QUAD and the Indo-Pacific Region: Towards a Multifaceted Future

 Debajit Boruah
1st May 2021

During the last few decades, certain geopolitical developments have shaped the Indo-Pacific region. In the 21st century, the region has emerged as a center of power politics due to its geopolitical and geostrategic significance. Currently, the region has been undergoing new geostrategic and geopolitical dynamics due to geostrategic moves of the major powers towards this region. This geopolitical and geostrategic maneuver is creating concerns for the existing regional security framework in the region.  The strategic location, natural resources, oil and mineral resources inherent in the region have been some of the major reasons for turning it into an arena of geopolitical rivalry among world powers and regional states. Of all the countries, the rise of China and the assertive turn in its foreign policy and security strategy in the region has coalesced other major powers to find strategic convergences in managing the ramifications of China’s rise. Geopolitical tensions have been on the rise in the region, owing to China’s growing expansionist economic and foreign policy and their strategic foothold in the region, particularly evident in the South China Sea. The Chinese government is looking for a new strategies, new options, where it can invest more in the countries around the Indo-Pacific region.

The growing competition between China and India in the Indian Ocean region and US response to China’s anti-access and area denial strategies in the region adds a new dimension to geopolitical significance of the region. The US is encouraging India to become a regional naval power in the region. The US perceptions of the growing Chinese maritime threat and its desire to see India grow as a regional balancing power against China in the Indian Ocean region have been major factors in shaping the evolving discourse around the regional security architecture. But the Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said “Indo-Pacific is for something, not against somebody and that something is peace, security, stability, prosperity, and rules. We are looking at a landscape where a numbers of independent players work together for global good”.

Therefore, the Quadrilateral Security Initiative (QUAD) between India, the US, Japan and Australia is not just about China. It is an inclusive strategic dialogue among four countries. The third meeting of the foreign ministers of the group was very quickly followed by the first virtual summit between the leaders of the Quad countries, emphasizing the significance that is being accorded to the grouping. The QUAD countries have been exchanging their views on regional and global issues especially cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. QUAD is not only centered on geopolitical and security consideration, QUAD countries have also discussed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, global climate change and other issues of mutual interest like counter terrorism and maritime security. QUAD countries have also discussed about the prospects of using Indian manufacturing capacity to produce vaccine funded by the United States and Japan and deliver to the Indo-Pacific countries.

China obviously sees QUAD in a different light. Chinese officials clearly see it as “Mini NATO”. Chinese officials see it as something that is developing for the containment of China. However, QUAD countries have clearly adhered to the objective to maintain a free, open, transparent and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Covid-19 vaccine is one of those issues, which clearly indicates that QUAD is not merely a military mechanism to prevent Chinese provocation in the Indo-Pacific region. It has many other dimensions too. QUAD countries have been sharing same democratic values, which is not shared by China, which is an authoritarian communist state. QUAD has been trying to build a multipolar Indo-Pacific and put emphasis on prioritizing multilateralism. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar commented that India, Japan, the US and Australia under the “Quad” was very much in keeping with changing times and a reflection of the evolving landscape of a multipolar world.

Even while suffering from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, India has been playing a major role in providing vaccine in several countries of the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The United Nation Secretary General said that there are 130 countries in the world which still do not have vaccine. Therefore, in this dimension, QUAD countries can play an important role. India routinely conducts bilateral and multilateral military exercise with its QUAD partners like Malabar with the US and Japan, JIMEX with Japan, AUSINDEX with Australia.

New debates and deliberations are emerging relating to probable QUAD Plus or QUAD 2.0 arrangements. They share data information, look on common interests and they have done several logistic agreements. The QUAD countries have been undergoing discussions on cyber cooperation, and undertaking tabletop exercises etc. There is nothing officially called QUAD plus but in official and foreign secretariat level meeting, talks  about QUAD plus have been evolving. Earlier QUAD focused on mainly maritime and military cooperation but QUAD 2.0 might be exploring more on cooperation in infrastructure initiatives. Apart from maritime and military cooperation, the QUAD countries must engage in multilateral institutions and should adopt more collective approaches in the region.

* The author is a PhD Scholar, Department of International Relations, Sikkim University, Gangtok