, overlapping strategic dialogues, and intelligence sharing arrangements. Getting India, with the world’s second-largest population, third-largest defense budget, fifth-largest economy, and an escalating strategic competition with China, into greater alignment with the other three democracies has been a priority of Quad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accelerated strategic ties with the other Indo-Pacific democracies, including with Australia. In April 2019, New Delhi established a new Indo-Pacific division in its Ministry of External Affairs. The external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, is a known a supporter of the Quad. India and Australia already have a nuclear cooperation deal, they have had joint naval and army exercise. They hosted their first joint army exercises. India and USA have signed many defence related agreements such as Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA). U.S.-India defense sales we facilitate through both the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) processes. In the last decade Indian armed Forces have been recipients of top of the line aerial platforms and guns. Indo-US naval exercises saw participation from Indian, Japanese, and U.S. aircraft carriers for the first time.

China : “String of Pearls” Strategy. Image Source: intellibriefs.blogspot.com

India-China Recent Show Downs and Indian Public Anger

          Just a week before President Xi Jinping’s first visit to India in September 2014, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had made a major intrusion in Ladakh, resulting in an extended standoff that somewhat ruined the atmosphere during Xi’s visit. China’s close strategic links with Pakistan, including the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the leasing of the strategic Gwadar port to China are all making India uncomfortable and concerned of Chinese intentions. China’s so called “String of pearls” around India was to create anti-India influence through financial inducements to India’s neighbours. China’s is also trying to needle the traditional Indian friends like Nepal by propping up Communist regime to work against India. China has also  been blocking India and supporting Pakistan in United Nations and other global forums. In return Pakistan is turning a blind eye to what is happening to the Muslims in Xinjiang. China is also increasing its forays and presence in Indian Ocean, and now has a military base at Djibouti. Through its Belt and road Initiative (BRI) China is trying to get into Iran and Afghanistan, at discomfiture to India. The 2017, there was 73 day India-China stand-off in the Doklam plateau, when China threaten India in strong language. And the current stand-off in Ladakh which has meant loss of life on both sides, has angered the 1.3 billion Indians and is unlikely to be forgotten for long. There is a strong Boycott-China sentiment prevailing in India.

Aerial view of Gwadar (balochistan), western Pakistan, by the Arab Sea. This port is being leased to China for 43 years under the CPIC treaty. To the left is Paddi Zirr (bay). To the right is Demi Zirr (bay). Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Anger Against China Among Others

          Chinese unilateral action in the South China Sea angered a large number of countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Many physically lost territory and Exclusive economic Zones (EEZ). Practically all Quad members are against the Chinese BRI because of influence expanding linkages attached to it. In any case the BRI is saddling most countries with un-payable debt. USA and Australia have been very vocal against BRI. Japan, though initially unsure, finally  refrained from full endorsement, and prefers one-to-one financial support.

China’s debt-trap diplomacy. Image Source: http://www.newindianexpress.com

China Backed and Other Critics of Quad

          There will be political critic in each country. Also China is working on indebted countries and government controlled Chinese news outlets to propagate an anti-Quad view. Chinese media often tries to portray Quad as a U.S. attempt to create an Asian NATO to contain China, and that the Quad would undermine the ASEAN’s  regional role. Some Chinese scholars feel that the Quad is a guise to constrain China’s rise. If China were to be pushed into a corner, it could force it further strengthen its military capabilities, critics caution. Some see Quad as an avoidable provocation. To counter such critics, Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar explains that it was meant as a diplomatic consultation and coordination forum of countries who have convergences.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin agreed to deepen their unprecedented partnership. Photo: Xinhua. Image Source: http://www.scmp.com

Future of the QUAD

          At its core, the Quad are four highly capable Indo-Pacific democracies that are increasingly aligned in their shared concerns on regional security, writes Jeff M. Smith. It is their way to tell China: “We’re watching, and we’re alarmed.” This is meant more for the very authoritarian Chinese “Chairman of everything”  Xi Jinping. It is fair that the Quad is currently viewed as symbolic and just an addition to an existing network of strategic and defense cooperation. It’s also fine that the Quad is moving at a medium pace. At this point, it’s less important what the Quad does than what it symbolically conveys. It can always be restructured in case of changing threat assessment.

