The Quad (US, Japan, India, Australia Security Dialogue) : Updates and Discussions


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
Push India towards the Quad to deter China
Whilst the world is reeling from the devastation of a virus the Communist Party recklessly unleashed, Beijing is seizing the moment. As the spread of COVID-19 subsides in China, Beijing has stepped up intimidatory actions in the Taiwan Straits and the East and South China Seas, is planning to impose national security laws on Hong Kong which would contravene the One Country Two Systems principle, and continues its economic coercion of Australia for calling for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. When the world recovers from the effects of the COVID pandemic, these Chinese actions will not be forgotten.

Australia might not be a great power, but it is at the forefront of regional efforts to counter the worst aspects of Chinese actions. The key is to encourage and support as many capable states in our region to act to defend their interests against China, just as it is China’s primary strategy to neutralise the possibility of collective action against it. In this context, the Quad – consisting of Australia, India, Japan and the United States – has been raised as an important mechanism. Former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese, for example, argues that the collective power of the four countries can serve as a bulwark against Chinese dominance.

Are these hopes justified or misplaced? The key is India which so far is the laggard despite New Delhi having a strong interest in preventing Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific. For the Quad to fulfil the hopes placed upon it, we need ways to activate India by understanding its strategic limitations and working within them.

India is the outlier among the four because of its greater vulnerability to Chinese retaliation and lesser capacity to absorb any punishment. It has long-standing and substantial territorial disputes with China and India’s capabilities and resolve to defend its claims are periodically tested through Chinese military incursions along an un-demarcated 3,488 km “Line of Actual Control” between the two countries. The last crisis occurred in 2017 in the Doklam Plateau which involved a serious military standoff.

Other points of vulnerability for India include China’s military and diplomatic support for Pakistan, and the possibility that Beijing could encourage Islamabad to challenge the Line of Control in Jammu Kashmir directly or through proxies. India’s risk/cost calculation must also be understood within the context that it is still a developing country with a military budget almost four times smaller than China’s. Unlike the other Quad members, India also has a deep aversion to concluding formal alliances with any state.

Things are changing. Under Narendra Modi, India has more appetite for standing up for its national interests as demonstrated by its firm response to China’s attempts to change the territorial status quo in the Doklam Plateau. Further, India’s perception that China is deliberately shrinking its strategic space has been magnified by the extension of the PLAN’s power projection capabilities into the Indian ocean, and the expansion of Beijing’s capacity to extend its political influence over India’s neighbours: Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri-Lanka. In this context, China’s underwriting of infrastructure investment through its Belt and Road Initiative and luring these smaller countries into a ‘debt trap’ is of high concern.

The Quad can be meaningful if we push in areas that bear Indian limitations and interests in mind. Australia should be included as an official observer of the next annual Malabar naval exercises between India, Japan, and the US, with non-permanent participation as the next step. To offer India some breathing space, naval exercises should occur in the Indian Ocean, rather than the South China Sea, with a focus on the provision of public goods (disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, anti-piracy and search and rescue) in the first instance, with the implication that the agenda could expand to include amphibious warfare and anti-submarine warfare depending on Chinese behaviour.

Enhancing maritime domain awareness, the sharing of logistics for power projection and greater access to, and joint development of defence technology among the four are other obvious areas of priority. The Quad could also create an Indo-Pacific critical infrastructure fund – based on best practice governance standards - as a viable alternative to China’s BRI for small states that are vulnerable to debt-trap diplomacy as a result of their geostrategic value to China. To keep India committed, that fund should include economies around the Bay of Bengal in India’s backyard.

These would be incremental measures where Quad members acquire the ability to accelerate and deepen collective action should the need to deter attempts by China to change the status quo increase. Meanwhile, Quad members would be developing the necessary institutional framework and personal relationships to do just that.

General Secretary Xi Jinping is nothing if not a true Leninist. He is a devotee of the well-known Leninist precept: probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed; if you encounter steel, withdraw. In strategic terms, the absence of a collective and countervailing force will only embolden Beijing while the presence of genuine resistance will cause China to recalculate.

One should note that Beijing frequently denigrates the Quad because it respects and fears what it might become. This was the case before the pandemic and more so in a post-COVID-19 world. The Quad is an idea whose time has arrived.
Note: Read Dr Lee's full Lowy Institute Analysis on the Australia-India-Japan-US Security Quadrilateral Dialogue here.
Assessing the Quad: Prospects and limitations of quadrilateral cooperation for advancing Australia’s interests


Team StratFront
Feb 16, 2019
Tripura, NE, India
India and Australia ink landmark defence pact after Modi-Morrison online summit

Jun 4, 2020, 14:14 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with PM of Australia Scott Morrison at the first India-Australia Virtual Summit | PIB

India and Australia on Thursday inked a landmark agreement for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support besides firming up six more pacts to further broadbase ties after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison held an online summit.

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) will allow militaries of the two countries to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies besides facilitating scaling up of overall defence cooperation. India has already signed similar agreements with the US, France and Singapore.

The other pacts will provide for bilateral cooperation in areas of cyber and cyber-enabled critical technology, mining and minerals, military technology, vocational education and water resources management.
In the talks, the two sides also deliberated on a host of key issues including dealing with growing threat of terrorism, maritime security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, reform in the World Trade Organisation and ways to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

According to a joint statement issued after the Modi-Morrison talks, both sides discussed the issue of taxation of offshore income of Indian firms through the use of the India-Australia Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) and sought early resolution of the issue. It said both sides also decided to re-engage on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) while suitably considering earlier bilateral discussions where a mutually agreed way forward can be found.

The two countries recognised that terrorism remains a threat to peace and stability in the region and strongly condemned the menace in all its forms and manifestations, stressing that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. The joint statement said both sides support a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, including by countering violent extremism, preventing radicalisation, disrupting financial support to terrorists and facilitating prosecution of those involved in acts of terror.

The two sides also called for early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). In his opening remarks, Modi also pitched for a coordinated and collaborative approach to come out of the adverse economic and social impact of the epidemic that has infected around 65 lakh people and killed 3.88 lakh globally.

He said a process of comprehensive reforms covering almost all areas has been initiated in India as his government viewed the coronavirus crisis as an "opportunity". Referring to the virtual summit, the prime minister termed it "a new model of India-Australia partnership, a new model of conducting business". It was the first time that Modi held a "bilateral" virtual summit with a foreign leader.

The prime minister described his talks with Morrison as "an outstanding discussion", covering the entire expanse of ties between the two strategic partners. "Our government has decided to view this crisis as an opportunity. In India, a process of comprehensive reforms has been initiated in almost all areas. It will soon see results at the ground level," the prime minister said.

Modi also conveyed his appreciation to Morrison for taking care of the Indian community in Australia, especially the students during the "difficult time". In his remarks, Morrison complemented Modi for his "constructive and very positive" role including at the G-20 role in pushing for a concerted global approach in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

Modi said he believed that it is the "perfect time and perfect opportunity" to further strengthen the relationship between India and Australia. "We have immense possibilities to make our friendship stronger," Modi said, adding: "How our relations become a 'factor of stability' for our region and for the world, how we work together for global good, all these aspects need to be considered."

The prime minister said India was committed to expand its relations with Australia on a wider and faster pace, noting that it is important not only for the two countries, but also for the Indo-Pacific region and the world. "The role of our comprehensive strategic partnership will be more important in this period of global epidemic. The world needs a coordinated and collaborative approach to get out of the economic and social side effects of this epidemic," he said.

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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
India and the ‘Quad Plus’ Dialogue
The ‘Quad Plus’ dialogue serves India’s broader strategic interests. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also referred to as the Quad, is a strategic consultation framework between the US, Australia, Japan and India which has experienced an expansion during the current coronavirus pandemic, with the involvement of New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam.

This conjectural alliance, which predictably ended up being referred to as the ‘Quad Plus’ in international strategic circles, confirms a process of strategic alignments in the Indo-Pacific, but without conforming completely to the ‘alliance framework’ that the US would like to promote in the region. But how does India perceive this ‘Quad Plus’ alignment?

Fundamentally speaking, as a key member of the Quad, New Delhi would welcome the further maturation of the idea of ‘Quad Plus’. The regular weekly meeting of foreign officials convened on 20 March, initiated by US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, was ostensibly aimed at coordinating policy responses to coronavirus but also marked the beginning of the ‘Quad Plus’ narrative. However, a higher-level meeting convened by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 11 May signified a grander strategic intent if only because it included, alongside the Quad nations and the Quad Plus additions, Brazil and Israel, signifying the sheer breath of the framework’s aims.

A Grander Strategic Intent
India’s support for the Quad Plus narrative is obvious. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar tweeted that a ‘broad-based virtual meeting’ to overcome the challenges emanating from the coronavirus pandemic reiterates India’s open approach. Further, the official statement titled ‘Cooperation among select countries of the Indo-Pacific in fighting Covid-19 pandemic’ released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on 14 May following the regular foreign officials’ meeting, reflects India’s intent to back such a proposition officially.

More profoundly, the endorsement of a ‘Quad Plus’ process indicates India’s growing embrace of an American worldview that aims to defend and strengthen a liberal international order while focusing on building an Indo-Pacific narrative that has been threatened by the rise of a ‘revisionist’ China. For a long time, New Delhi has drawn its relationship with China on a ‘power-partner’ contention. Thus, by pursuing a case-by-case approach in dealing with China over the last 15 years, India has sought to strengthen the multilateral mode of association with Beijing, in the hope of revitalising and reforming the Bretton Woods institutions to secure a more representative and result-oriented participation for emerging economies. And this continued to take place despite the growing tensions with China over boundary disputes and other geopolitical complexities such as a contested Indo-Pacific region. India’s multilateral partnerships with China in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank under the BRICS framework as well as involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, are examples of such Indian bilateral and multilateral overtures.

Acknowledging the ‘Quad Plus’ process does not necessarily mean that India will depart from these multilateral engagements with China. However, the commitment to nurture multilateral relations with China to ensure a future for emerging powers is fast receding in New Delhi. Beijing’s continued assertive behaviour on the India–China border, the promotion of friction between India and its neighbours such as Bhutan and Nepal, its incrementally-expanding maritime claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea and its aggressive approach towards Taiwan and Hong Kong: all these developments are further encouraging New Delhi to revisit its current approach towards Beijing. Trump’s recent invitation to India, along with Australia and South Korea to attend the G7 club of industrialised democracies reflects the emerging Indo-Pacific narrative in which a ‘Quad Plus’ arrangement fits well.

New Delhi’s Calculated Overtures
The strategic importance of India is continuously rising for the West. The US has acknowledged India as a ‘major defence partner’ and strengthened their defence partnership through the signing of multiple defence agreements including LEMOA, COMCASA, STA1 and the Industrial Security Annex, as well as conducting the TIGER TRIUMPH exercise and 2+2 dialogue. India’s recently concluded agreement with Australia on ‘Mutual Logistics Support’ allows them to strengthen their defence partnership while upgrading the ‘Comprehending Strategic Partnership’ and is indicative of India’s rising importance in Australia’s strategic thinking.

New Delhi has signed similar agreements with France, South Korea and the US. It has also been reported that India is planning on signing a military logistics agreement with Japan (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement), thereby covering all Quad Plus countries. The UK is proposing to expedite the process of the D10 (Democratic Ten) structure, which includes India, in order to extend the G7 networks to promote an alternative pool of 5G equipment and technologies which shows how India is becoming a major partner for industrialised democracies.

A ‘Quad Plus’ proposition compliments New Delhi’s ‘inclusive’ Indo-Pacific construct. India’s Indo-Pacific vision has been poised between the ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific outlook that the US and its allies would like to promote and India’s ‘inclusive’ notion of not being confined to particular maritime boundaries. New Delhi would like to enhance a ‘free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific’ with the cooperation of the Quad partners acknowledging the centrality of ASEAN, and an inter-continental attachment between maritime Asia and Africa. Such an inclusive proposition is primarily drawn on a juxtaposition of idealist and realist notions of strategic thinking.

The idealist notion would imply India’s non-disengagement from China in a realpolitik world. The realist notion implies autonomous navigation, freedom of maritime movement in the Indian Ocean region and India’s emergence as a maritime power by keeping its commercial and strategic interest alive from the west coast of Africa to the South China Sea. This draws a strategic consonance with Japan in the Indo-Pacific, particularly through the envisioned ‘Platform for Japan–India Business Cooperation in Asia-Africa Region’ that both sides aim to promote, in the hopes forming a ‘continental connect’ with Africa and Asia.

The ‘China Connect’
The coronavirus pandemic has disturbed patterns of globalisation. Yet, globalisation is deeply embedded in the emergent global order and it would be difficult for India to completely withdraw from its relationship with China. However, New Delhi realises that a commitment to a ‘Quad Plus’ narrative will not go unchallenged by China, bilaterally or multilaterally. China’s relations with the Quad countries and ‘Quad Plus’ participating countries will continue to exist.

