May 29, 2024

QUAD and China: Achievements and Fallouts

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By: Nabhjyot Arora, Research Analyst, GSDN

QUAD & China: source Internet

‘’The United States must refrain from stirring up trouble or taking sides on the South China Sea issue after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that a security deal with the Manila extended to attacks on the Philippine coast guard’’. – Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America 

The South China Sea has re-emerged as a region of contention after a cannon attack damaged a Philippine vessel and injured three navy personnel in March 2024. New Delhi has been supportive of the sovereignty and maritime interests of the Philippines amidst the skirmish following the territorial expansion of Beijing in the South China Sea. The maritime dispute has brought to the fore the relevance of the quasi-security architecture ‘QUAD – The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ in securing the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

QUAD was resurrected as a security grouping in 2017 by the United States, Japan, Australia, and India to uphold democratic values and respect for international law, which could counter the assertiveness exerted by China in the Indo-Pacific. The alliance has its roots in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami aimed at Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) assistance with the formation of a Tsunami Core Group. Formalized by Shinzo Abe – former Prime Minister of Japan in 2007 – QUAD undertook a maritime exercise in the Bay of Bengal later in 2007, which also included Singapore, before getting dormant for a decade due to apprehensions by Australia, against antagonizing China.

Pivot to Indo-Pacific

A pivot to Indo-Pacific was observed in 2021– when the ‘March Declaration’ laid out the spirit of the QUAD – stating: ‘’We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.’’ 

The March 2021 declaration laid out the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, with the inclusion of the Philippines towards the formation of QUAD 2.0 – an expansion sought by South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam. The alliance has meanwhile expanded from maritime security to economic and non-traditional security issues with working groups established on cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and countering disinformation. There is no mutual defense pact in effect, thereby, the alliance works more as a strategic and diplomatic forum.

QUAD aims for defense cooperation by aligning armies together under the Indo-Pacific Framework, which can be backed by the US Secretary of Defence Llyod Austin outlining military plans in Asia, stating China as the main challenge. The US hosted the first Quad leaders’ summit in March 2021 underlining the importance it placed not only on the Indo-Pacific but on the QUAD. Beijing has been working as per expansionist policy with the militarization of islands and establishment of business hubs under the Belt and Road Initiative and Maritime Silk Route; whilst China has attempted to represent the alliance as ‘Asian NATO’.

Maritime Security

The dispute between the Philippines and China has highlighted the importance of maritime security enabling adherence to a rule-based order as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The UNCLOS is regarded as the global constitution for the seas signed by 162 nations. The Philippines and Japan have been facing challenges with Beijing over the Senkaku Islands, East China Sea, and South China Sea, however, with the US as a non-signatory to the convention, Beijing has refused any interference by the third parties in the disputed region.

“UNCLOS 1982 is particularly important in that regard as the Constitution of the seas. All parties must adhere to it in its entirety, both in letter and in spirit. I take this opportunity to firmly reiterate India’s support to the Philippines for upholding its national sovereignty.” – Dr. S. Jaishankar

A critical view is made with the effectiveness of QUAD in safeguarding the freedom of navigation, however, with the US engaged in the Hamas-Israel War and the Ukraine Conflict, conflicts in the Indo-Pacific have taken a backseat. The US President Joseph Biden cancelled the trip to the QUAD Summit in Sydney in May 2023 due to impending debt default, following which the heads of government of Australia, India, Japan, and the US met on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Japan. There have been concerns regarding the escalation of conflict with China, in case of an increased presence of the US in the Indo-Pacific, skirmishes including the claims on Arunachal Pradesh, the Taiwan Conflict, South China Sea issue could pave the way for India to check the hegemonic actions of China.

With the elevation of the alliance to leader-level dialogue and improved cooperation, countries in ASEAN could help maintain stability and check illegal maritime activities. QUAD’s ‘Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness’ seeks to support states in the region in combating illegal maritime activities. Sharing information and satellite data on vessel movement based on the data obtained from automatic identification systems (AIS) provides opportunities to check vessel movements and combat the threat of surveillance by China.

