The QUAD and the Vision of Multipolar Indo-Pacific

Vishnu Sasikumar
August 23rd 2020


Image Courtesy: ANI News

Recently, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or more commonly known as the QUAD has been in the headlines due to new developments in the Indo-Pacific region. With the rising Chinese aggressions, QUAD is seen as a balancer to the Chinese expansionist actions. QUAD was officially envisioned in 2007 under the pioneering attempts of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who was joined by US, Australia and India. The basis for such a setting was laid way back in 2004 when the navies of all the 4 countries were engaged in HADR missions post the Tsunami of 2004. When it was envisioned in 2007, the QUAD lacked group coherence. The member states had some differences amongst themselves. For instance, Australia wasn’t ready to approve the sale of Uranium to India. These differences led to an ineffective QUAD. Later the QUAD became an obsolete organisation due to leadership changes in the member countries. Australia pulled out of the QUAD unilaterally after Kevin Rudd became the country’s Prime Minister. The Chinese displeasure over the QUAD and Singapore military exercise also played a key role in Australian withdrawal. In Japan, Yasuan Fukado replaced PM Abe. He was seen as a pro-China person, arguing for a proactive and friendly approach to China. In India, PM Manmohan Singh visited China in 2008 and declared that India-China relations were the priority and India wouldn’t engage in any initiative which was seen as intended to contain China. Thus, the QUAD became redundant post-2008.

In 2017, during the ASEAN summit,  the heads of all the four-member states met together to revive the QUAD arrangement, in the context of rising Chinese aggressions and tensions, especially in the South China Sea. There was an acceptance that the peaceful rise of China was over. The pandemic phase has further established such beliefs. Initially, it was seen that there was a reluctance amongst the member states to proactively participate in the QUAD. But during the pandemic situation, the countries seemed to get rid of this inhibition. China is yet again the main factor contributing to this inhibition. China’s role in pandemic and it’s unethical actions of making use of the opportunity to advance expansionist claims brought all the 4 countries together.  The group psychology is now playing in the favour of QUAD. The member countries have now a common threat perception i.e. China and a common vision of free and open Indo-Pacific. Each of the member countries is now openly challenging the Chinese aggressions. Australia has now seriously taken up the cyber attack issue and indirectly hinted at Chinese involvement in the same. Australia has also increased its defence budget and has increased its naval warfare capabilities. The US-China relations are at their all-time low, with many scholars terming it as Cold War 2.0 or Cold confrontation. The US Defense paper has called China as a strategic competitor. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called on the democratic countries to form an alliance to counter the ‘Communist China’. Japan has now begun to increase its assertions and activities along with the disputed Senkaku islands. Japan was one of the first countries to condemn China for its aggression along the LAC. India has taken certain strict actions with regards to China over the Galwan Valley incident. India decided to ban 59 Chinese apps and suspended many of the signed agreements with Chinese companies. Many additional agreements with China in various fields are under review. The QUAD countries are now coming out in support of their members against the common grievance of Chinese actions. At the same time, bilateral relations between the member countries are really warm and cordial. The QUAD has now a group coherence within itself. It seems that the Galwan Valley incident became a catalyst for increasing QUAD participation. 

The QUAD is now emerging as a more important multilateral player in the Indo-Pacific region, which is capable of thwarting the Chinese aggressions. India is now proactively engaging in the QUAD to realise its potential in the region. India’s moves are also motivated by the recent Chinese aggressions along the LAC at the Galwan valley. India has now invited Australia to join the Malabar exercise, which is a joint military naval exercise conducted between India, US and Japan. With Australia joining the same, Malabar exercise will become a QUAD affair. At the same time, India has Logistical agreements in place with all the members of QUAD countries. In 2016, India and the US signed the LEMOA and COMCASA. In 2020, India and Australia signed the Logistical agreements through the virtual conference, giving way to new virtual diplomacy. India and Japan are in the final stages of negotiations over the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA). With these logistical agreements in place, the interoperability of the QUAD Navies would increase. The countries would have access to the elaborate system of naval bases which are spread throughout the expanse of the Indo-Pacific. With access to bases spread along the Indo-Pacific, the QUAD countries can frequently navigate through the waters in the Indo-Pacific and conduct long-range sustained operations, if the need arises. The strategic importance of these agreements and bases would be realised when a conflict might arise, where Indo-Pacific becomes one of the theatres of conflict. This situation is not far away, given the rising US-China Cold confrontations. Recently both the navies had a face to face encounter in the South China sea, with US carriers USS Nimitz and USS Roosevelt navigating through the Malacca. 

With the given scenarios and circumstances, the future of QUAD appears to be a promising one. The cooperation and alignment of QUAD with countries like New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam, during the COVID-19 pandemic, has given rise to QUAD plus. At the same time, many scholars argue that in the future these countries along with other players like France (has important bases and island chains in Western IOR) might be included in an enlarged QUAD. As it is said, the future in the global order is highly unpredictable, the future of QUAD is also the same. However, it can be ascertained that based on the current power relations and dynamics and the fact that the world’s great economic and military powers constitute the QUAD, it can be an effective balancer to China. QUAD has the capability and the future to create a multipolar order in the Free and open Indo-Pacific.

** The author is currently an intern in KIIPS. He is an undergraduate student pursuing graduation in the field of Political Science and Economics from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi.**