Besides, the ‘Quad Plus’ idea is still young, existing mostly in media parlance, and lacking an institutional framework. Most of the participating countries in the ‘Quad Plus’ framework such as Brazil, South Korea and Vietnam would also be cautious in engaging in an anti-China narrative, as each of them share strong economic ties with Beijing. Still, such an idea serves India’s strategic interest in gaining power multilaterally, by strengthening its relations with countries that are critical to the emerging order.

India is poised to take advantage of the distribution of powers, extending beyond the Quad Plus countries. Such a process allows India to engage deeper in strategic, military and economic influence with countries that are critical to India’s growing fortune in the Indo-Pacific. In other words, Quad Plus supplements a ‘Corridor of Communication’ for India beyond the Quad countries, mainly with Brazil, Israel, Vietnam and South Korea, and allows it to expedite a ‘Continental Connect’ notion that its inclusive Indo-Pacific outlook has been pitching for some time now.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
US: NDA act seeks fighter jet training detachment for India, Japan, Australia in Guam
With an eye on the aggressive Chinese behaviour, the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal 2021 has sought fighter jet training detachment for India, Japan and Australia in the US Pacific territory of Guam.

The move comes six months after the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen signed a memorandum of understanding for Singapore to set up a fighter jet training detachment in Guam.

The text of NDAA 2021, for the fiscal year beginning October 1, was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.

The act directs the Secretary of Defense submit to the congressional defense committees a report assessing the merit and feasibility of entering into agreements similar to that of Singapore with other US allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, to include Japan, Australia, and India.

The US-Singapore memorandum is meant for approximately a squadron’s worth of Republic of Singapore Air Force fighter jets and associated personnel. The Singapore training presence is expected to begin around 2029.

Among other things, the bill establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which will focus resources on the Indo-Pacific – addressing key military capability gaps, reassuring US allies and partners, and bolstering the credibility of the United States, said Senator Jim Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Describing Indo-Pacific as the “priority theatre,” an NDAA report said the bill establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to enhance budgetary transparency and oversight, focus resources on capability gaps, reassure allies and partners, and restore the credibility of American deterrence in the region.

The bill proposes procurement of 48 Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs), which it said will be especially useful in the Indo-Pacific, which the Department of Defense has named its priority theatre.

The LRASM provides a near-term capability enhancement that will allow the carrier air wing to contribute to blunting a Chinese offensive earlier in conflict, thereby directly advancing the objectives and priorities laid out in the National Defense Strategy.

NDAA also seeks acceleration in the American effort to establish an F-35A operating locations forward in the Indo-pacific region.

To date, the Air Force has announced the selection of nine operating locations for the F-35A, including locations in the US, Alaska, and Europe.

It has yet to announce plans for any F-35A operating locations forward in the Indo-Pacific region.
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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
Japan deepens intelligence sharing with India, Australia and UK
TOKYO -- Japan seeks to expand cooperation in sharing defense intelligence with partners such as India, Australia and the U.K., broadening the scope of its state secrets law to include exchanges with countries beyond the U.S.

The expansion came in last month's revision of standards for the legislation, which already covers Washington, Tokyo's closest ally. The law -- enacted in 2014 amid controversy -- sets penalties of up to 10 years in prison for leaking secrets deemed to risk "causing severe damage to Japan's national security," covering areas such as defense, diplomacy and counterterrorism.

Classifying information from a foreign military as a state secret will facilitate joint exercises and tie-ups for developing equipment. It also becomes easier to share data on Chinese troop movements, an increasingly crucial issue as it has grown harder for Tokyo to track Beijing's activities in the region on its own.

Chinese Coast Guard vessels sailed through waters in the East China Sea around the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China as the Diaoyu, for a record 80th consecutive day on Thursday. Beijing has tightened its effective control over the South China Sea, a critical sea lane, as well.

The law change is geared toward the U.K., Australia, India and France, with which Japan has signed agreements that obligate both sides to keep classified defense information secret. Reducing the risk of leaks should encourage these countries to share confidential data.

The revision also serves to promote broader cooperation under security legislation that took effect in 2016, letting Tokyo exercise the right to collective self-defense and supply fuel and ammunition to other militaries in situations that pose a threat to Japan. Carrying out such tasks requires information on the size, capacity and operating areas of these forces, which can include highly secret data.

Japanese and Australian combat aircraft conduct a joint exercise in Japan last fall for the first time. (Photo courtesy of Australia's Department of Defence)
The move reflects the trend of Tokyo branching out in defense partnerships during recent years. Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military conducted joint drills involving fighter jets in Japan for the first time last fall, and the Maritime Self-Defense Force has participated in the U.S.-India Malabar naval exercise every year since 2015.

The tie-ups also include joint development of defense equipment, which often requires sharing powerful and classified technology. Japan and the U.K. have created a prototype air-to-air missile, and Tokyo is teaming with Paris on technology to detect underwater mines using unmanned craft.

Japan plans to involve the U.K. in development of its successor to the F-2 fighter jet, slated for deployment in the mid-2030s. Though Tokyo picked Washington over London as its main partner, Japan looks to share stealth technology with the U.K., which is working on its own next-generation fighter.
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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
India must formally revive Quad, seek its expansion
The recent re-emergence of terms like “Malabar” and “Quad” in the media, as well as in the national security discourse should be music to the ears of India’s small but diehard band of “navalists” (advocates of maritime power), who had not long ago heard disheartening public pronouncements that since the Indian armed forces were not “expeditionary forces” — for global deployment — they must confine themselves to “guard and fight” only along national borders.

It is essential for India’s strategic-planners and policy-makers to retain clarity about the reason India has become a partner that is sought after by the US and others. While India’s status as a nuclear-weapon state and major land/air power, as well as a growing economy and attractive market, has been known for some time, New Delhi’s newfound allure for the US, the Quad and ASEAN is rooted only in its ability to project power and influence in distant ocean reaches.

In the current scenario, given Chinese intransigence and our misreading of their imperialist-expansionist intent, Sino-Indian tensions are likely to persist. If India is not to cede ground physically or diplomatically, it must muster all elements of its “comprehensive national power”, including the maritime, and create a strong negotiating position. Apart from the balance of forces on land favouring China, there is also the Beijing-Islamabad Axis that awaits activation. Keeping tensions confined to the Himalayan arena is, therefore, not only militarily advantageous to China but a continental focus also helps to keep India contained in a “South-Asia box”.

To the navalists, this seems all the more reason for India to try shifting the confrontation to “sea-level”, where the asymmetry is in its favour. In this context, if Exercise Malabar and the Quadrilateral concept are at long last going to be leveraged to make common cause in the maritime domain, the provenance of both needs to be seen in perspective.

When America first reached out to India in the early 1990s to offer military-to-military cooperation, the Indian Navy (IN), keen to shed its Cold War insularity, responded eagerly. It initiated the first-ever naval-drills with the US Navy (USN) in May 1992. Code-named Malabar, the annual exercise got off to a good start and with a brief interruption during the post-Shakti sanctions saw its 24th edition in 2019.

China has remained bitterly opposed to Malabar because it saw the growing relationship as India’s first step on the American bandwagon. Consequently, when Malabar-2007 was enlarged to accommodate Australia, Singapore and Japan, China sent a diplomatic protest conveying its fear and displeasure. It took another eight years before Japan was formally admitted to make Malabar a tri-lateral event in 2015.

The Quadrilateral traces its origins to the great Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004. IN ships, aircraft and helicopters were dispatched within hours to render assistance to our Sri Lankan, Maldivian and Indonesian neighbors in distress. This swift response established our navy’s credentials as a credible regional force and the following day the Commander US Pacific Fleet sought our concurrence, telephonically, for his units to join the rescue effort. Within a week, the navies of the US, Australia Japan and India had come together to form “Joint Task Force-536” headquartered in Utapao (Thailand). This established the framework for “quadrilateral coordination”.

It is noteworthy that not a single PLA Navy (PLAN) ship was seen throughout the 2004 tsunami relief operations. But, as mentioned earlier, when navies of five nations assembled for a joint exercise off Okinawa, China issued a demarche to India, US, Japan and Australia seeking details about their meeting — terming it a “Quadrilateral initiative”. China’s extreme concern about the concepts of Malabar as well as the Indo-Pacific and Quad arises from the suspicion that they are precursors to “containment” — the Cold War geopolitical strategy used by the US to isolate and engineer the collapse of the USSR.

China’s hostility arouses trepidation amongst Quad members and a degree of equivocation is evident in their actions and articulations. As early as 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd decided to dump the Quad to pander to China’s wishes. PM Narendra Modi, in his speech at the Shangri La Dialogue 2018, sought to reassure Beijing by stating: “India does not see the Indo-Pacific as a strategy… and by no means do we consider it as directed against any country…”

The time for ambivalence is over and while India will have to fight its own territorial battles with determination, this is the moment to seek external balancing. A formal revival and re-invigoration of the Quad is called for. It is also time to seek an enlargement of this grouping into a partnership of the like-minded. Other nations feeling the brunt of Chinese brawn may be willing to join an “Indo-Pacific concord” to maintain peace and tranquillity and to ensure observance of the UN Law of the Seas. News of Australia being re-invited to participate in the Quad deserves a conditional welcome, given Canberra’s past inconsistency and political flip-flops.

While Malabar remains a visible and reassuring symbol of Indo-US-Japanese solidarity, there is a need for the US to recast, along with partners, its Indo-Pacific strategy, which has had no impact on China’s unfolding hegemonic master-plan. In this context, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s bombastic statement earlier this month regarding China’s maritime claims — far from conveying reassurance — served only to highlight America’s helplessness in the South China Sea. Having failed to deter China from creating and fortifying artificial islands in open defiance of the UN Tribunal’s verdict, all that the US has been able to demonstrate is the hollow symbolism of US warships conducting “freedom of navigation” sailings through Chinese-claimed waters.

The US must also note that as the Chinese juggernaut continues to roll westwards, should Iran abandon India for China as a partner in the Chabahar port deal, it would represent yet another huge gain for China. The PLAN may now have not just Djibouti but also Gwadar and Chabahar as maritime footholds in India’s Arabian Sea neighbourhood.
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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
A Strategic Framework to Improve Coronavirus Response in Africa
The response to the global pandemic by African countries and their external partners has been hampered by a lack of coordination. As of late July, Africa has almost one million COVID-19 cases, accelerating rapidly after a slow start earlier in the year. The region is entering a recession for the first time in 25 years, and the pandemic has worsened conditions for some 670 million people who are already food insecure. African leaders have bristled at the inadequate support from the international community, denouncing the “selfishness on the part of industrialized nations” and arguing that its “external friends, if they are friends at all, should cancel all the multilateral and bilateral loans.”

Luckily, there is already a model available for how to improve coordination. The Quad dialogue—composed of the United States, India, Japan and Australia—is a geostrategic concept that has captivated significant attention in the Indo-Pacific region for over the past decade, and has recently been expanded to respond to the pandemic. The United States should consider exporting the framework to Africa as the continent, along with the rest of the world, grapples with COVID-19.

In the Indo-Pacific, the Quad has its origins in disaster response. In 2004, an earthquake struck the Indian Ocean and the resulting tsunami killed more than 200,000 people. Shortly afterwards, diplomats from the United States, India, Japan and Australia began to coordinate on the provision of disaster relief via military operations in the region. While this Tsunami Core Group was born out of crisis response to a non-traditional security threat and disbanded in 2005, the Quadrilateral Dialogue—or Quad—that emerged out of this disaster resembled a more traditional security formation.
By 2006, leaders from the four countries realized the power of building on their shared commitment to democratic values as well as the experience of coordinated military operations. This group saw its military apex during the September 2007 Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, which included aircraft carriers from both the United States and India. China, however, sent demarches that year, criticizing this grouping as targeting Beijing.

The Quad grouping fell apart in 2008 due to a combination of domestic-level factors and insufficient strategic-level commitment. But discussions between the four countries were revived a decade later. With a focus on the reemergence of great power competition, U.S. leaders resumed Quad discussions in 2017 and upgraded them to the Secretary-of-State level in 2019. Building on this new set of Quad consultations, the United States began an effort in March 2020 to coordinate on the response to the coronavirus pandemic with its Indo-Pacific allies and partners. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun convened a recurring meeting that has been unofficially termed a “Quad-Plus video-conference,” to discuss issues of cooperation such as “vaccine development, challenges of stranded citizens, assistance to countries in need and mitigating the impact on the global economy.”

Some observers have called this a “Quad Plus” framework because the participants extend beyond the U.S., India, Japan and Australia: South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam have also participated. Most recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with counterparts from the four Quad countries, South Korea and the newest additions of Brazil and Israel in May 2020.