‘’We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.’’ – QUAD March 2021 Declaration

Expansion of the QUAD

QUAD has emerged as a multilateral alliance with the dependency of Japan and Australia on the US for economic and security purposes, while South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand have shown interest in joining the QUAD alliance. ‘QUAD Plus’ or ‘QUAD 2.0’ pertains to addressing regional security challenges, enhancing maritime security, promoting economic stability, and counterbalancing the influence of other powers in the region. The inclusion of Israel, the USA, and the UAE marks the formation of  ‘I2U2’ also known as the ‘Middle Eastern QUAD’, which amongst the ongoing conflict in West Asia becomes imperative for strengthening regional security architecture.

Beijing has been scaling its presence in West Asia, while India has been acting on the ‘Look West’ Policy with the US already engaged in the region. India activating its presence in the QUAD could enable countering the incursions of Beijing on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to the Malacca Strait, and the Red Sea Region, based on cooperation in securing the sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). The US presence remains focused on the South China Sea and the East China Sea, enabling India to secure the Indian Ocean Region.

‘’The Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative, announced by the Quad grouping, is a testament to our commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific’’; ‘’building networks and partnerships would be instrumental in ensuring the security and stability of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)’’ – Indian Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar

Challenges & Way Forward

Challenges remain in securing cooperation especially after the Indo-Russian partnership and Indo-Iran partnership enabled New Delhi to build energy, defense, and economic security. QUAD 2.0 involves the inclusion of the Philippines, however, it excluded the involvement of India raising apprehensions regarding the division between members to expand an already existing alliance in the Indo-Pacific. Israel’s envoy to India – Naor Gilon – made a statement that the expansion of QUAD was not against any one country and the major factor for the countries to come together was due to the instability caused by Iran in the region.

The exclusion of India indicates that QUAD and QUAD 2.0 serve different purposes with the latter having a stronger military focus concerning the South China Sea region and the former emphasizing non-traditional security threats, disaster relief and humanitarian relief measures, climate change, protecting marine resources and fisheries with the formation of Quad Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Mechanism in the May 2022 Tokyo Summit.

The expansion of the QUAD grouping led the US and the Philippines to sign the Security Sector Assistance Roadmap, which provided an opportunity for India to build a defense partnership and enable the Philippines to procure more arms from it. India has been shifting from non-alignment to taking an active role in security dynamics, however, remains cautious against getting entrapped in the Sino-U.S. conflict.

‘’The QUAD also launched the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, which will offer a near-real-time, integrated, and cost-effective maritime-domain-awareness picture. It will enhance the ability of partners in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and he Indian Ocean to fully monitor their waters’’ – QUAD Summit in Tokyo, May 2022

Security Cooperation & Containment of China

The US House of Representatives passed ‘Strengthening the QUAD Act’ on February 16, 2024 indicating the possibility of an active role the US could play in the Indo-Pacific. The act would enable the establishment of a ‘QUAD Intra-Parliamentary Working Group’ to facilitate closer cooperation between the US, Australia, India, and Japan. It also would establish guidelines for annual meetings and group leadership. Under the act, the group is required to submit an annual report to the congressional foreign affairs committees. The act stresses cooperation on pandemic preparedness, technological innovation, and economic integration, with security cooperation taking a backseat.

A shift in foreign policy has been observed, with Australia pivot to China ahead of the discontent from the grouping, which India is against turning into ‘Indo-Pacific NATO’. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to China despite unstable relations, New Delhi’s trade cooperation despite conflict over border regions, and cooperation by the US on containing Iran and enabling stability in the Middle East highlights the varied expectations and aims in dealing with China. Japan and India agreed to step up security and economic cooperation to boost their ties against the Chinese influence in the region.

Japan aims to improve security cooperation with developing countries, whilst enabling arms trade with India. With Japan standing as a security provider for countries facing the territorial expansion of China, India, and Japan could cooperate to institutionalize the QUAD. With Russia termed as a challenge in the National Security Strategy released by Japan, the division of interests could affect the coherent operations of QUAD. QUAD acts as a deterrent against coercion of any external powers and retains the position of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), however, the internal divide and an increasing military assertion remain a challenge as a grouping to contain China.

‘’The Quad is here to stay. The Quad is here to grow. The Quad is here to contribute.’’ – Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister, India.

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