ROLE OF QUAD IN SOUTH CHINA SEA

BY DAKSHITA NAITHANI

The Quadrilateral Dialogue was established in 2007 when four countries—the United States, India, Japan, and Australia—joined forces. However, it did not take off at first due to a variety of factors, and it was resurrected in 2017 after almost a decade due to factors such as growing country convergence, the expanding importance of the Indo-Pacific area, and rising threat sentiments toward China, amongst many others.

The origins of QUAD may be traced back to the Malabar Exercise. Malabar began as a modest Passage Exercise named PASSEX between the Indian and US Navies in 1992, but was halted after India’s nuclear testing in Pokhran in 1998. It was later restarted in 2002. Since its inception in 2002, QUAD has become an annual event. With the addition of Japan in 2015, it has become a trilateral practice.

The Quad’s goal remains intact: to promote the economic and security objectives of those nations with genuine and essential interests, to devise a new approach for keeping the Indo-key Pacific’s maritime lanes free of foreign influence. It has become necessary in view of the increased need for information exchange in the maritime sector. With the growing presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean, awareness is a key subject for the Navy. After 2008, China increased its presence in the Region under the pretext of anti-piracy operations, even deploying submarines for the objective. In 2017, China formally established its first overseas facility near Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

What are the underlying challenges?

The environment in which QUAD has been resurrected, as well as subsequent engagements like as Malabar Exercise 2020, are regarded as governed by a counter-China narrative. There are several features that may not constitute sites of convergence, despite how they appear.

China’s influence: China has significant economic links with Quad partners, particularly Australia, which is what it may use to compel or sway nations to its side. This might prove to be an issue for India.

Maritime orientation: Quad is a marine rather than a land-based organisation because of its strong concentration on the Indo-Pacific. This raises some important concerns about the basis of collaboration with Asia-Pacific and Eurasian countries.

Differing perspectives. There are conflicting viewpoints on certain situations, such as the Myanmar crisis as seen through the eyes of the United States and India. India has remained silent in the face of Japan’s expressed worry that China is attempting to alter the status quo in the East and South China Seas.

Advantages in Space- When QUAD representatives join forces in space, they have significant benefits and are able to fight China. This includes (a) lowering the extremely high expenses of building a dock in order to promote the development of interplanetary vehicles (IPVs). (b) One member state has benefits that will compliment each other and will lead to a successful Mars exploration and the construction of support facilities that will be necessary for effective asteroid belt mining. (c) All member countries bring a high degree of convergence in space applications, for example, the United States has the advanced technological base required for advanced avionics, which will form the backbone for both the construction of a space dock and the construction of IPVs; India has a highly educated and inexpensive working population, which will lower the cost of space; and Australia has the natural resources required for exploration.

The Quad met in Tokyo on October 6, 2020, for the second time since the organisation revived in November 2017. It was the second such gathering, following the inaugural virtual meeting in June, and the first high-level Quad meeting since the 2019 foreign ministers’ meeting in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting. Furthermore, given mounting worries about Beijing’s hostile conduct and growing suspicions about China’s management of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, the meeting’s timing and circumstances added to its relevance.

China’s ‘incremental encroachment strategy’ in the South China Sea (SCS) is a source of worry not only for the countries currently affected by the loss of influence over the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but also for the rest of the world, as China may be able to exercise a monopoly over SCS Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). Affected nations lack the necessary power to stand up to China, and so will be forced to accept a one-sided agreement such as the China-driven “Code of Conduct” (COC).

As a result, Chinese adventurism must be restrained by other major maritime countries in the global interest. The fact that China could establish a military facility in the SCS despite the existence of the US Navy shows that worldwide criticism and more effort are required to prevent the SCS from becoming “China’s lake.”

Quad may not have the fangs it needs right now, but there is no other option than to establish a prospective structure like this involving likeminded maritime countries with shared strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific. Various perspectives on the Quad’s role, viability, and prospects have been expressed on several occasions. Because Quad is a security conversation platform rather than a military alliance, aspirations from it must be suitably limited for the time being. 

In the Indo-Pacific, each Quad member sees a distinct threat. While three of the Quad’s warships (Australia, the United States, and Japan) operate under the NATO military alliance structure, India is not a member of any military alliance, while being a reliable ally of two of them. Without India, the trilateral conversation between the three NATO partners has been since 2002. Because India is the only Quad member with an unresolved land boundary with China, it will take a different strategy to dealing with China.

The Quad has emphasised the importance of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific; nevertheless, their membership in it is a contentious topic owing to Chinese influence. In reaction to China’s claim to the nine-dash line in the SCS, there are divisions within the ASEAN grouping. Some of the ASEAN nations that have been harmed had previously raised a faint voice opposing Chinese aggressiveness, expecting international powers to rein in China’s antics.

Quad’s shared goal of putting its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific on a “rules-based” legal framework to ensure freedom of passage in the global SLOC requires some reflection and strengthening. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) has been ratified by Australia, India, and Japan, but the United States has yet to do so. This ratification will be required in order to maintain a high moral ground when implementing the agreement.

China is relatively certain that the US and any other country would not employ military action against it, given the current world geopolitical situation. Beijing is also beefing up its naval capabilities. Quad aims to upgrade beyond its Malabar workouts in this situation.

In the Indo-Pacific, Quad members must maintain freedom of navigation exercises and military posture as China continues to do so. Chinese expansion must continue to be condemned by the international community. Quad may not be powerful enough to stop Chinese adventurism in its current form, but it has the potential to become one of the most effective instruments if the afflicted nations and the international community band together to address their mutual concerns.

The navies of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States conducted their largest naval drills this month, sending warships, submarines, and aircraft to the Indian Ocean, signalling the four countries’ seriousness in countering China’s military and political influence in the Indo-Pacific region, according to analysts. Officials in Beijing were silent, but Chinese state media denounced the Malabar naval manoeuvres, calling them a threat to regional stability, according to the Global Times newspaper.

Conclusion

The Quad is developing as one of the major multilateral which is committed to increased security collaboration in the post–COVID-19 international order, given the rising pace and scope of the group’s work. Furthermore, having an active Quad dispels the long-held belief that the Indo-Pacific is mainly inert. With the stakes higher than ever, each of the Quad’s four members must play a larger role in balancing the Indo-threats Pacific’s and power moves. Every step made by the Quad will make it more difficult for Beijing to realise its great-power goals. As a result, China will be unnerved by the Quad’s emergence as a united front championing a free and open Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, if China continues to push the security boundaries and put the Quad members to the test, the organisation will morph into the anti-China squad Beijing fears.