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CWA # 447, 31 March 2021

NIAS GP Debate on Quad
Tracing the Quad's evolution in the last two decades

  Sukanya Bali

US President Biden's moves in less than 100-day show an emphasis on a 'multilateral approach' in the Indo-pacific. Similarly, the main priority for China, for now, is to rebuild its lost trust, as China is the largest trading partner of all the QUAD members.

The Quad has gained momentum once again after Joe Biden took becoming President. The Quad members' growing clashes with China have brought together the four countries on a common platform.  The idea of Quad evolved over two decades. 

The evolution in 2004
In 2004, India, Japan, Australia, and the US formed an ad hoc Tsunami Core Group, which aimed for a combined humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities for the members. Post summit, in a joint statement, the group set out principles such as democracy, rule-based order, and the need for a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The group officially came into existence in 2007 when leaders met separately during the ASEAN regional forum in the Philippines. In August, Shinzo Abe, Japan's then prime minister, in his visit to India, emphasized the formation of a grouping of democracies to deal with the challenges posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region. The dialogue among the four democratic nations to form a grouping paralleled with a joint naval exercise, 'Exercise Malabar', which were the early steps toward building a new alliance.

The cooperation among the partners faced backlashes, and QUAD 1.0 fell apart before it took off. Kevin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister, pursued an evident pro-China policy, due to which it withdrew from the grouping. Similarly, India's leftist parties protested against New Delhi's continuing perceived notion against Beijing and its consistent dependence on the west.   

The regrouping in 2017
The distant dream of the Indo-Pacific grouping grew fast-forwardly after stalling for a decade. Since the group resurged in 2017, there have been several working and ministerial-level meetings, discussing the vision of Quad and the threat posed by China's pursuit of territorial expansionism in South Asia, South China Sea, East China Sea, and in its periphery, such as in Ladakh, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The Quad gained momentum as the network of like-minded partners that aims to bring peace to the region. The first ministerial meeting was held in September 2019 to discuss connectivity and reaffirm their commitment toward free and open Indo-pacific.

Now, since 2020
In 2020, the trilateral India-US-Japan, two-day joint Malabar naval exercises included Australia after rejoining the group. Australian prime minister said, "Australia should not have walked out of QUAD, subsequently from the Malabar exercise." India and Australia also signed a pact, allowing each other to use their military bases. The members consolidated their military to build a strategic partnership, aligning their bilateral relationship with each other.

The recent summit drew the spotlight as the members, for the first time, issued a joint statement, "The Spirit of the Quad." The positioning proves conducive for members' geo-strategic requirements. The group agreed on collaborating to test the Resilient Supply Chain initiative, making India a production hub for vaccines and supply up to a billion doses across Asia by the end of 2022. The group adheres to share intelligence, logistics, and skills obtained through military exercises. 

From the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, the conjectural alliance with potential new members such as Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, and France are referred to as Quad Plus. This year, France will also be participating in the naval exercise.

China in the Indo-Pacific
With the ongoing tussle between China and the Quad member, Chinese assertiveness is quite visible in the region. Chinese state media openly condemned Malabar naval exercises. Some top leaders also define Quad as an 'alliance' or 'Asian NATO'. The strengthening of India, Australia, Japan, and the US defence ties hinder China's growing interest. Presently, China is facing a diplomatic war with Australia, a trade war with the US, a border conflict with India, and multiple territorial disputes with Japan.

The region plays an equally strategic role in China's Belt and Road Initiative. The increased investments in ports and infrastructure have reshaped the regional order. Soon after the outbreak of COVID-19, China prioritized ASEAN and African nations (developing nations) to provide vaccines. It has donated doses to Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Brunei, and Indonesia.

Soon after the Quad summit, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said, "We hope the relevant countries will keep in mind, the common interests of the regional countries uphold the principles of openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation and do things that are conducive to regional peace stability and prosperity rather than the opposite." 

In conclusion
The alliance is becoming stronger, as the geopolitical traction from China is turning aggressive in the region. The evolution of the QUAD has shifted it from a diplomatic group in 2007; to one with a maritime ambition in 2020; and now to a comprehensive grouping of opine against the common enemy and address, strengthening of the economy, technology, climate, and security issues. 

US President Biden's moves in less than 100-day show an emphasis on a 'multilateral approach' in the Indo-pacific. Similarly, the main priority for China, for now, is to rebuild its lost trust, as China is the largest trading partner of all the QUAD members.

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