The bellicose tone emanating from Beijing in the last couple years has led to a pooling of resources by some other countries in the region, notably India, Japan, the United States, and Australia. This can be seen in the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, in November 2017. This new version of the Quad, often referred to as Quad 2.0, has seen remarkable progress.
It was in 2007 that the Quad was first convened on the sidelines of an ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Manila. However, soon thereafter, its fortunes fell when the members seemingly developed cold feet due to a host of factors, including protestations from Beijing.
Since then, the priorities of the Quad member countries have changed. The intervening years have seen many developments which have changed the security scenario in the Indo-Pacific, particularly the rise of China and increase in Sino-U.S. tensions under the former president Donald Trump. The end result has been an interest in reinvesting in the Quad in order to face the approaching challenges together.
There are quite a few obstacles to overcome, however, before things move forward with the Quad. While it is true that the tensions between each member and China have encouraged the revival of the Quad, they also have the potential to deter them from deeper commitment for fear of the response from Beijing. All these countries have had tensions with China—yet not all four countries are on the same page when it comes to the Quad. One reason for this is that each has close economic ties with China and this comes into their calculations.
In the case of India, the stalemate along the Himalayas continues, creating reasons for Delhi to not want to push Beijing too hard on other fronts. In the case of Japan, China has laid claims on the Japanese-held Senkaku islands. But the biggest chunk of international tourists coming to Japan are from China and, in the run-up to the now-delayed Tokyo Olympics, Japan needs to walk a thin line with China. In the case of Australia, China has come down hard after the Scott Morrison administration wanted to investigate the origins of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, China is Australia’s biggest trading partner—a reality which sometimes prevents it from taking strong measures against Beijing.
Nevertheless, there are strong incentives for cooperation. China now already has the largest navy in terms of the number of ships. This makes it more pertinent for the Quad countries to pool their resources in the naval realm. In the maritime realm, India, Japan, Australia, and the United States have already been conducting joint exercises, with Australia also having been made a member of the Malabar exercises. The increasingly aggressive behavior exhibited by China can also be seen in its “Wolf Warrior” diplomats and their verbal and social media attacks on other countries.
Another factor that is bringing these countries closer is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which aims to build a network of communication nodes centred around Beijing’s interests. India, Japan, and the United States are not a part of the BRI and have expressed a desire to look at alternate ways of creating infrastructure in a responsible way.
In the future, the Quad could become the focus of cooperation between the four countries. Recently the foreign ministers of the Quad countries took part in the grouping’s third ministerial meeting. At the same time, the Biden administration has continued with its predecessor’s focus on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad in particular. During President Biden’s telephone call with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he “agreed to continuing close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and a stronger regional architecture through the Quad.”
Will Quad 2.0 Work?
The road ahead will certainly not be easy for the Quad nations as China is bound to throw a spanner in the works. There are a few key principles that are likely to underlie any continued progress by the Quad:
First, the United States, as the world’s only superpower, will have to take the lead. But countries like India and Japan will also have to shed their reticence vis-à-vis China, since continuing to tiptoe around every point of friction will only increase Chinese ambitions.
Second, there is a lesson here for countries which are not a part of the Quad. When it comes to dealing with China, all democratic countries need to pool their resources. This is where countries like Indonesia could be pivotal if the Quad decides to expand.
Third, the recent disengagement from the Chinese side in the icy heights of Ladakh along the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control shows that China will pull back if the other side responds in kind. Quad members should examine how this was achieved and consider how similar approaches could be applied in other points of conflict.
Fourth, the Quad countries will need to coordinate to implement economic decoupling with China, as Beijing continues to take advantage of its imbalanced trade relationships.
That the Quad has been revived is proof of the fact that there is a need for such a mechanism in the Indo-Pacific region. In the end, all the member countries will need to invest their time and money for the success of Quad 2.0. As the former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe noted in his famous “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech: “the Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity. A “broader Asia” that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.”
The pertinent question now will be how far these countries are willing to go if China engages in provocative military action against any one of the Quad nations. This has already happened in the case of the Sino-Indian clashes in the border areas, and the Quad countries were found wanting on this count. This suggests that the Quad does not have military teeth. Were this situation to be replicated in the East China Sea, would the response be any different? Only time will tell.