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CWA # 450, 31 March 2021

NIAS GP Debate on Quad
The Quad Plus and the search beyond the four countries

  Akriti Sharma

The combined GDP of the Quad countries is about two times that of China. The countries can promote connectivity and infrastructure in the regions via partnering with other ASEAN countries.

Since 2007, the Quad has gone through ups and downs, with Australia withdrawing and rejoining it. Its revival in 2017 was termed as the Quad 2.0. With the establishment of Quad 2.0, Quad Plus emerged as a group of like-minded countries with a shared vision of ensuring Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). In recent times Quad has built partnerships with the countries of Europe, Southeast Asia, and East Asia to promote its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

Vietnam, South Korea, New Zealand and the Quad
The first Quad Plus initiative took shape during the pandemic when the US Deputy Secretary of State Steve Beigun hosted the meeting of Quad to discuss the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The main highlight of the meeting was three additional countries: Vietnam, South Korea, and New Zealand. All three countries are strategically significant for Quad. Vietnam is a key player in Southeast Asia and a supporter of Quad. South Korea was the only country that successfully managed the COVID-19 spread. New Zealand has been a strong advocate of multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific region. In May 2020, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a high-level meeting with the foreign ministers of Brazil, Israel, and South Korea to discuss the spread of COVID-19.

France and the Naval exercises
In the military sphere, the naval exercises have remained a key feature of Quad. France has announced its La Pérouse naval exercise with the Quad countries in the Bay of Bengal to promote maritime cooperation throughout the Indo-Pacific. French interest in the Indo-Pacific is due to its territories in the region. About 1.6 billion French population resides in the region and there are about 7,000 French troops deployed in the small islands which are its foreign territories.

Looking ahead: The China that bonds
Countries in the region will choose to cooperate with Quad because it offers an alternative strategy to counter Chinese aggression in the region. The countries of the Indo-Pacific are worried about the Chinese infrastructural projects, debt trap, and the policy of expansionism. Quad offers a multilateral platform for the countries to deal with China as none of them are in a position to do that unilaterally. Quad offers a multilateral approach towards Indo-Pacific that would provide space for other countries to achieve the vision of Free and Open Indo-Pacific. 
The first Quad Summit was a significant development in the history of Quad. The summit signals Biden's approach towards the Indo-Pacific region. Being his first multilateral initiative as President, he hinted at a more rigorous approach towards Indo-Pacific. His approach differs from Trump who engaged indirectly calling out China. Biden has taken a soft approach towards China by widening the scope of areas of cooperation from traditional to non-traditional issues. 

The summit discussed issues such as climate change, new technologies, and vaccine development. The widening of areas provides Quad with various opportunities. First, it helps the Quad leaders to change the narrative of Quad as a security alliance. Including non-traditional areas such as climate change, technology, and vaccine development will help Quad to achieve the Indo-Pacific vision in a much more comprehensive way. Second, a shift from traditional to non-traditional also opens possibilities for other countries to build a partnership with Quad without the fear of China. So far, countries have been sceptical about building partnerships with Quad because of fear of China, including Australia, which backed out from Quad, showing a tilt towards China. Issues of non-traditional security broaden the scope for countries to cooperate with Quad without involving themselves in big power rivalry, which is a move towards Quad Plus.

Quad has been reaffirming "strong support for ASEAN's unity and centrality as well as the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific". Building partnership with the ASEAN countries is significant to achieve the objective of Quad Plus. Geographically, Southeast Asia is a mid-point between the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. This increases the significance of the region for Quad. ASEAN has been apprehensive about the formation of Quad as it would decrease its centrality in the region. If Quad wants to achieve its ultimate goal of containing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific, it would be difficult to achieve without cooperating with the Southeast Asian countries. However, how Quad engages with the Southeast countries to build partnerships to contain China's rise in the Indo-Pacific will be something to look out for in the coming years.

ASEAN and the Quad
Countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines are the key strategic players of ASEAN. Cooperation with these countries on shared interest would widen the scope of Quad. One of the areas where ASEAN and Quad can cooperate is economic and global supply chains which China dominates. Remaking of the global supply chains will help in diluting the Chinese influence in the region. Some other areas where Quad can cooperate with other countries are connectivity and infrastructure. The combined GDP of the Quad countries is about two times that of China. The countries can promote connectivity and infrastructure in the regions via partnering with other ASEAN countries.

About the author
Akriti Sharma is currently a PhD scholar, at the Science Diplomacy Programme, School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies. Her area of interest includes Climate Change in the Himalayas and Indian Foreign Policy.

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