Script: Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University
A Quadrilateral Security Forum (QUAD) consisting of India, Australia, Japan and the United States is fast emerging to maintain maritime security, peace, stability, and to work towards the prosperity of all nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
As of now, QUAD is not a treaty or agreement. It is not a formal forum and it does not have any secretariat for keeping official records and organising meetings at various levels of the member countries. It is just an informal forum for holding dialogues, exchanging views and understanding the developments in the Indo-Pacific region.
However, the concept of the Indo-Pacific region itself is a relatively new concept. This concept was not acceptable to many countries, as it stood apart from the traditional use of the concept of Asia-Pacific as a region for reference. Now Asia-Pacific region is fast fading into memory and Indo-Pacific has taken its place. In view of the growing importance of the Indian Ocean and its close connection with the political, economic and strategic developments in the Pacific region, it makes sense to see issues and developments in the larger Indo-Pacific region that stretches from the western coast of the United States to eastern shores of Africa.
The United States has a clear-cut strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. The Indian government has a clear vision of the Indo-Pacific known as SAGAR or Security and Growth for All in the Region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an “Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative” that aims at free, open and inclusive growth in the region.
QUAD is one among several bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral and multilateral forums that have sprung up in the region in order to deal with the emerging economic, security and political developments in the Indo-pacific region.
On the 18th of February 2021, foreign ministers of the QUAD members held an important online meeting for about ninety minutes and exchanged views on a host of issues afflicting the Indo-Pacific region, such as maritime security, cybersecurity, COVID19 pandemic, humanitarian relief and disaster management, climate change, supply chain disruptions.
All of them underlined the importance of rule of law, respect for maintaining territorial integrity and vowed to maintain an open, free and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Two major issues that came for discussion were the rising aggressive and assertive behaviour of China in the region and a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in Myanmar.
This meeting of QUAD foreign ministers was the third since September 2019 and the first since the new Joe Biden Administration came to power in the United States. Many doubts have been raised in the past about the resilience, goals and motivations of QUAD in the past. However, this meeting removes all doubts about the resilience of QUAD and also underlines the necessity of having such a forum in the Indo-Pacific region.
The notion of a peaceful rise of China has become a thing of the past. The muscular and “wolf-warrior” diplomacy of China combined with its aggressive territorial expansion in the South China Sea and naval movements in the East China Sea and, of course, large military deployment along the Sino-Indian border has threatened to alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region. Secondly, the COVID19 pandemic and economic disruptions it has caused require immediate attention and corrective measures for a sound political economy in the region.
QUAD is a forum of four influential and powerful democracies of the Indo-Pacific and its relevance cannot be questioned. China has not hidden its strong opposition to QUAD and has dubbed it as an anti-China forum. But this allegation is factually wrong for the simple reason that views and opinions discussed and exchanged by the member countries are too large. China is only one among several issues that dominated the agenda of the meeting.
Secondly, no other country has been so aggressive to alter the balance of power in the region than China; and thus it is quite natural that important democracies of the region need to address this issue. That does not mean that QUAD members are against Chinese growth and development or prosperity. There is no agenda to contain China. But reigning in Chinese aggression is necessary for the peace and prosperity of the whole region.
If QUAD expands in future and China becomes a responsible stakeholder, there will be no need for Beijing to worry or oppose.