Thirteen years ago, important officials from America, Australia, India, and Japan met on the sidelines of an ASEAN (Association for South East Asian Nations) Regional Forum Summit in Manila. They manifested their apprehensions on China’s increasing regional influence and had reflected the themes of mutual interest among themselves. Although no official agenda or a subsequent meeting was decided, the grouping did get a formal name of QUAD. It was highly anticipated that the group would surely meet again.
It wasn’t until China’s pessimistic response to the meeting that the world got to know about the QUAD group. China officially objected to this group interrogating each member about its intentions regarding the Manila meeting. Chinese President Hu Jintao directly brought up the topic to the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Upon asking, Singh had assured China that the Quad group had come together only for developmental purposes. Even the Indian Foreign Ministry gave reiterated assurances about QUAD being a balancing foreign approach program rather than a counter alliance to China.
The QUAD 1.0 group ended in snivels rather than high excitement because of China’s constant animosity towards the group. The members who had attended the Manila meeting lost interest in their primitive objective to curb growing Chinese influence. In December 2007, a pro-Chinese Australian Kevin Rudd assumed power, and the already burnt down QUAD group was unilaterally murdered away. He declared the Manila meeting as a one-off and confirmed that Australia would not be entering any such dialogues in the future.
However, in 2012 the interest in QUAD was reignited when a staunch supporter of QUAD, Shinzo Abe, became Japanese Prime Minister. At the same time, Xi Jinping assumed power in China with aggressive buildup policies towards the South China Sea. Shinzo proposed a revival of QUAD by proposing the US, Australia, and India for cooperation in the common maritime area stretching from the Indian Ocean Region to the Western Pacific. Thus, a vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific reignited the dying flames of QUAD.
Initially, India expressed its skepticism about the regrouping on QUAD. Australia’s close trade relationship with China and Australia’s strategic obscurity towards China-led India to have uncertainty on QUAD. India had also had trilateral groupings in the past, due to which it was dubious about QUAD. But QUAD was relaunched last year despite India’s concerns.
At the reconvening of QUAD-in September 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated the QUAD 2.0 as an effort to ensure China’s place in the region. He also said that it is not a binding obligation but rather a shared interest. Another QUAD meeting took place in early October 2020, but it has come out as a vague statement to the world. Neither India, Japan, or Australia, viewed any direct hostility towards China like the USA. However, all three of these countries have a common desire to confront China over regional and security issues.
In contrast to these three countries, the USA’s purpose seems a little less uncertain, which is bashing China. Mike Pompeo made it quite clear that the USA seeks to collaborate with its QUAD partners in order to protect the world from the exploitation and corruption of China. This simply shows the uncertainty of QUAD’s purpose. Some view it as maritime democracies trying to limit Chinese international influence. Others see it as a source to manage power rivalries. Some view it as a shared vision for regional security and prosperity.
The peril connected with QUAD is that if it turns into a NATO-like alliance, it will trigger China to take aggressive military steps in order to curb the increasing economic and maritime capacity of the QUAD countries. It could develop a confident Chinese approach to the region, which could further fuel the paranoid Chinese military desires. This can consequently destabilize the region. Rather than managing regional security, QUAD could result in aggravating the current situation.
Analysts doubt that China can be a strategic challenge for multinational cooperation in the region. But the question is that is QUAD really the best platform for handling the growing Chinese capacity. Two members of the QUAD are too unreliable to serve this purpose, which are Australia and Japan. Australia hugely depends on China for its trade, and it will obviously remain hesitant to take steps against China. On the other hand, the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has come to power intending to develop better relations with China.
This leaves QUAD with two certain members India and America; whose growing strategic partnership is a threat to China anyways. There is no need for a QUAD for this purpose. QUAD 2.0 should learn lessons from the past and quietly kill itself because its purpose can be fulfilled by merely the Indo-US partnership in the region.