To be sure, there is some doubt about the effectiveness and staying power of this new grouping, considering pressing priorities other than Covid-19. Nonetheless, it represents a multilateral approach to the pandemic when the World Health Organization (WHO) has been sidelined and collective action is in short supply.

In contrast to the Indo-Pacific, there has been minimal coordination between African countries and external partners to manage the response to the global pandemic. The United States and China have received the most attention for their financial and medical support, but they are hardly alone. In addition to the United States and China, at least 20 countries, the European Union and private sector firms and foundations have provided assistance to African countries and the African Union. There is seemingly no rhyme or reason to these contributions; India delivered hydroxychloroquine to 25 countries, while Monaco issued personal protective equipment and groceries to Mali’s civil defense corps. The United States talks generically about its considerable financial support for “health assistance,” while the United Arab Emirates measures its medical assistance in metric tons.

This mishmash of contributions, however well-intentioned, is ineffective, leading to waste and mismanagement. It is hard to believe these aid packages are targeted and needs-based, especially when there is so little visibility across third-party contributions. At a time when the world’s largest government donors are buckling under the strain, it is unconscionable that there is no existing mechanism to coordinate international donor responses to the pandemic in Africa.

With this in mind, the utility of a Quad Plus model is evident. The continent’s 54 countries, as well as Western Sahara, are already leaning forward to coordinate a regional response to this health and economic crisis. The African Union (AU) has instituted a pooled procurement process for medical supplies and established a network of warehouses and distribution hubs to more effectively combat the virus’s spread. AU Chair (and South African President) Cyril Ramaphosa has assembled an all-star team to press the G20, the European Union and other international financial institutions to deliver “concrete support,” including a stimulus package, to assist the region’s fragile economies.

What is missing is coordination between Africans and their external partners, and it has not escaped the notice of many African leaders; in May, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed insisted that life-and-death supplies, including PPE, testing kits and ventilators, be fairly distributed, “not hoarded by the rich and few.” A month later, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta called for greater international cooperation in the face of coronavirus, stressing that “we need each other today more than we ever did.”

The main obstacle to replicating the Quad Plus model has been a lack of external leadership to partner with the AU and African governments. No country or institution, besides China and the WHO, has raised its hand to drive this process, convene key stakeholders and develop a framework for coordination. Africa’s leading partners, including existing Quad members India, Japan and the United States, could team up with the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and the international finance institutions, among others, to detail their past and future contributions to fight the pandemic. They could identify existing gaps and collaborate with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize specific countries and sectors in dire need of assistance. This grouping, similar to the Quad-Plus video-conference, could convene regularly to update and adjust its response to meet evolving challenges.

The United States could and should play this role, as it has in past crises: In 2014-15, for example, the U.S. notably led the multilateral response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. But Africa’s low prioritization under the Trump administration and the absence of a preexisting organizing concept, such as the Quad, has contributed to disappointing and often counterproductive U.S. leadership. President Trump attacked the WHO director-general (and former Ethiopian minister) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chided South Africa for accepting Cuban medical support; and the U.S. Treasury has opposed special drawing rights allocations issued by the International Monetary Fund to countries seeking emergency assistance in responding to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

The United States, however, has plenty of experience with multilateral initiatives in the region. The United States, for example, is working with Gabon to co-chair the Friends of Gulf of Guinea, which includes 25 African, European and Asian countries, to promote commerce and freedom of navigation; strengthen marine ecosystems; and enhance maritime governance in the Gulf of Guinea region. And the response to Ebola also offers a precedent.

The Quad Plus Framework in the Indo-Pacific may be imperfect, but it offers a potential pathway to extend this multilateralist approach to U.S. foreign policy in Africa. And nowhere are the human and economic costs of a unilateral approach to the pandemic more severe than in Africa.

African governments do not have the financial resources to weather this storm, and its healthcare systems, including some 10,000 doctors and nurses already inflicted with the virus, are ill-equipped to respond to long-term challenges posed by COVID-19. Without greater coordination, there is a risk of a mismanaged international response to this historic crisis. It could hinder the region’s ability to equitably distribute life-saving medical assistance and efficiently deliver a lifeline to economies ravaged by the pandemic.

Moreover, this lack of coordination leaves the field entirely to China, which has already hosted a China-Africa summit on the pandemic and benefits reputationally from the Jack Ma Foundation’s headline-grabbing shipments of medical equipment. The United States, which is neck-and-neck with China in terms of popularity in Africa, may struggle to persuade African countries to support U.S. positions against China in the U.N. and other global forums if the United States underperforms compared to China during Africa’s time of need.

The Quad Plus effort in the Indo-Pacific will be closely studied for how it handles the coronavirus crisis. Perhaps it may seem premature to recommend a Quad Plus model in Africa when that model remains untested in the Indo-Pacific. The consequences of inaction, however, are graver.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
The Quad Is Poised to Become Openly Anti-China Soon
One of the most heavily scrutinized aspects of the Donald Trump administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy is the role played by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” comprised of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. Since the Quad's resurrection from a decade-long hiatus in November 2017, the group has met five times and has emphasized maintaining the liberal rules-based international order, which China seeks to undermine or overturn. As I have previously argued, the Quad signals unified resolve among these four nations to counter China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

What has been striking about the Quad thus far, however, is that it has resisted openly identifying China as the primary target it seeks to rein in. Indeed, Quad press releases from the respective foreign affairs establishments of each country have never once raised the word “China,” nor did the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, in mentioning the Quad, directly link (PDF) Quad consultations to addressing China.

This is not a trivial issue as the first iteration of the Quad, in 2007, fell apart largely because Australia and to some extent India got cold feet over how much to push China without impacting other dimensions of their bilateral relationships with Beijing (Japanese and Australian electoral politics and America's reorientation toward trilateral engagement with Japan and Australia contributed as well). Thus, if the Quad is to be sustained this time around, it will likely have to come to grips with a forward-leaning approach to opposing Chinese activities throughout the region. Just one defection to a softer line on China could easily spell doom for the Quad all over again.

What has been striking about the Quad thus far is that it has resisted openly identifying China as the primary target it seeks to rein in.

At least for now, this go-around appears to be different. For the first time in the Quad's history, the stars are aligning for a harder line on China, and the implications going forward could be significant.

Beginning with Australia, perceptions of China have progressively dimmed in recent years. A variety of tensions arising from Beijing's South China Sea and Taiwan policies, promotion of Huawei in Australia, growing influence in Australian politics and academia, harsh treatment of Hong Kong protests, and threats of economic retaliation amid Australian calls to hold China accountable for the coronavirus have all soured the mood among leaders in Canberra. So much so that Australia on July 1 released a defense strategic update and force structure plan that, while reiterating from the 2016 paper the paramount impact of U.S.-China great-power competition on Australian national security, further assessed that “since 2016, major powers have become more assertive in advancing their strategic preferences and seeking to exert influence, including China's active pursuit of greater influence in the Indo-Pacific.”

According to one Australian commentary, Canberra's decision to publish such a pointed defense update represented “a pivotal moment in modern Australian military history” as it was a stark departure from “the evasions, platitudes, and niceties of normal diplomatic discourse.” Whether this is hyperbole or not, it is certainly notable that Australia appears more prepared than ever to rock the boat with China in spite of the economic retaliation that is sure to follow—traditionally of deep concern to Canberra.

Since arguing in July 2018 that India was the “weakest link in the Quad,” I and other observers have seen an incremental reversal in New Delhi's approach to the group. Starting in May 2019, India appointed former foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to the position of minister of external affairs. Jaishankar is a supporter (PDF) of the Quad, and he was able to persuade Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2019 to accede to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's request that all four Quad country leaders sit together (PDF) across from Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20—a symbolic, albeit implicit, show of Indian support for the Quad that previously would have been unthinkable.

In recent months, India's relationship with China has also deteriorated markedly, particularly along their disputed land border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in the Himalayas. Although the two sides on July 5 agreed to end their military standoff, the damage appears to have already been done. Even the most ardent supporters of maintaining balanced China ties are hardening their positions, which makes it increasingly likely New Delhi will turn to the Quad to counter China. Indeed, the months-long military standoff in 2017 between India and China at Doklam, a tri-border junction including Bhutan, may have been the tipping point for New Delhi to return to the Quad later that year.

Japanese support of the Quad has never been in doubt, namely because it was Abe's idea in 2006 to convene like-minded democratic partners in a quadrilateral format to counter China. Nevertheless, while Australia and India become more comfortable in the arrangement, Tokyo is wasting no time to improve its ability to be a better partner within the Quad framework. For example, late last month, Japan revised its intelligence-sharing legislation to allow for sharing with Australia and India (and the UK as well). Japan already regularly shares intelligence with its U.S. ally. In addition, and also last month, Tokyo officially established a new division within its Ministry of Defense to enhance coordination with New Delhi and Canberra on ASEAN and Pacific Island issues. And on July 14, Tokyo released (PDF) its annual defense white paper in which it stated that “China has relentlessly continued unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion in the sea area around the Senkaku Islands, leading to a grave matter of concern.”

Finally, the United States under the Trump administration has embraced the Quad as a mechanism to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region in the face of rising Chinese assertiveness. Of the four countries, the United States may be the most anti-Chinese as bilateral relations rapidly spiral over a range of challenges, including coronavirus fallout, Taiwan, the South China Sea, trade, human rights in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, intellectual property theft, press freedoms, and others. Indeed, Washington is the only country to directly label China an “adversary” in its National Security Strategy (PDF), National Defense Strategy (PDF), and Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (PDF). However, to date, the United States has resisted the urge to convert the Quad into an anti-China grouping, probably at the behest of other, more hesitant participants. This looks like it is set to change because the others want change.

There are also signs that the Quad may be on the verge of taking actions that would strengthen their position as a security group. For example, the United States is contemplating a decision to invite the air forces of Australia, India, and Japan to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to conduct training and elevate interoperability between Quad air forces. India is also likely to extend an invitation to Australia to this year's Malabar naval exercises, which also traditionally includes Japan and the United States. New Delhi's strained bilateral ties with Canberra have prevented invitations in past years, but doing so in 2020 would send a strong message to Beijing that its recent behavior in the Himalayas is increasingly pushing India into the Quad's embrace. Regardless of these outcomes, all four nations continue to deepen their bilateral defense and security partnerships with each other as they agree that a “free and open” Indo-Pacific is necessary to preserve in the face of rising Chinese assertiveness throughout the region.

A more openly anti-China Quad is likely to both harm and help the group in the future.

A more openly anti-China Quad is likely to both harm and help the group in the future. It could harm the Quad because it will fuel Beijing's narrative that the Quad is a military alliance meant to “contain” and threaten China, and that this approach is destabilizing to the region. An anti-China Quad might convince Russia to more closely align with China, or Beijing could reinvigorate competition in Southeast and South Asia as well as elsewhere to oppose Quad objectives.

Indeed, I have previously noted that Quad enlargement, especially including a Southeast Asian maritime counterclaimant in the South China Sea, such as Vietnam, would boost the Quad's credibility. Vietnam, however, would almost certainly not join the Quad if it seemed like a military alliance against China. The Quad may also encounter resistance to continuing the so-called “Quad Plus,” including Vietnam, South Korea, and New Zealand, that met over the last few months to discuss coronavirus responses. None of these additional countries are keen in singling out China in any way.

On the positive side, however, the Quad would finally have a concrete objective, to counter China, which has been severely lacking in the past. Critics have often argued (PDF) that the Quad mission is disjointed due to differing interests among the participants. Fixing this problem alone should help these nations to better hone and coordinate their strategies to achieve their unified goal.

Most importantly, Quad resolve would also no longer be symbolic, but concrete, and this should enhance the deterrence value of the group toward China. To be sure, there is no need for the Quad to elevate its status to that of a formalized military alliance—nor would the countries want to. Instead, simply signaling that Quad nations do intend to at least help each other in the event of tension or armed conflict with China would probably be sufficient.
The Quad Must Strengthen and Support Taiwan
Since April 2020, China has been provoking India, including by breaching its border. When 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a border clash in June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that their sacrifice would not be in vain, and the Indian government has been stepping up efforts to revamp its China strategy.

These efforts include reshaping India’s relations with Taiwan. When Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in for a second term in May 2020, two Members of Parliament from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, along with the acting director-general of the India-Taipei Association, sent congratulations. This clearly indicated a new Indian approach: although in 2014 Taiwan’s representative to India had attended Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, in 2016, India carefully considered sending a representative to President Tsai’s inauguration, but decided against it.

Indeed, it is not only India that is strengthening relations with Taiwan. The other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)—the United States, Japan, and Australia—have also recently upgraded relations.