Xi Jinping – Chairman of Everything. Image Source: http://www.economist.com

          As Quad gets re-energized, India, which faces Chinese belligerence on its borders has become more engaged and enthusiastic partner in the Quad. Yet, doubts and questions continue to shadow the Quad, regarding the group’s identity and agenda. How can India’s stance of the Quad change the group’s fortunes and future prospects? The recent turn of events on Sino-Indian borders have made India much more committed and enthusiastic partner. Since 2012, Japan has also witnessed a steady stream of escalating Chinese attempted encroachments around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Australia has also seen Chinese interference in its domestic politics. Australia is now more worried of autocratic Chinese domination in the region. Australia also led the global charge to bar Chinese telecom operator Huawei for 5G infrastructure. USA, which had conned itself and befriended China in the 1970s against Soviet Union, realised a little late that China would one day take technological and financial support and pull the rug from under its feet. In fact America was so blinded in its quest to contain Soviet Union, that and unknowingly helped fuel Chinese economy. America recognizes the challenges posed by China and needs regional friends. Both USA and Australia are routinely operating in South China Sea ignoring Chinese claims. India is currently the lead opposition to BRI. Australia and USA are strongly opposing Huawei on 5G. Effectively these are Xi’s key initiatives. Clearly Quad has the ability and willingness to resist Chinese coercion tactics and territorial aggression.

India’s strength QUAD-ruples against China. Image Source: indiaincgroup.com

          The Quad held its first ministerial-level dialogue in September 2019 in New York. It was clear that there was similar like-mindedness among the four partners. There was a shared evaluation of the security threats and the threats facing the region. Each Quad member has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each has its own role in different parts of the globe. In November 2019, the there was the first Quad counter-terrorism exercise in India. In March 2020, Quad had a video conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand had also joined this time. Chinese diplomats in many countries are making statements that imply threat on behalf of their “Supreme Leader”. This has happened in India after Galwan and also in Canada.  The world is watching this rude behaviour of China, and some are getting antagonized.  It would now be reasonable to expect that the Quad will expand its activities and attempt to involve other Asian powers in them.

Votes are split between China and the US. Image Source: www.thinkchina.sg

          The Quad has significant defence capability in combined military strength and defence budgets of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. It also represents a quarter of the world’s population and GDP.  Currently all the four Quad countries have governments that are favorably disposed toward the Quad. Fairly solid foundations are being set so that change in government does not upset the apple cart. Of course nothing stays permanent. Quad must look at more domains to engage in. Special areas of interest could be space and maritime. Greatest pressure point would be the South China Sea region. Effectively the four are in a position to encircle China.  Like USA, India has started putting restrictions on Chinese imports and investments. India’s foreign policy is also realigning to new realities.  The more Quad members speak in united voice, it will have a deterrent effect on Chinese adventurism. It is time to make it costlier for China to be belligerent. As Sun Tzu says in the treatise “Art of War”, the goal is to win without fighting.

Quad: An anonymous survey collected 276 responses from 10 ASEAN nations (Source: Southeast Asia Perceptions of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue)

Content Credit: The article is written mostly from open sources. Thoughts of the author were also influenced by Jeff M. Smith who is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington and has written “Democracy’s Squad: India’s change of heart and the future of the Quad”.

Picture Credit: lowyinstitute.org

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

8 thoughts on “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue -The Quad – Anti-China Alliance? – Where Does India Stand?

  1. Quad still remains a multilateral organisation with present focus on eradication of pandemic. At some point in time exercise Malabar may become the framework of new security architecture of the world post COVID. It would have to be formally spoken.
    My sense is Quad per Se could include France, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and New Zealand in future Quad will remain a multilateral arrangement for everything San war.
    When it comes to physically punishing an adversary in future a composite Task Force under the charge of Task Force CDR from any of these 4 countries who have SOPs laid down and interoperable.
    Australia does have an issue. Last week the Australian Defence Minister has said that they would do nothing which hurts Chinese interest. This was in a meeting with Mike Esper and Mike Pompeo. There is divided opinion within Australia, therefore the reluctance so far for becoming Malabar coalition.

    Liked by 1 person

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