GP Insights # 423, 11 October 2020
On 6 October, the foreign ministers of India, Japan, and Australia and the US Secretary of State met in Tokyo for the second foreign minister-level meeting of the Quadrilateral security dialogue. According to the media releases from all four foreign ministries, the meeting focused on containing the spread of COVID-19 and a vaccine distribution strategy, cybersecurity, 5G connectivity, the promotion of a strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific, and a rules-based order in the region.
The ministers also discussed the inclusion of Australia in the upcoming Malabar Naval exercise; although a decision is yet to be taken. A special emphasis was on the 'supply chain resilience initiative' to move supply chains away from China, as well as 'East-West' connectivity to counter China's 'North-South' connectivity plans.
Further, the US's 'Blue Dot Network' was discussed as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, also brought up the possibility of formally institutionalizing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The meeting followed with bilateral meetings between all four ministers.
What is the background?
First, the origins of Quad. Originally formed in 2007, it was dissolved in 2008 following Australia's departure. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic forum between the four countries that originally emanated from the Malabar naval exercises between India, the United States, Japan, and occasionally Australia. The 'Quad', as it is commonly known, was re-established in November 2017 following the promulgation of India's 'Act East Policy' and Japan's 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific Policy'.
Second, the evolution of its purpose. The Quad has undergone a transformation in terms of its purpose. The Quad is now re-established as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative strategy and influence over the region. Today, the Quad has evolved to have a great focus on strengthening itself as a balancing military force. While this has its roots in Obama's strategic 'pivot' to the Asia-Pacific, it has taken on an Indo-Pacific role in recent years following China's vehement attitude towards the South China Sea dispute and the recent confrontations with India at the Indo-Tibetan border.
Third, the hostile response from China to the Quad. According to a recent opinion by Fudan University's Yi Shen in the Global Times, China sees the Quad as a futile endeavor—with Japan and Australia following their own vested interests. Further, he asserts that China sees India as a weak player.
What does it mean?
Following the recent Sino-Indian confrontation, India has increased its naval presence in the South China Sea and seems willing to join America's 'freedom of navigation' exercises and Japan's 'refueling missions'. However, infrastructure funding for the Blue Dot Network currently seems unfeasible as unlike China's BRI, it merely vets proposals for infrastructure projects to receive loans from the private sector. The economic recession in the four countries following the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates this issue. Further, it is unclear if private firms are willing to relocate outside China under the 'supply chain resilience initiative' despite proposed economic incentives.
Despite perceptions that the Quad might evolve into an Asian version of NATO, there are criticisms on its feasibility—particularly due to the legal challenges article nine of Japan's pacifist constitution poses, in addition to India's formal membership in the Non-Aligned Movement.