There are at least three reasons why Taiwan is so important to the Quad countries’ efforts to counter Chinese strategy. First, Taiwan is located off the coast of China, the core area of the Chinese economy, and is a strategic location for deterring Chinese aggression. If Taiwan is collaborating with the United States and Japan to exert military pressure on China’s coastal area, then China cannot focus its defence budget and military forces on the India-China border area. Moreover, Taiwan is located between the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and thus Beijing cannot concentrate its naval forces without going through the sea near Taiwan. If Taiwan and China were physically connected, China would be able to use its naval power far more effectively.

Second, Taiwan is an important source of information on China. When the Covid-19 pandemic began, Taiwan proved the worth of its knowledge of China, identifying precisely what was happening there and in December 2019, warning the World Health Organization (WHO) of the possibility of a pandemic. At the same time, Taiwan was prepared for a pandemic, one reason for its great success in addressing the crisis. The same holds true for the military and economic situation. For India, the US, Japan, and Australia, Taiwan can be a very important source of information about China.

Third, cooperation with Taiwan can be an effective diplomatic card for India, the US, Japan, and Australia to wield in response to Chinese provocations, which have been escalating. When Chinese ships enter the territorial sea around Japan’s Senkaku Islands, for example, Japanese warships could respond with a friendly visit to a Taiwanese port. Since China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, this is the proper response. In addition, because Taiwan is democratic, it could be a model of democracy for Chinese speakers.

Despite Taiwan’s importance, India, the US, Japan, and Australia might lose Taiwan because Beijing has been stepping up its pressure on Taipei since President Tsai took office in 2016.

Taiwan is facing diplomatic isolation. The Covid-19 crisis has made many countries aware that Taiwan cannot join international organizations such as WHO because of Chinese opposition. In addition, since June 2017, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, the Solomon Islands, and Kiribati have abandoned formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan as a result of Chinese efforts, including economic assistance and infrastructure projects. This leaves only 15 countries with formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

The Chinese government has also tried to diminish President Tsai’s popularity. For example, in July 2019, Beijing banned travel to Taiwan by individuals, causing the number of Chinese travellers to Taiwan to drop by nearly half between 2015 and 2019.

China’s rapid military modernization is changing the military balance with Taiwan. China is provoking Taiwan militarily, and its activities on the Pacific side of Taiwan—where a Chinese aircraft carrier battle group recently made repeated visits—are of particular concern. If Chinese armed forces get deployed there permanently, this would cut Taiwan off from the United States and Japan. Chinese submarine activities are also cause for concern. Moreover, during the Covid-19 crisis, Chinese fighter jets have repeatedly entered Taiwan’s air space.

What is the best course of action for India, the US, Japan, and Australia? There are at least three steps they can take. First, they should save Taiwan from diplomatic isolation. In May 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, these countries attempted—ultimately unsuccessfully—to support Taiwan’s efforts to attend WHO’s World Health Assembly. Moreover, when El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic established diplomatic relations with China and dropped Taiwan in 2018, the US recalled its ambassadors from these countries. Efforts like these must continue.

Countries that dropped Taiwan in favour of China were interested in Chinese investment. If the Quad countries would collaborate with Taiwan on joint projects in the 15 countries that recognise Taiwan, this would be an effective counterweight to China. Four of these countries are in the Indo-Pacific and are under heavy pressure from China. For example, Chinese tourists were a very important source of income for Palau, but in 2018, China banned its citizens from visiting the tiny island nation in order to force Palau to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and end its relations with Taipei. India, the US, Japan, Australia, and Taiwan should collaborate to support countries like Palau.

Second, the Quad countries should assist Taiwan in relocating factories from mainland China to other US allies and friendly countries, such as India. Taiwanese factories in China benefit both countries, but China can use them as “hostages” in order to control Taiwan.

Third, the Quad countries should build up Taiwan’s defensive capabilities. The US has supplied Taiwan with weapons for many years, but because of Chinese opposition, Washington must assess the situation carefully each time and decide whether to proceed with the sale. The best option would be for Taiwan to produce its own weapons, and the Quad countries should support this.

An example of Taiwan’s efforts to produce its own weapons occurred in 2018. To respond to Chinese naval moves on the Pacific side of Taiwan, Taipei needs conventional submarines. However, its fleet was obsolete and the US lacked the technology to develop new conventional submarines because all US-built submarines are nuclear powered. Taiwan decided to start an indigenous submarine project; however, Taiwan lacked the capability to build its own so had to ask other countries to assist with the design. As a result, two companies from the US and Europe and one from India and Japan placed a bid for the tender.

Japan’s proposal was an interesting one. The Japanese contractor employed engineers who had worked at submarine manufacturers and were now retired. Although they were not familiar with the latest technology, because Japan has world-class conventional submarine technologies, the engineers can design submarines that are sophisticated enough to handle Chinese submarines. Given the diplomatic hurdle, it is easier to use retired officials.

India, the US, Japan, and Australia need Taiwan to help them respond to China’s irresponsible behaviour. Now is the time for the Quad countries to accept Taiwan as an equal partner and support its efforts.
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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
The Australia-India-Japan-US Quadrilateral: Dissecting the China Factor
Over the last three years, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a forum of four maritime democracies—India, US, Japan and Australia—has resurged, after stalling in 2008. The Quad countries have begun convening high-level dialogues, holding a foreign ministerial-level and several biannual senior official-level meetings since November 2017, when senior officials from the four countries met in Manila in the Philippines. Australia, India, Japan and the US have also begun burying the ‘Quad-caution’, where the mere mention of the four-way partnership drew concerns about provoking China to view the Quad as a plot to contain its rise. The Quad now features firmly across the four countries’ fiercely-negotiated bilateral and trilateral joint statements. The Australia-India Virtual Summit in June 2020 saw the two reaffirm “their commitment to the ongoing Quad consultations.” In February, US President Donald Trump remarked that India and the US were working towards “revitalising” their “expanded cooperation” within the Quad.

The grouping has also gained greater strategic importance in recent months. India and Australia finalised the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, a pact that would increase interoperability between their militaries. India already has similar arrangements with the US, and the two countries have also signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement; the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement; and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement; and are finalising the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation Agreement. India is also making progress on signing the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement with Japan. In November 2019, 12 years after the Quad plus Singapore MALABAR naval exercise, the Quad countries conducted their second military exercise in the counter-terrorism table-top exercise organised by India’s National Investigation Agency.

However, doubts remain about the Quad’s strategic objective and its capability as a robust partnership. Drawing from domestic debates in the four countries, this paper notes that their convergence to the Quad has run parallel to their increasing realisation of the risks posed by China and a new power-based international order that has displaced the Rules-Based Order (RBO), an international order defined by a set of institutions and norms that are crucial to its governance. However, despite this convergence and a shared recognition of the threats posed by Beijing, the partnership faces some challenges, brought on by the need to balance competition and cooperation with China, evident in Australia’s trade relationship with the country, and the varying need to adjust competing individual foreign policy outlooks; India’s aversion to alliances; Japan’s pacifism; and the US’ ‘America First’ policy.

Quad 2.0: Rising from Choppy Waters
Cooperation between the four Quad countries goes back a long way. In 2004, India, Japan, Australia and the US formed the Tsunami Core Group to combine humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities in response to the Boxing Day Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. A few years later, in 2007, the four countries convened in an unofficial meeting in Manila, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum, guided by their converging geopolitical interests as like-minded democratic states. Debates from the time reveal that officials went to great lengths to distance this new loose partnership from being seen as a “quadripartite security alliance,” downplaying the meeting as a mere manifestation of a brewing “natural partnership” between countries who share “some” largely undefined values. Such hesitation was because an increasingly suspicious China saw the partnership as an “axis of democracies” bent on containing its rise. This strategic coming-together of the four countries also drew domestic backlash, especially in India, where leftist parties protested New Delhi’s perceived belligerence against Beijing and its developing partnership with Washington. Despite reassurances of the non-security nature of the partnership, the navies of the four countries and of Singapore got together in September 2007 in the Bay of Bengal for their first, week-long MALABAR exercise. In an effort to reject claims that linked the exercise to China, official communication highlighted that the war game was conducted to enhance their joint capabilities to deal with “regional security” issues of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, natural disasters and the spread of pandemics. This cautionary approach set the tone for their partnership, eventually causing the Quad 1.0 to fail.

In 2007, when Kevin Rudd took over as Australia’s prime minister, the country adopted a reticent policy vis-à-vis China, which was fast replacing Japan as the biggest buyer of Australian exports. Canberra’s relations with New Delhi remained underdeveloped, primarily over the latter’s nuclear ambitions, reflected in its refusal to sell uranium to India. Despite receiving support from Japan, which had started loosening some of its sharp opposition to India’s nuclear programme, strategic bilateral ties remained nascent. The Manmohan Singh-led Indian government soon found itself in a precarious position over the nuclear deal with the US, with the political elite expressing significant mistrust of that country. To douse any perceptions that the Quad was in conflict with India’s non-alignment principles, policymakers clarified that it was improving ties with all “major partners” through overtures with Russia and China, and the “four cornered dialogue” with Australia, Japan and the US. Although there was growing support in the US of a partnership with India through the Quad, the greater emphasis was on trilateral engagement with Australia and Japan. Japan also faced compulsions that limited its engagement in the Quad—Article 9 of its Constitution (which outlaws war) and the pacifist public sentiment constrained its defence partnerships. The resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, a key champion of the Quad, only weakened the project further.

In 2007, Abe spoke before the Indian parliament of the “Confluence of the Two Seas”—the Indian and Pacific oceans—and the need for major democracies to preserve freedom and augment prosperity across a “broader Asia”. The reverberations of that speech were felt a decade later as the Quad made a comeback in 2017. The strategic concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, which replaced the traditional ‘Asia Pacific’, now accommodated the revitalised Quad. Importantly, the Indo-Pacific found institutional space across the Quad countries—a 2016 Defence White Paper identified geopolitical shifts in the Indo-Pacific as central to Australia’s security, the US renamed its Pacific Command to Indo Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), Japan identified challenges and opportunities in the Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP), and India set up a dedicated Indo-Pacific desk at its foreign ministry. The Quad countries have acknowledged, explicitly or in veiled terms, that China’s ascent poses a strategic threat to the RBO, which has supported the region’s rise. China has been carrying out large-scale militarisation of the South China Sea and deploying ‘grey zone’ tactics—actions that fall in the grey area between outright war and peace, such as building artificial islands, and sending coast guard, maritime militia and survey vessels to contested waterways—to exert control over vital trade routes in the region. Additionally, it is pursuing strategic interests through economic coercion, influence operations and opaque deals that trap smaller countries in debt and erode their sovereignty. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Quad countries have stressed their “shared commitment” to the “rules-based system” in the Indo-Pacific and the need to preserve freedom of navigation, democratic values, stability and openness in the region.

Relations among individual Quad countries have improved since 2007, facilitating the rebirth of the alliance. Defence ties in bilateral and trilateral relationships have deepened, and security cooperation has become institutionalised over traditional and non-traditional threats. Notably, there has been a ‘reset’ in India’s defence ties with the other Quad countries, with the US, Japan and Australia being the only strategic partners with whom it has established a 2+2 foreign and defence dialogue mechanism.

Although increased Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific might have provided renewed form and meaning to the Quad, China is admittedly the “particular negative subject” that the four countries do not agree on. India, Australia and Japan do not explicitly identify China as a threat actor in the Indo-Pacific as the US does. Arguing that their conception of the Indo-Pacific is an inclusive one that does not exclude China, these countries often de-hyphenate Indo-Pacific and the Quad, given that critics see the grouping as an “Asian NATO” allied against China. But there are clear inconsistencies here. In laying out his country’s Indo-Pacific vision, for instance, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously did not make any reference to the Quad and went as far as saying that India enjoyed a multi-layered relationship with China that was expected to grow. However, India’s foreign ministry links “India-US-Japan-Australia consultations” with security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. These complexities raise difficult questions about the robustness of the Quad and if it is worth a revival.

On robustness, the debate ranges from an alarmist understanding of the Quad as a security alliance that is sharply geared against China to seeing it as an inconsequential group of misaligned states that has dim chances of full revival. Some have rejected these reductive understandings to argue that underneath the grouping is a robust “matrix of trilateral and bilateral relationships” that have strengthened unprecedentedly over the last few years. On the normative debate on the Quad, some have hailed it as a partnership that is vital to maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, whereas others have questioned the wisdom of endangering relations with China at the cost of seeking a US-dominated partnership of the misaligned.

With the Quad and the Quad Plus (South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand) convening to address challenges brought about by the COVID-19 crisis in the Indo-Pacific region, there is renewed attention on the role the grouping could play in sectors like healthcare, and in restructuring global supply chains and in maintaining the robustness of international institutions in the post-pandemic era. However, this does not necessarily de-hyphenate the Quad and China, given that the pandemic has brought forth concerns about China’s role in covering up the news of the initial spread of the virus and compromising the World Health Organization, and has drawn attention on the need to diversify value chains out of China.

