Quad Initiative: Has It Been Successful in Maintaining Its Relevance?

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), consisting of the US, India, Japan, and Australia, aims to preserve a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Originating in 2007, its principles revolve around ensuring maritime security and countering Chinese influence. Australia’s withdrawal due to Chinese pressure underscores the forum’s geopolitical significance. For India, the Quad offers strategic support against Chinese aggression, enhancing its regional influence. Recent summits prioritise collaboration in maritime security, space, climate change, and health. This reflects a concerted effort to uphold rules-based order and oppose unilateral actions altering the regional status quo, particularly in the South and East China Seas.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) comprises the US, Australia, India, and Japan, addressing diverse challenges, including maritime security and economic cooperation. With $1.9 trillion of US trade passing through the Indo-Pacific in 2019, the Quad seeks to counter China’s regional assertiveness, deepening cooperation amidst rising tensions and shared concerns over democratic values.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) originated in 2007 when then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed its formation. Following the evolution of Exercise Malabar and the 2004 Tsunami, India, the US, Japan, and Australia initiated relief efforts, sparking China’s formal diplomatic protests. Australia briefly withdrew in 2008 due to Chinese pressure but rejoined in 2010. Official talks commenced in 2017. Summits in March and September 2021, hosted by US President Joe Biden, underscored the Quad’s commitment to a free Indo-Pacific, countering China’s coercive behaviour. China’s opposition persists, viewing the Quad as a containment strategy. The Quad serves India’s strategic interests in balancing China’s assertiveness. 

Initially conceived as a response to humanitarian crises, the Quad evolved into a strategic alliance amidst rising concerns over China’s influence. Its revival under Trump and subsequent expansion under Biden reflects a concerted effort to counterbalance China’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific. By fostering closer ties and establishing working groups across various domains, the Quad aims to bolster regional security, promote democratic values, and provide collective responses to emerging challenges. This signifies a strategic shift towards shaping a regional order favourable to Quad members while also addressing broader geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific. Critical events like territorial disputes, border clashes, and deteriorating relations with China have spurred India, Japan, Australia, and the US to collaborate strategically and enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad worsens regional tensions and China sees it as a Cold War-like bloc. Singapore is concerned about getting involved in the US-China rivalry. Japan prioritizes diplomacy over territorial disputes. Quad nations prioritize collaboration over military containment in the face of rising tensions with China.

Way Forward

The emergence of the Quad and its economic and maritime initiatives, particularly in response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and maritime activities, challenges ASEAN centrality and risks disrupting regional stability. While the Quad aims to offer alternatives and ensure a rules-based order, its exclusionary approach marginalizes ASEAN and may hinder cooperation on issues like the South China Sea Code of Conduct. To mitigate tensions and uphold ASEAN centrality, the Quad should prioritize inclusive regional frameworks, engage ASEAN in its initiatives, and respect ASEAN-led mechanisms. Additionally, enhancing transparency and communication between the Quad and ASEAN can foster trust and address concerns regarding regional power dynamics. The Quad should seek to complement ASEAN’s efforts rather than overshadowing them, recognizing ASEAN’s pivotal role in fostering regional cooperation and stability. Collaborative efforts should focus on addressing shared challenges such as maritime security, infrastructure development, and economic integration, with ASEAN serving as a facilitator for inclusive and sustainable regional governance. Through constructive engagement and cooperation, the Quad can contribute to a more stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region while upholding ASEAN centrality.

The Quad’s evolution poses challenges in maintaining its informal nature while expanding cooperation. The balance between institutionalization and flexibility will be crucial, especially regarding potential moves towards the formal military alliance, which could strain cohesion, particularly with India’s historical stance of nonalignment. Additionally, navigating divergent interests among members, particularly regarding China, requires adept diplomacy to ensure sustained cooperation. Maintaining consensus on strategic objectives and addressing concerns about overreach or alienation of other regional actors, notably ASEAN, will be vital for the Quad’s continued effectiveness in the evolving Indo-Pacific geopolitical landscape.

[Prime Minister’s Office, Japan, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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