QUAD is the strategic grouping of four major democratic powerful nations, the US, Japan, Australia, and India, formed and promoted to ensure security in and around the Indo-Pacific region. The four countries held their first historic virtual meeting on the 13th of March 2021 to formally give a concrete shape to what the new Biden Administration aspires to carry forward in Indo-Pacific against China. After their meeting the statement issued by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan from the white house said:
“This is our effort to communicate clearly to the Chinese government how the United States intends to proceed at a strategic level, what we believe our fundamental interests and values are, and what our concerns with their activities are - whether it's on Hong Kong, or Xinjiang, or in the Taiwan Strait - or, frankly, the issues that we heard today from our Quad partners: their coercion of Australia, their harassment around the Senkaku Islands, their aggression on the border with India,"
It was also said that the four countries are meeting in person after some time to discuss and develop more moves to respond to China's assertion. The fundamental focus is on ensuring free and open Indo-Pacific, for commerce and other transactions. The meeting was held under the backdrop of border clashes between India and China in Eastern Ladakh which was going on since May 2020, though after a long deliberation the two sides decided to disengage by calling armies back in February this year but tensions are still lurking around. These clashes took about 20 lives of Indian soldiers and some 4 on the other side as per their official sources, which are the bloodiest since the 1962 Sino-Indian War. This offensive action of China if looked at from the realist lens does confirm the hegemonic tendencies in her behavior.
This QUAD grouping is facing a direct challenge from China, which regards it, an Asian NATO, a small geopolitical clique, an exclusivist design to contain her pace of rising in Asia. Beijing is accordingly reorienting her foreign policy from ‘nonintervention to open intervention’ in countries of Asia over time. Its counter moves will unfold with the passage of time. One of the recent examples in this direction is direct ‘warning’ to Bangladesh on its soil by a Chinese ambassador that joining QUAD will cause ‘significant damage’ to Dhaka. Although Dhaka denied any invitation from QUAD members for joining it. This can be taken as a ‘beginning call’ by this Asian giant that will spill over to other South Asian and ASEAN countries. China is apprehensive that Bangladesh will help the USA and India to sabotage the BRI initiatives by helping in carrying forward the formers’ ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ as outlined in 2016. Beijing is also conscious of the deepening Tokyo-Dhaka relationship over time. Beijing finds Tokyo, one of the perennial rivals in her backyard to hurt her interests which they both have in constructing ports in Bangladesh. Beijing also views QUAD as an exclusive grouping devoid of accepting UN rules to carry forward the US’s strategic and hegemonic goals in the Indo-Pacific at the disadvantage of smaller countries around China, including Bangladesh.
Quad is bringing back on the scene Russia and China, leaving their historic animosity: they both refer to QUAD as ‘Cold War Mentality’. Russia under sanctions from the US and its allies over the issues of Crimea and human rights is revisiting and rebuilding its ties with its historic big partner in Asia. Since China is also facing equal challenges/threats from the US on issues of Uygur Muslims, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and development of the alternate dollar-dominated financial system, therefore, tilting to Moscow for joint, re-calibrated response to the US in Asia as well in Indo-Pacific. The growing US-Japan strategic relationship in the Far East is also irking Russia and US-led Quad is nothing more than an extension of NATO to secure its hegemonic designs in this sphere, in Moscow’s views. This all has therefore enhanced the defense and strategic relationship between Russia and China. Russia, has severely, therefore criticized QUAD as, “West’s persistent, aggressive, and devious policy of engaging countries in this region in anti-China games”. The China-Russia grouping may also find new players around India to join, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar’s military Junta, and in Far East North Korea.
In the Southeast Asian region, the ‘China Threat’, ‘vaccine diplomacy’ and ‘China as a big trading partner with more inducements and economic dividend in the form of BRI for ASEAN’ is going side by side. So the countries in this region are facing a paradox of choice in choosing their “sides”. This will be also seen in how far they can preserve their autonomy in their foreign policies. ASEAN is facing ‘chances of division’ under this new atmosphere. Quad-plus may be joined by some like-minded countries in ASEAN like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia and some others may take sides with China. China warns, however, that no country from Southeast Asia or South Asia can afford costs of direct provocation.
After the first virtual meeting of Quad members, Global Times, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese communist government, began to question its scope, internal divergence, its ill impact on BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In February while referring to BRICS as a “positive, stable and constructive force” by backing India to host this year's BRICS summit, China called India, a ‘negative asset’ in BRICS and an obstacle in the progress of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, soon after the virtual meeting of Quad in March this year. China believes India is giving more importance to QUAD, “to counterbalance, contain and deter China."(Mint, 12 March 2021). So India is facing a direct provocation from its neighbor. Will this shift the attitude of India’s ‘maintaining strategic autonomy’ by taking directly sides or not is the question before India. India is already on the road under US’ ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ in enhancing her cooperation with USA. In 2016 USA and India have signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), and in 2018, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), for enabling greater communication between two militaries. Both the countries went a step further by signing the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020, which will ‘enable India to receive advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft with access to sophisticated GPS allowing it to use its ballistic and cruise missiles and other weapons with pinpoint accuracy. These developments are seen among Chinese policy circles to deter China.
Meanwhile, India and China along with other partners of BRICS are participating in a six-day long virtual meeting of their Foreign Ministers hosted by India, without discussing their bilateral issues. Their Prime Ministers are set to meet through this forum in the coming months. This may help in breaking some ice and developing goodwill, however, less optimism is there.
Shabeer Parey is Assistant Professor Political Science, Department of Higher Education, currently posted at HKM, Degree College Bandipora.
Dr. Musavir, has a doctorate in Political Science from University of Kashmir and is currently faculty at GDC Chadoora.