China and the Quad
The Quad’s single defining characteristic is the democratic set-up of its constituent countries. But this also makes it vulnerable to political shifts and debates in these countries, evident from the fate of Quad 1.0—shaped by opposition from sections of India’s political elite, change of prime ministers in Japan and Australia, and waning interest in the US.

Although the Quad has multiple areas of cooperation, including counterterrorism, cybersecurity, HADR and development finance, this paper focuses on the China factor. Concerns about jeopardising ties with China fueled hesitations in 2007-08, and how best to manage the risks associated with Beijing’s assertive rise remains a matter of debate. Yet, it is these risks that have reinvigorated the Quad.

Seven months after the Quad held its first meeting in Manila in 2007, Rudd, the Mandarin-speaking China scholar and diplomat, was elected prime minister of Australia and soon hit the brakes on the still-nascent grouping. The following year, former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith announced Australia’s withdrawal from the Quad during a press briefing with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, without consulting India, Japan or the US. Australian hesitance was already apparent when a mere two months after the 2007 Quad meeting, Canberra assured Beijing that it was only pursuing defence engagement with Japan and the US, and not a “quadrilateral partnership with India”.

In the years leading to the Quad revival in 2017, Australian policymakers and the wider strategic community had begun talking about seeking a values-based security and foreign policy strategy with their “natural partners” in the grouping. Finally, after the Quad’s first ministerial meeting in 2019, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his pleasure at “restoring trust” with this “important forum for Australia and the world”.

Partner of (Bad) Dreams
Ironically, the cause for Australian optimism in the late 2000s and its decision to withdraw from the Quad in 2008—booming trade with China—is now the reason the country wants back in the grouping. In 2007, China was the second-largest destination for Australian exports, about 15 percent. By 2017, China became Australia’s top export destination, at 35 percent, buying a large share of its core exports (iron ore and coal). This trend has continued through 2019, pushing Australia into a dangerous economic dependency with China.

Australia has been at the receiving end of China’s weaponising of exports to mute criticism abroad to bully its way into achieving its foreign policy objectives. Exporters of Australian wine and agricultural products were “sidelined” by Beijing in 2018 as a result of Canberra enacting laws to check foreign interference in domestic affairs. More recently, in response to Australia’s call for an independent international inquiry over the origins of COVID-19, China banned Australian beef imports and imposed fresh tariffs on barley.

Figure 1: Top Two Destinations: Share of Australia’s Total Exports (in percentage)

Source (Data): World Bank
China is also dependent on Australia, which supplies it with energy resources and raw materials that feed its industries and infrastructure. However, with Chinese growth delivered by infrastructure development expected to reach its limit and with imports of Australian consumer and luxury goods—pharmaceuticals, agricultural produce, baby formula and wine—rising, Canberra is expected to lose its raw material export leverage over Beijing. Also, Australia’s imports from China have been rising faster than from elsewhere, further integrating the Australian economy with that of China.

Additionally, Australian universities are heavily reliant on China for a growing number of international fee-paying students, but the indispensable yuan is costing Australia its academic freedom. Chinese sharp power—the use of democratic freedoms abroad by authoritarian regimes to advance their influence through distraction and manipulation—goes beyond universities in Australia, and has been a subject of public and political worry in recent years, forcing the country to legislate against the “unprecedented” threat to its sovereignty from foreign interference. Reports suggest China has ‘planted operatives’ in Australia’s parliament by cultivating lucrative financial relationships with several senators and candidates seeking elections across party lines. China is also said to have launched cyberattacks onto the networks of Australia’s parliament and the three main political parties just before the 2019 parliamentary elections.

Relations with China have also created a new problem—threats to societal cohesion in Australia. Concerns over China’s influence operations allegedly carried out through Chinese students, Chinese-Australian organisations and Australian politicians of Chinese descent have had a polarising effect on the wider society, leading to passionate public debates on “yellow peril alarmism”.

China in Australia’s Near Abroad
Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper signaled a strategic departure in its defence posturing by defining the “most ambitious plan” to regenerate the Royal Australian Navy since the Second World War, allocating a budget of US$48.75 billion to meet capability gaps, and identifying a role in protecting the maritime order in the wider neighbourhood. The 2016 document unequivocally called out China’s coercive behaviour in East Asia’s maritime commons, albeit in a restrained tone, signaling that not only had Canberra recognised the threat Beijing posed, but had also given up on hopes of it emerging as a responsible power.

Australia now identifies the defence of maritime South East Asia and the South Pacific as a vital strategic objective, second only to domestic security. Australia’s “strategic denial instinct” has been roused to keep other powers away from the Pacific Islands, with the country ‘stepping up’ its engagement with the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea to forge economic and security integration of the region. This fresh impetus for a South Pacific foreign policy is driven by concerns over the possibility of Beijing developing and acquiring ports, infrastructure facilities and bases across the region, including in Fiji, Vanuatu and on the Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. There is now cross-partisan consensus in Canberra about the “front and centre” place the “Pacific family” must enjoy in Australia’s foreign policy thinking. The issue has also been covered in the media and has generated wider public debate.

Views on China and the Quad
Despite a broad acknowledgement by Australia’s key political parties of the threats posed by China, the political discourse on China remains mired in complexities. At the party level, Chinese foreign interference has hit across the spectrum, allowing parties to draw political mileage from it at their will, blurring distinct ‘party-lines’ when it comes to viewing China. On a wider public level, however, views on China have changed for the worse, with only 36 percent of Australians seeing China favourably in 2019, down from 48 percent in 2018. Despite the acknowledgement of the risks associated with China’s rise, there is a lack of political consensus on the best approach to manage relations with Beijing.

Australia’s views on the Quad have changed considerably over the years, with it now seen as a key forum to exchange views on regional challenges.[104] This has been complemented by the aligning of perceptions of the other three Quad countries in their assessment of China’s assertiveness in the wider region. Despite its ‘strategic denial instinct’ in the Pacific states, Australia is seeking the cooperation of its Quad partners in providing “economic, diplomatic and security alternatives” in its near abroad in the South Pacific as a counter to China advancing its “debt-trap diplomacy” there.[105]

While FOIP has taken centre stage in Australia’s strengthened partnership with the US and Japan, it is arguably the upgraded ties with India that have led to the Quad’s revival.[106] Now seen as a “natural partner” and a “land of shared values and durable institutions,” India could be the solution Australia needs vis-á-vis its dependency on China. Australia welcomes “India’s leadership in the Indian Ocean”[107] and has been looking to India as an alternate destination for its exports and source for international students. The establishment of a foreign and defence secretary-level 2+2 dialogue, the codification of the India Economy Strategy to 2035, and enhanced high-level military engagement have provided ballast to their cooperation.[108]

Besides, in a bid to appease its South East Asian partners, Australia, like its Quad partners,[109] has been stressing on the centrality of ASEAN to the Indo-Pacific.[110],[111]

India’s hesitation over its association with the Quad was expressed more loudly than its motivations to convene with the grouping in Manila in 2007. Months after the unofficial meeting, which many saw as being an anti-China partnership,[112] Singh firmly doused claims of his country’s involvement in such a containment strategy, iterating its “independence of foreign policy”[113] in an address in Beijing. While it was unclear what had brought the Quad together beyond a vague aligning of their geopolitical trajectories, what was unmistakable was that China’s assumed offence at the four countries’ coming together was potent enough for Australia and India to disassociate from the grouping.

India’s cautious hedging over China has earned it the notoriety of being the “weakest link” in the Quad.[114] But where the Indian political elite once shied away from using the term ‘Quad’ to avoid giving the ‘four-way relationship’ the appearance of an ‘alliance’, they now appear comfortable in acknowledging New Delhi’s position in the grouping.[115] The most recent bilateral joint statements with Quad partners, during the Australia-India Virtual Summit in June and Trump’s visit to India, stress on the need to strengthen the “Quadrilateral”[116],[117] partnership. Increasingly aggressive Chinese behaviour has caused India to shed its reticence. There are strategic concerns in New Delhi about Beijing’s increased presence in South Asia and the IOR. China has been attempting to thwart India’s great power aspirations by complicating its domestic security environment—it has continued to shield Pakistan in its use of terror proxies against India,[118],[119] and has sustained insurgent groups in India’s northeast.[120] Beijing has also continued to cordon off New Delhi from key international institutions such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.[121],[122]

Weaving the String of Pearls
When assessing China’s attempts at building influence across strategically located sites in the IOR in the 1990s and the 2000s, Indian scholars admitted to the paucity of “tangible evidence” to prove the “String of Pearls”[123] theory in its maritime neighbourhood. However, over the last few years, especially since the launch of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), not only have these academic concerns materialised, they have also been embraced in public discourse.

In its latest iteration, the Indian Navy’s Maritime Strategy emphasised greater focus on the need to preserve trade and energy routes, maintain freedom of navigation, and strengthen the international rules that govern the far seas, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.[124] It credits this renewed attention to preserving the openness of sea lines of communication in India’s maritime neighbourhood to the “developments in its geostrategic environment” that have generated the need to seek cooperation with competition—a veiled reference to Chinese attempts at reshaping the regional order, and the situation states like India are in where they must counter an important economic partner.[125] There have been deepened concerns over China’s impact on the stability of the region since Xi’s return to the presidency in 2013, after which it began building artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarising its crucial waterways. Although the South China Sea is important, rising Chinese influence in India’s primary area of maritime interest—South Asia and IOR—has enhanced anxieties in New Delhi in recent years.[126]

New Delhi has always been wary of the “all weather friendship” between China and Pakistan, for whom the containment of India is the “strategic glue,”[127] but concerns intensified with the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2013. Given the unfeasibility of this BRI segment and Pakistan’s inability to pay for these projects,[128] it is clear that the US$62-billion CPEC serves a geostrategic purpose of establishing Chinese presence in the IOR against India.[129] Key to this strategic ambition is the Chinese-operated Gwadar port off the Arabian Sea in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Touted as an important trading hub, the port holds little economic viability.[130] However, it can be used by the Chinese navy to establish a submarine presence in the region.[131] This would give Beijing the option of overcoming its ‘Malacca Dilemma’—the acute reliance on the narrow Malacca Strait through which a bulk of Chinese trade passes—by ensuring the safety of its energy supplies by preempting a maritime blockade in the event of a limited naval war. This will also amplify Pakistan’s Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities in a naval war with India, potentially endangering major ports along India’s western coast.[132]

Another area of deep unease for India is China’s acquisition of a majority stake in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, with a 99-year operational leasing right.[133],[134] Although the Chinese navy does not have a basing agreement with Colombo to station its forces at Hambantota, the port’s weak commercial viability continues to raise questions about China’s intentions.[135] Similar ‘debt trap’ concerns have also been raised over Kyaukphyu, a deep seaport in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state, in which a consortium led by Chinese state-owned firm CITIC have a majority stake.[136] Fear of a repayment crisis has also been looming large over the Maldives, which, according to former President Mohammed Nasheed, owes a staggering US$3.4 billion in debt to China.[137] Under the Abdullah Yameen regime, when the country accumulated most of this debt, Malé not only ‘negotiated’ a skewed free trade deal and several exorbitantly-priced infrastructure projects to Beijing’s advantage, it also leased the Feydhoo Finolhu Island to Chinese developers,[138] raising suspicions in the India.[139]

Long Shadow of China at Home and Abroad
Beyond its strategic investments in the country, China’s nexus with Pakistan also has domestic security implications for India, which have revealed themselves in the battle against terrorism in Kashmir.

Following the Pulwama terrorist attack by Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in February 2019, China, a veto-wielding UNSC member, used its diplomatic prowess to absolve Islamabad of any responsibility.[140],[141] China also shielded JeM chief Masood Azhar from being listed as a UNSC-designated global terrorist for nearly a decade before capitulating to international pressure against heightened terror concerns in South Asia[142] in the aftermath of the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings.[143]

Besides its “dual policy on terrorism”—shielding terrorists that harm India over Kashmir and justifying Xinjiang internment camps as a counter-radicalisation move—China has used the Kashmir conflict and its alliance with Pakistan as an impediment to India’s great power aspirations by augmenting its internal security concerns.[144] China has inserted itself, in collusion with Pakistan, in a part of Kashmir claimed by India as integral. The CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, not only violates India’s sovereignty but also allows Beijing to build vital infrastructure that could mobilise Chinese troops to assist Islamabad if a conflict were to break out between India and Pakistan.[145] China has also widely internationalised the Kashmir issue following the abolition of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status.[146],[147],[148]

India’s intelligence agencies allege that Beijing has also been offering clandestine support to militant insurgent groups operating in India’s North East, such as the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia and People’s Liberation Army (of Manipur).[149] Indian insurgent leaders like Paresh Barua of the United Liberation Front of Assam operate from Chinese territory, and groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland receive Chinese arms.[150]

Views on China and the Quad
India’s relationship with China has always been complex. The 1962 conflict broke any misconceptions about bilateral bonhomie and inserted China in India’s strategic calculus, allowing the relationship to be defined by mistrust. Over the years, influenced by diverse aspects—enhanced political and trade ties, ongoing border disputes, China’s ties with Pakistan and other South Asian countries, and ups and downs in ties with the US—India and China oscillated between being “foes” and “friends,” becoming “frenemies”.[151],[152]

Media[153] and public perceptions[154] of China remain largely unfavourable,[155] and India is now showing greater willingness to manage its neighbour. This was especially evident during the 2017 Doklam face-off when India successfully forced China to abandon the construction of a controversial highway through the Doklam plateau, undeterred by Beijing’s use of psychological warfare tactics.[156]

It is undoubtedly a more aggressive China—and New Delhi’s willing to manage it—that has driven India back to more robust Quad. Any remaining inhibitions over the Quad—the glaring exclusion of the ‘Quad’ from Modi’s outline of India’s Indo-Pacific vision[157] and the MALABAR snub to Canberra[158]—have been seen as a product of the country’s “historical aversion” to multilateral arrangements seen as alliances.[159] However, there are calls to let go of dogmatic ideological diktats of foreign policy positioning[160] by pursuing multiple “issue-based” partnerships.[161]

After years of mutual distrust, the US now competes with India’s traditional ally Russia as an important defence partner. India and the US identify each other as “natural allies”[162] in the Indo-Pacific, establishing a high-level 2+2 strategic dialogue, and enhancing their interoperability through bilateral exercises and the culmination of logistics supply and communications agreements. The two countries have also been trying to achieve greater congruence in their understanding of the Indo-Pacific by enhancing cooperating in the Western Indian Ocean, a region not covered in the US’s Indo-Pacific definition but included in India’s Maritime Security Strategy as an area of primary responsibility.[163] India has enhanced cooperation with the US’s Indo-Pacific, Central and African commands.[164] US Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger has also claimed that the US’s expanded “California to Kilimanjaro” definition of the Indo-Pacific now closely resembles that of India.[165] However, the maritime zones westwards of India’s western coast have still not been included in the USINDOPACOM’s Area of Responsibility.[166] Concerns persist over trade and the Trump administration’s detour to Pakistan regarding the Taliban deal ahead of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.[167],[168] Doubts over the US’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific are also hinged on its continued involvement in an increasingly volatile West Asia. [169]

India has also been strengthening its ties with Japan by establishing a 2+2 ministerial-level dialogue, increasing the number of bilateral military exercises, and cooperating in infrastructure development. Australia’s lack of “strategic clarity” regarding China in the Quad’s early days had a significant impact on India’s own decision to step back from the grouping.[170] But, as Australia’s High Commissioner to India has admitted, Canberra’s commitment to the Quad is no longer in doubt.[171]

Abe has been at the helm of affairs in Japan during both outings of the Quad (in 2007 and 2017). He was also the chief proponent of the Quad and the Indo-Pacific, and proposed, as early as 2012, that the latter be the theatre of operation of the former.[172] Abe identified the collective need to “shoulder more responsibility as guardians of navigational freedom across the Pacific and Indian oceans” in light of the Chinese navy turning the South China Sea into “Lake Beijing” and upping the ante around the Senkaku Islands.[173] The enthusiasm for the Quad in the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Office) waned after Yasuo Fukuda, an advocate for better relations with China, took over as prime minister following Abe’s resignation in 2007. Fakuda abandoned the developing values-oriented foreign policy concept of the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, seen as “too provocative” for Beijing by pro-China groups in Japan’s foreign ministry.[174] But China has remained part of Japan’s strategic lexicon. Japan’s 2019 Defence White Paper has noted with underlined urgency the expansion of China’s defence capabilities in space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, and increased military activities in the Indo-Pacific region.[175] Japan’s Official Development Assistance policy has also decisively embraced the Indo-Pacific as a priority region,[176] with Tokyo offering development assistance, “quality” infrastructure, and trading and investment opportunities to countries “in a way that respects their ownership, not by forcing upon or intervening in them,”[177] referring to China’s BRI.

As Japan grapples with maritime concerns advanced by a power with whom Tokyo shares a difficult history and one that is shaping the Asian order to its advantage, the country is re-visiting and debating its Pacifist identity.[178] It is in this environment that Japan is upgrading ties with the Quad countries.

Grey Zoned: East China Sea and South China Sea
China has been attempting to change the status of the East China Sea since enacting the Territorial Sea law in 1992, in which it included the Japanese-administered uninhabited Senkaku Islands as its “affiliated” islands.[179] Tensions in this maritime zone have been on the rise since 2008 when Chinese surveillance ships first intruded into the waters around the Senkaku island. In 2013, China included the airspace over the Senkaku in its demarcation of its Air Defence Identification Zone.[180] Since then, China’s use of grey zone tactics and hybrid warfare in the East China Sea—intrusions by the coast guard, naval ships and air force, and military exercises well beyond the Second Island Chain—have raised Japanese concerns of a “one-sided escalation”.[181] Tokyo has expressed worries that with the rapidly rising joint A2/AD capabilities of its navy and air force, China is trying to normalise its advance on the East China Sea, Sea of Japan and Pacific Ocean,[182] effectively encircling Japan.

Over the last few years, the situation in the South China Sea has also worsened with China’s land reclamation activities and militarisation of islands. Japan sees the South China Sea as key to its security because it houses crucial sea lanes vital to its trade and economic health. Also, there are concerns that China’s militarised assertions in the region could lead to a clash in South East Asia.[183] Concerns over US foreign policy unpredictability and the commitment to the contested region are worrisome for Japan as a less-than-committed US would allow the military balance in the important waterway to tip in China’s favour.[184] By being an “anchor” of continued US engagement in the region, the Quad holds significant value for Tokyo.[185]

Revisiting Japan’s Selfhood
Japan is in an increasingly tense external environment, but it is bound by Article 9 of its Constitution, which prohibits it from waging a war and maintaining a military force.[186] This constitutional clause has prevented Japan from developing any offensive capabilities and acting as a reciprocal and full ally of the US.

However, the 2019 Defence White Paper recognised the extraordinary threats emerging from an increasingly challenging security environment, presumably a reference to Chinese aggression. It stressed on the need to deal with this handicap, arguing for sharpening the country’s defence capability as it is “the most important strength for Japan in retaining self-sustained existence as a sovereign nation”.[187] The defence ministry’s stance matches Abe’s push to revise Article 9 to adjust the country’s defence posture to face contemporary realities. Article 9 is a provision of the US-Japan Security Treaty that guarantees Japan’s security by granting the US the right to use Japanese territory for military purposes,[188] the US is now trying to change the status quo. The Trump administration has criticised the arrangement, arguing that it allows Tokyo a free ride at Washington’s expense.[189]

Abe, who considers the constitutional amendment vital for “nation-building for a new era,”[190] has only secured support for the re-interpretation of the Article and not its full amendment, and policymakers risk losing public support over the issue.

With a leadership committed to the difficult job of readjusting Japan’s security architecture to the new threat environment, the Quad allows the country to skirt the Article 9 limitations and the uncertainties around its amendment. The Quad’s ambiguous intended purpose could be advantageous as a means of deterrence while still allowing Japan to stay within the terms of Article 9.

Views on China and the Quad
Although Abe’s attempts to revise the Constitution have been met with public scepticism,[191] he still garners significant support on wider security and foreign policy issues.[192] Japan has hiked defence spending and is proactively promoting its FOIP vision, developments that have occurred alongside deepening anti-China sentiments among the Japanese.[193]

Conciliatory foreign policy approaches to China, especially on Taiwan, have historically drawn strength from the pro-China wings of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. However, recently, the influence of the pro-China camps has waned[194] alongside decreased factional politics in the party.[195] Nevertheless, individual politicians within the party continue to enjoy cozy personal relations with the Chinese elite.[196]

Despite Beijing’s reduced influence in the Diet (Japan’s legislature), Japan has in recent years experienced a rapprochement in its ties with China. Abe set a historic ‘reset’ in bilateral ties in 2018 when he visited Beijing, Japan’s first prime ministerial visit since 2011. Japan now cooperates conditionally with the BRI. It has also reduced the FOIP from being a “strategy” to a “vision,” confusing Japan-watchers about Tokyo’s commitment to the concept.[197]

However, Japan has continued to strengthen its security cooperation with its Quad partners and other Indo-Pacific countries. This is a reflection of a delinking of Japan’s economic and security concerns—pursuing regional economic inclusivity with China while simultaneously engaging in strategic competition with it in the Indo-Pacific[198]—or what some scholars have referred to as Japan’s paradoxical China policy.[199],[200] Despite the unpredictability and transactionalism of the Trump administration, which has not only demanded more from Japan in their alliance but has also pursued protectionist economic policies that impact Tokyo, Japan’s strategic alignment with the US remains unambiguous.[201]

Increased tensions in East China Sea and fear of encirclement by China has driven Japan back to the Quad. A developed Quad would not only check China’s expansionism but also US uncertainties about the region, quelling Japan’s concerns about it.

The US
As China’s economic, diplomatic and military profile in Asia began rising in the 2000s, strategic thinkers in Washington spotted a challenge to the US’s “hub and spoke” system of regional alliances that threatened to shrink its clout in the region and make way for China-led regional formations.[202] This energised interest in democratic values-based diplomacy, with former US President George W. Bush proposing the creation of a new Asian Pacific Democracy Partnership.[203] The Quad also generated enthusiasm in Washington’s policy circles—from former Vice President Dick Cheney calling for India’s inclusion in the US-Australia-Japan trilateral and the late John McCain, an advocate of the “League of Democracies,”[204] suggesting that the Quad be “institutionalised”.[205] However, beyond enthusiastic rhetoric, and with increasingly hesitant partners, interest in the Quad began withering in the US, with “priority emphasis” being placed on the trilateral with Australia and Japan.[206] The US was wary of appearing to lead a containment strategy against China. When asked about the implications of the US’s reinvigorated relationship with India, former Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said it did not have a bearing on the relationship with China, with whom ties were “as good in the political realm” as any time since 1949.[207]

In 2011, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed on the need for the US to shift resources and priorities away from the Middle East to the increasingly important emerging geography of the Asia Pacific, which she described as stretching from the “Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas” and spanning two linked oceans—what would later be known as the ‘Indo-Pacific’.[208] This ‘pivot’ to Asia led to deepened alliances with Japan, Australia, Thailand and South Korea, and enhanced ties with emerging partners like India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.[209] But US-China mutual hedging—simultaneously balancing security competition and economic engagement—was the defining characteristic of the US’s policy in Asia before the ‘pivot’.[210]

Now, as Trump’s first term draws to a close, it is clear that rhetoric and policy on China has become more confrontational—the National Defence Strategy 2018[211] and the National Security Strategy 2017[212] identify revisionist China as presenting the greatest strategic threat to the US. The Indo-Pacific—roughly geographically bordered by the Quad countries—is where the US fears displacement by China, and a risk to its values and interests.

Wither the US?
The US Department of Defence (DoD) has identified several trends that have shaped China’s efforts for influence abroad following the end of its two-decades-long “period of strategic opportunity” where it focused on domestic growth and kept a lower international profile.[213] Unlike the US’s Quad partners who face a direct challenge of China seizing influence in their near-abroad, the US finds itself in strategic competition with China, who is challenging the US’s global hegemony. China has amassed greater clout by deploying grey zone tactics and flexing its economic and diplomatic heft through the BRI to achieve strategic goals. The Chinese military’s growing capabilities, the pursuit of interests abroad and Beijing’s civil-military initiative for defence technology production will advance its goals of build a unipolar Asia and challenge the US globally. The DoD also sees policies such as ‘Made in China 2025’ as unfair protectionist practices to amass wealth.[214] Large scale influence operations support these strategic and foreign policy initiatives by undermining the dominant narrative in democracies.[215] Nowhere else are these tools to advance influence more pointedly used than in the Indo-Pacific, which the DoD sees as most inevitably tied to the US’s future, given that it houses the largest share of global GDP, its busiest trade routes, largest population and is home to several countries with the world’s most powerful militaries and nuclear weapons supplies.[216] The two key goals identified in the US’s 2018 National Defence Strategy aim to check China’s revisionist challenge to the world order .[217]

Underlining the threat posed by China to US preeminence is the challenge it presents to the RBO. The RBO was established in the post-war period, largely as a result of a US-led effort to create a set of governing institutions and mechanisms to stabilise the international order.[218] Arguably, it sets norms that manage interstate relations in matters such as sovereignty and trade practices, which have now started to experience a power-based re-ordering at the hands of a rising authoritarian China. While the RBO undoubtedly benefited everyone, it helped sustain US hegemony.

Indo-Pacific connectivity and dynamism is a result of the RBO, which is central to the Quad countries’ interests and cooperation in the region. So when US officials claim that China is the conspicuous point of disagreement among the four while also highlighting that “values that undergird a free and open Indo-Pacific”[219] are the uniting factor, it is clear that while there may be disagreements on how to manage China’s rise, there is agreement on the need to do it.

In addition to the US’s first line of effort—maintaining a strong force posture and modernising forces under the USINDOPACOM—alliances with likeminded partners, such as those in the Quad, act as a “force multiplier,” increasing deterrence and interoperability.[220] This is important not only because cooperation with a greater number of regional allies has been a key decisive factor in geopolitical competition, but also because it offers the US—a Pacific power with stakes in the Indo-Pacific—a chance to diminish the advantage China enjoys in the region, and gain legitimacy for its presence there. The geographical arrangement of the Quad countries is important to the US since it creates a “natural perimeter” for the US as a Pacific power that is heavily reliant on its sea power and engaged in strategic competition with China, a Western Pacific power.[221]

Shifting Priorities vs. Unfinished Business
Observers of the Trump administration argue that US foreign policy has now returned to its classical isolationist form that defined its relations with the world in the 1930s.[222],[223] This is primarily based on the US’s decision to recede from the wars in the Middle East, notably in Syria and Afghanistan. However, far from retreating to the pursuit of domestic objectives, the US is experiencing an unprecedented but unsurprising shift in its strategic priorities abroad—from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific. But talk of the US’s shifting strategic focus has been on since the Pivot to Asia.

Recent tensions in the region has renewed debate on the US’s withdrawal from the volatile region.[224] The US’s interest in the Middle East are no longer at risk given that it has achieved energy self-sufficiency, ISIS has been territorially defeated there, and US ally Israel remains the preeminent military power in the region.[225] However, the US’s antagonism towards Iran, its lack of strategic insight vis-à-vis Syria and the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban, and its continued involvement in Yemen and Libya continues to draw the country firmly back in the region. This could contribute to the US’s relative global decline if China fills a potential vacuum in the Indo-Pacific. This has overstretched US defence resources and dealt a blow to the kind of high-intensity deterrence capabilities that are required in its competition with China.[226]

For advocates of US presence in the Indo-Pacific, Trump’s ‘America First’ policy damages trade relations with allies and partners such as Japan, India and South Korea. But by supporting pulling US troops out of wars in the Middle East, ‘America First’ also allows the US to subsequently shift its attention towards the Indo-Pacific strategic arena.

Views on China and the Quad
China is now openly seen as the “central threat” to the US and the RBO, which has preserved and advanced US dominance.[227] There is bipartisan support in the US for aggressive policies against China’s mercantilism,[228] human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet,[229],[230] erosion of democracy in Hong Kong,[231] attempts to stifle the free speech of US businesses,[232] and its military posturing in the Indo-Pacific.[233] Although the public perception of China as a threat to the US has deepened over the years, the American public prefers a cooperative approach in dealing with this threat.[234]

While China is now seen as “attempting to erode American security and prosperity,”[235] the US has been more restrained in its framing of the Quad 2.0 to ensure that it being perceived as a containment alliance against China does not kill the group again. On being asked whether their enhanced cooperation was creating an “Asian version of the NATO alliance,” US officials said that viewing it in terms of a security alliance will not advance the grouping and that the Quad reflects “just a natural sharing of interest”.[236] Arguably, while the fear of appearing as a containment strategy against China might have killed the Quad in 2008, attempts to avoid being perceived as a containment alliance are now directed at making the grouping more acceptable among member countries and others to save it.

The US has been tweaking its understanding of the Quad, bringing it in line with that of its partners with its inclusion of “India-friendly language” of ASEAN centrality.[237] The US will likely participate in a “diplomatic Quad,” shelving the idea of the Quad as a “security grouping” to accommodate India’s reservations. [238]

Views on the US’s management of alliances remain divided, with Trumpian transactionalism driven by an ‘America First’ approach drawing the country into smaller ‘trade wars’ with critical Indo-Pacific partners and allies.[239] However, while it may revisit bilateral trade disputes and cause occasional dents in relations with key Indo-Pacific countries, ‘America First’ may not be in long-term conflict with the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, because the strategic interests of the US and its partners have come to converge in the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, if troops withdrawal from the Middle East results in greater US commitment and resources towards preserving the RBO that it helped establish, then America First would, in fact, complement the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy.

Since its inception, the Quad has been a subject of intense scrutiny by policymakers and analysts who have debated both its intentions and capabilities. As the Quad reappeared in Manila in 2017, those doubts also returned. By analysing the debates in Australia, India, Japan and the US on the Quad, it is clear that with Xi’s ascendency in China, the threat posed by that country to the RBO has become more pronounced, and has brought the Quad countries closer. China’s large-scale misinformation campaigns and aggressive posturing in the Taiwan Strait, the South and the East China Seas, and the Line of Actual Control during the COVID-19 crisis[240] have again revealed that Beijing’s intent is to alter the rules of the game.

Increased cooperation across a range of sectors will be important not only to deal with the wide array of challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region, but also to make the Quad a more robust mechanism for policy coordination. The Quad could play a role in financing projects for the growth of the region’s blue economy. To become more politically palatable and to deliver coordinated, regionally-focused results across various policy areas, the Quad should cooperate with other regional partners, including ASEAN, East African littoral nations, France, the UK, Pacific Island nations, New Zealand and South Korea, and forums such as the BIMSTEC, Indian Ocean Commission and the Indian Ocean Rim Association.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
Britain should shed its China obsession to seize the moment in the Indo-Pacific
We are living through the Indo-Pacific Century – a moment of great opportunity in world history when the balance of power and wealth is shifting eastward for the first time in hundreds of years. But 2020 has offered proof that this century will also be a challenging one. First, the has been the biggest shock to the global economy for decades. Even countries that have avoided the worst of the public health crisis have seen significant negative economic effects. The disease has served to underline how globalisation has connected all of us, for better and for worse.
Second, the pandemic has been accompanied by a more assertive China. In recent months, Chinese troops have had a
bloody face-off with India along the border between the two countries in the Himalayas, while Beijing continues to aggressively press its claims in the South China Sea – all this amid its extension of control over Hong Kong through the controversial national security law.

These factors may have contributed to Britain’s decision to ban Huawei from its 5G network, as Australia did earlier. Telecommunications will play an increasingly central role in developing closer security partnerships, and Britain’s choice is a clear indication of the country’s willingness to continue to work shoulder to shoulder with the United States and its other partners. The UK is not alone in this realisation. India, the US and Japan have also banned, or are considering banning, Chinese apps.

China says UK has 'poisoned' Sino-British relationship over Hong Kong and Huawei
This context prompts a vitally important question. How can Britain better partner and work with countries in a region spanning an area extending from India to Japan and reaching down to Australia and the South Pacific, to partake in the growth-led opportunities and manage the risks posed by a prosperous and expansive China?

A London think-tank, Policy Exchange, has announced an Indo-Pacific Commission that we are part of, to examine these issues. Together with other experienced policymakers from around the world, we will discuss and recommend new approaches Britain and its allies can take to further the rules-based order across this strategically important region. Naturally, for the UK, this interest also reflects a new post-Brexit awareness of the importance and potential of the Indo-Pacific, as London looks beyond the European Unionto strengthen alliances and explore new markets.

Our advice to Britain, though it applies to other countries, would start with two basic ideas. First, avoid being too China-centric. As the commission’s chairman, former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, has observed, a focus on China alone – both its positives and negatives – would be to overlook the myriad opportunities for trade and other cooperation on political, defence and diplomatic issues with countries including Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia and Singaporein the Indo-Pacific region. Think, for example, of the opportunities that the City of London could explore in South and Southeast Asia in financial innovation, in which it is a world leader.

Second, Britain should reimagine its place in the world order. It might have retreated from “East of Suez” more than half a century ago but this is the time to step up. As the world’s fifth-largest economy, there are potential win-win economic gains to be made in the Indo-Pacific; for example, in entering existing multilateral trade agreements, as well as bilateral agreements with Australia, India, Japan and other growing Asian economies.

British industrial design engineer James Dyson. Photo: AFP

British industrial design engineer James Dyson. Photo: AFP
Britain also remains a leader in innovation and technology, as shown by the phenomenal global success of entrepreneurs like James Dyson, whose company is now headquartered in Singapore and whose technology and products are considered a global standard for future-oriented innovation. More recently, the leadership role of the UK can be seen by the strides Oxford and Astra-Zenecaare making on a Covid-19 vaccine. Astra-Zeneca has partnered with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which is the largest vaccine maker in the world by volume, to manufacture 1 billion doses of this vaccine.

This is a precursor to the potential of partnership between Britain and the Indo-Pacific countries. This leadership – bolstered by the fact the UK is home to no fewer than six of the top 50 universities in the world – means that the country has the potential to be the knowledge lab for the Indo-Pacific economies, where many young people still see the UK as their key destination for education and business.
Just as the UK should build on existing multilateral trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific, it should also look to join its allies in the support of regional security and defence. What are the most effective ways for London to join partners and allies – notably India, Australia and Japan – to strengthen regional security through defence engagement and presence? One answer can be found in the recent news that British officials are debating whether to base one of the UK’s new aircraft carriers in the Far East, where it would conduct military activities with allies including the US and Japan.

This, of course, builds on what is already happening, with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force conducting trilateral exercises recently in the Philippine Sea with the Australian Defence Force and the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. Britain, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council – and a country with existing defence arrangements with Singapore, India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan – can play a role here, not least in the context of the contested South China Sea. Britain has an opportunity in the Indian Ocean as well. It should seize this new geopolitical moment and participate in the shaping of a new coalition along with India and the US.
India’s Malabar Dilemma
A Hesitant Beginning
The United States (US) and India instituted the annual Malabar exercises in 1992.[3] Following the diplomatic fallout of India’s nuclear tests of 1998, the frequency of the bilateral exercises dwindled, only regaining their regularity after 2004 (See Table 1). In 2007 the bilateral accord expanded its scope to include other key Asian states like Australia, Japan and Singapore. More importantly, in the same year, the US, Japan, Australia and India converged in the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ (or Quad).[4] Beijing protested the accord, calling it an “Anti-China coalition”.[5]

What would later be known as Quad 1.0 lost its momentum soon after its inception as Australia withdrew, and sought to instead prioritise its relationship with China.[6] Australia’s Minister for Defence Brendon Nelson stated in July 2007 that he had “reassured China that [the] so-called security quadrilateral dialogue with India is not something we are pursuing.”[7] Soon after, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—a champion of the Quad—resigned in September 2007.[8] The US in December 2007 then declared that it was prioritising its trilateral engagement with Japan and Australia, over the new quadrilateral initiative.[9] For its part, New Delhi’s principle of strategic autonomy made it sceptical of such an arrangement, viewing it as a threat to policy manoeuvrability.

While Quad 1.0 was essentially put on the backburner over the following decade, India-US engagement continued with the bilateral Malabar exercises taking place annually (See Table 1). It was not until 2015 that the Malabar exercises elevated Japan’s status as a ‘permanent member’.[10] China again vehemently protested this trilateral engagement and said that “relevant countries should not provoke confrontation and create tension in the region.”[11]

Table 1: Participants, location and duration of Malabar Exercises, 1992-2020

1992India-USAOff India’s West Coast1 day
1995India-USAPersian Gulf1 day
1996India-USAOff Kochi2 days
2002[12]India-USAArabian Sea4 days
2003India-USAOff Kochi3 days
2004India-USAOff Goa8 days
2005India-USAOff Kochi8 days
2006India-USAOff Goa11 days
2007, AprilIndia-USAPhilippine Sea4 days
2007, Sept.India-USA-Japan-Australia-SingaporeBay of Bengal6 days
2008India-USAArabian Sea10 days
2009India-USA-JapanOff Okinawa6 days
2010India-USAOff Goa7 days
2011India-USAOff Okinawa5 days
2012India-USABay of Bengal7 days
2013India-USAOff Vishakhapatnam6 days
2014[13]India-USA-JapanOff Nagasaki6 days
2015[14]India-USA-JapanBay of Bengal6 days
2016[15]India-USA-JapanPhilippine Sea4 days
2017[16]India-USA-JapanBay of Bengal8 days
2018[17]India-USA-JapanOff the coast of Guam10 days
2019[18]India-USA-JapanOff the coast of Japan9 days

[TD]Bay of Bengal[c][/TD]

Over the past decade, as the Indo-Pacific region faced increasing security challenges, the Quad states have also heightened their congruity in foreign policy. Their shared issues include terrorism, maritime piracy, and more importantly, threats to the rules-based order underlying a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’.[20] More pertinently, the ‘China factor’—which was key to the failure of Quad 1.0 to take off—just a decade later appears to be serving as the pivot around which the Quad 2.0 minilateralism[21] is seeking a rejuvenation. In the decade since 2007, a rising Chinese belligerence in its land and maritime disputes, the increasingly questionable intent of its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) programme, and its related debt trap diplomacy have only further upended the thesis of a “peacefully rising and status-quoist China”.[22] Consequently, Australia, India, Japan and the US have sought to breathe new life into their Quad; Quad 2.0 has met biannually at a senior official level since 2017, and was subsequently upgraded to the ministerial level in 2019.[23]

At its core, Quad 2.0 aims to maintain regional maritime stability by ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific under the norms of the rules-based global order. Security issues including terrorism, cyber and maritime arenas have consistently been amongst the priority in the agendas of their meetings (See Table 2). Moreover, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Quad held a virtual meeting—which included other countries like Vietnam, New Zealand and South Korea—to strengthen inter-state coordination in mitigating the impact of the pandemic. The agenda of that meeting included issues of vaccine development, repatriation of overseas citizens, and the economic fallout of COVID-19.

However, while they have met twice in November 2017, three times in 2018, and again twice in 2019, the Quad has not issued any joint statement following any of these meetings.[24] The four have only released independent press statements of their perceptions of the outcomes of these meetings.[25]

R. G. Buchan and B. Rimland make the observation that since the meeting in November 2018, Quad 2.0 has emphasised on the continued importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in maintaining regional maritime stability.[26] This implies that the minilateral does not intend to undermine or supersede the functions of the multilateral ASEAN.[27]

Table 2: Quad 2.0 Meetings, 2017-2020

1.2017, November[28]ManilaDenuclearisation of North Korea, Free and Open Indo-Pacific, protection of rules based orderAssistant Secretary Level
2.2018, January[29]New DelhiFree and Open Indo-Pacific, protection of rules based order, China’s disruption in Indo-PacificSenior Official Level
SingaporeFree, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific regionSenior Official Level
4.2018, November[31]SingaporeFree, open, rules-based and inclusive order in the Indo-pacific region that fosters trust and confidence. Confirmed importance of ASEAN in regional stabilitySenior Official Level
5.2019, September[32]New YorkTopics included disaster relief assistance, airtime and cybersecurity security cooperation, finance and counterterrorism. Reconfirmed importance of ASEAN in regional stabilityMinisterial Level
6.2019, November[33]BangkokContinued discussions from New York meet. In addition included connectivity and infrastructure development and security cooperation in the maritime, cyber and terrorism spheres.Senior Official Level
7.2020, March[34]Virtual MeetingQuad-plus – Inclusion of New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea,
Coordinate efforts to counter Covid-19, Vaccine development, repatriation, global economy
Senior Official Level
A Potential Renewal?
Quad 2.0, much like its first iteration, has suffered because of lack of both coherence and purpose. This is partly because New Delhi has been working to reset its relations with China under the carefully constructed ‘Wuhan Spirit’, since the de-escalation of the two-month-long standoff between the two countries in mid-2017 at the border trijunction in Doklam.[35] New Delhi’s post-Doklam adjustment went so far as to even cancel all rallies of the Dalai Lama and visibly step back from its pro-Tibet stand.[36]

Australia, the only member of Quad 2.0 which has not been part of the Malabar exercises since 2007, has for the last few years been regularly courting India for an invitation. New Delhi has consistently refused, for various reasons. Some analysists point to what they refer to as a “trust deficit” between India and Australia,[37] owing to the latter’s ambiguity regarding its relationship with China, driven in turn by its strategic interests.[38] Other observers have alluded to New Delhi’s continued endeavour to delink the Quad arrangement from the Indo-Pacific.[39] More specifically, it has been suggested that including Australia in the next Malabar exercises would weaponise the Quad. These same analysts argue that conflating the Quad with the Indo-Pacific might unnecessarily provoke China into opening up a new front in the eastern Indian Ocean Region (IOR), where China has so far avoided direct naval confrontation with India.[40] New Delhi should therefore do a careful calculation before it commits itself to a geopolitical framework that effectively further ostracises China, as a mere naval alliance will not substitute for the required technology transfer that will enhance India’s deterrence capabilities in the IOR.[41]

Nonetheless, since 2015, Indo-Australian relations have strengthened, with the first bilateral maritime exercise AUSINDEX held in Vishakhapatnam.[42] The exercises were again held in 2017, off the coast of Freemantle, and in 2019 in the Bay of Bengal.[43] This new generation of Indo-Australian relations has been largely underpinned by the pragmatism of mutual interest.

Most recently, in a virtual summit in June this year, New Delhi upgraded its relationship with Canberra to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”,[44] with agreements over a range of areas including science, infrastructure, terrorism, trade and defence. In defence, the ‘Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement’ was signed, providing the two countries access to each other’s ports and bases.[45] They also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance collaboration between their defence technology and research organisations.

With the steadily growing Indo-Australian interlinkages over the last half a decade or so, it now seems logical for India to take the leap and expand the Malabar from a trilateral to a quadrilateral initiative, and include Australia in the next exercise. This would necessarily conflate the military context from the Malabar exercise with the security framework of the Quad 2.0, providing the much-needed teeth to the Quadrilateral arrangement.

A ‘Weaponised’ Quad
The next Malabar exercise will gain greater significance if Australia is indeed included. It will bring to the forum a renewed willingness to enhance diplomatic and economic coordination in the hope that it will lead eventually to a stronger military alliance. The Quad will then be in a position to address each member state’s strategic vulnerabilities, essentially bringing closer the prospect of a ‘weaponised’ Quad. Japan’s strategic competition with China, especially regarding the disputed Senkaku islands south of Japan, has flared up since the beginning of the decade due to differing historiographies and competition over the islands’ natural resources.[46] However, Japan still brings to the table considerable capital and economic support which make up for its constitutionally limited military capabilities. While Tokyo has made an active effort to modernise its capabilities—including the upgrade of two self-defence force ships to fit in the F-35 stealth fighters—its ability to protect its interests in the larger Indo-Pacific region remains dependent on its alliances.[47]

Today, India’s fundamental vulnerabilities stem from its geographical contiguity with its northern neighbours, Pakistan and more specifically, China with which it shares a 3,488-kilometre-long[48] undefined border. The frequent Sino-Indian border standoffs and the more recent skirmish at the Galwan Valley[49] are symptoms of what is increasingly becoming a zero-sum Sino-Indian relationship. Beijing’s remarkable economic development and its associated military modernisation has only widened the gap between the military capabilities of China and India.

Notwithstanding this, China’s growing influence through OBOR and its expanding presence in the Indian Ocean Region have only heightened anxiety in New Delhi’s strategic circles.[50] In response, India is modernising its capabilities, focusing on protecting its interests in the maritime domain. However, as it protects its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean Region, New Delhi’s scope of contribution is comparatively limited in the larger Indo-Pacific region.[51]

The US, meanwhile, has gone a step further with its growing discourse of a new cold war with China, blaming Beijing for trade malpractices, economic espionage,[52] and its expansionist policies in its neighbourhood. However, being the world’s most powerful tech investor,[53] the US still retains the world’s foremost military capabilities with its leading maritime presence in the Indo-Pacific. While analysts have pointed out the possibility in the future of a receding US influence in the Indo-Pacific, heightened military and economic cooperation amongst the Quad partners would maintain the US’ influence by burden-sharing maritime responsibilities.[54]

Australia has also become increasingly sceptical of not only its economic overdependence on Beijing, but also Beijing’s rising influence in Australian politics.[55] To counter this fear of a ‘weaponised interdependency’,[56] Australia has propagated its ‘Pacific Set-up’ strategy which aims to expand its military and economic interaction in its neighbourhood by providing infrastructure financing and export financing mechanisms worth around AU$3 billion to bolster the economies in its neighbourhood.[57]

The currently escalating Sino-US rhetoric of a ‘Cold War’ and the potential transition of the international order into a multipolar system could conceivably strengthen cooperation within the Quad 2.0. At the same time, the increasing collaboration also appears to be a result of a gradual unification of wider interests amongst the four member states. Moreover, there is a possibility that this four-member grouping might see the participation of other major regional players.

While the Malabar exercises could perhaps create a template for future Quad 2.0 interactions, what remains contentious is the level of actual military assistance this ‘weaponised’ Quad would provide its member states in the event of Chinese aggression or local conflict. This question remains unanswered especially in the light of increasing US isolationism and its rhetoric of calling on regional stakeholders to shoulder more responsibility. What becomes exceedingly clear is that keeping with the historical trajectory of the Quad grouping, unless there are rapid changes in the extent of military coordination and technology dissemination amongst its members, the Quad will find it difficult to evolve from its present-day avatar as a soft balancing tool against regional bullying.

Although the Quad’s present functions of enhancing interoperability, bolstering intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance proficiencies remain foundational in any military coordination,[58] its members should actively cooperate to build each other’s economic, technological and military capabilities to counter China. Without this enhancement, the Quad’s goals—maintaining Indo-Pacific stability, challenging regional bullying, strengthening economic independence, and protecting the free and open Indo-Pacific under the rules-based order—will remain a distant dream.

Australia’s possible participation in the next Malabar exercises would come as a natural result of a progression in bilateral diplomatic relations, coupled with the compulsions driven by ongoing strategic shifts in the Indo-Pacific region. While threats to regional security have heightened in recent times, it would be an oversimplification to attribute the current strengthening of Quad 2.0 ties entirely to the decline of Sino-Indian relations. More pertinently, although Australia’s addition would indeed send a strong message to China—as India exhibits to the world its desire to play the role it perceives for itself—New Delhi should also work on securing real naval technology transfers to enhance its actual deterrence capabilities in IOR.

The growing instability in the international order, including the weakening of US influence in the Indo-Pacific, makes a stronger case for the protection of the global commons. While the level of future integration depends on a variety of evolving domestic and international factors, what is certain is that with the potential inclusion of Australia in Malabar and an enhanced commitment to this alignment of democracies, Quad 2.0 would perhaps cease being disregarded. The Quad would increasingly be able to prove itself beyond being merely a “foam in the Ocean, destined to dissipate soon.”[59]


Team StratFront
Feb 16, 2019
Tripura, NE, India
At India-Japan Summit next month, Modi and Abe to sign off on key military pact

India and Japan have advanced the proposed Modi-Abe summit to September. The two countries had earlier scheduled to hold the virtual meeting in October

Updated: Aug 17, 2020 17:41 IST
By Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The India-Japan virtual Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to be held in September(Suo Takekuma/Kyodo News via AP)

The India-Japan summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled for nearly next month, people familiar with the development said. The two leaders are also expected to sign off on a key military logistic pact, Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), and discuss the possibility of some Japanese manufacturing units shifting to India.

According to South Block officials, the final dates for the virtual summit are still under discussion. Diplomats from the two countries were earlier looking at the possibility of holding the meeting in October before narrowing down on some dates in September. The summit, initially proposed to be held in Guwahati on December 15-17 2019, was postponed due to protests against the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Assam.

The summit comes against the backdrop of aggressive moves by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in India’s East Ladakh sector and Japan’s Senkaku Islands, respectively. Diplomats said the two leaders will not only discuss the Chinese aggression in Ladakh and the South China Sea but also cement the concept of Quad, the quadrilateral coalition of four countries - India, Japan, Australia and the US.

The four Quad countries have increasingly, focussed on countering Beijing’s wolf-warrior diplomacy and keeping the sea lanes of communication open for freedom of navigation.

The ACSA, which is key to India and Japan extending support and logistics to each other’s military, is expected to be initialled by the two leaders. New Delhi already has a similar agreement with other two Quad members, Australia and the US.

India’s formal decision to invite Australia to the Malabar naval exercises later this year is expected soon but officials have made it clear that it is a formality. Australia’s inclusion to the military drills that has in the past included the other three Quad members - India, Japan and the United States - would be the first time that the grouping will be engaged at a military level.

Officials said PM Modi and PM Abe will discuss at length the Indo-Pacific region and the challenges it faces from the Middle Kingdom.

According to senior government officials, the two leaders will further cement economic cooperation with India opening doors to Japanese manufacturing activity and perhaps, involve Tokyo in ramping up port infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

While India has linked peace and tranquillity on its border with China to the bilateral ties, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also under pressure from his own Cabinet members to adopt a tough line with China.

The Beijing expansionist approach is not limited to Ladakh but has created security concerns with Japan over ownership of Senkaku Islands as China claims the same as Diaoyu Islands with any eye towards extending its exclusive economic zone and strengthening the hold beyond the South China Sea. The Japanese people are not only in favour of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tokyo being cancelled but also want the Abe government to be more critical of Beijing on the new Hong Kong security law.