The idea of the Quadrilateral dialogue was brought forward by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the year 2007. It was aimed at creating a formula to combat security issues in the Asia- Pacific region by holding talks to establish peace, stability and prosperity. The 'quad' is a coalition of four participant countries which are the U.S, Japan, India and Australia. The first meeting of the quad was on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2007. The dialogue however halted after its first meeting due to fears that China saw this as containment talks. China had issued de`marches, which is a formal diplomatic communication between states to elicit information, to New Delhi and Canberra days before the quad officially met in 2007. Taking the hint of China's concerns over the quad, India and Australia withdrew from the talks in order to not provoke China. Expert opinion translates that the quad not be a formal military alliance aimed at China but rather be non-threatening dialogues between like-minded countries on themes of common interests. The quadrilateral sees itself as an adjunct to the ASEAN.
WHY THE DIALOGUE?
The dialogue re-emerges in the midst of intense shifts in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. There is identifiable concern over the growing influence of China amongst its neighbors. This is heightened by China's activities in the South and East China Seas where it holds military operations in close proximity to other nations who are smaller in terms of military capacity and economic growth rates. It only appears natural that such operations on the part of a growing country which is the largest in Asia, whose GDP is evermore closer to that of the U.S and has an increasing military expenditure which now stands more than twice that of India and Japan combined, causes worry and tension in the Indo-Pacific. With the Chinese setting up airbases in each of its existing and new artificial islands in the South China Sea, it is expanding its influence in the region by making its presence known through active defense operations. The South China Sea (SCS) is a channel of profuse amounts of international trade approximating up to $5.3 trillion. It is also rich in natural resources containing 10 % of the world's fisheries. Natural Gas is an abundant hydrocarbon resource in the SCS estimated at 190 trillion cubic feet and Oil reserves are estimated to be 11 billion barrels.
THE U.S AND THE QUAD
The U.S takes up the duty of safeguarding the seas and access to international waters and airspace as its responsibility citing the decades of Freedom of Navigation Operations or FONOPs it had conducted. No nation, it says, need to perceive this as a threat. However the new dialogue or 'alliance' as China sees it could prove to be provocative enough for the Chinese administration to employ military power to ward off its 'containment' activities by the quad. The U.S is seen as the peace keeper in the Indo-Pacific as it is the largest among other countries that is endowed with the necessary military capacity to withstand China. Several bilateral and trilateral agreements also exist between individual nations of the quad. One such trilateral agreement between India-Japan-Australia could be seen as a support mechanism for the U.S involvement in the Indo-Pacific region since it does not have any territory here. Reports also suggest the U.S seeks to establish a balance of power in the region by keeping a check on China's rise through the quadrilateral forum. China in response to the U.S mentioned that any front that is being formed formally or informally should not be aimed at harming the interests of a third party. China's discomfort towards the quadrilateral is a proof of the gravity of the venture.
INDIA AND THE QUAD
Mr Manmohan Singh, laid the path to India's entry into the quadrilateral in December 2006, when he visited the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Shinzo Abe. But India and Australia had withdrawn from the quad in the initial phases fearing it would provoke China and disrupt the relation with their strongest neighbor. The re-emergence of the quad is evidence that the member countries are now on the same page regarding the issues and seek support from each other to minimize China's power play on a larger canvas. India has been facing pressure from the U.S and Japan for a stronger role in its strategic position in the quadrilateral security dialogue. Interestingly as opposed to engagements by the previous government, the current Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi has become more vocal and clear of his involvements in the issue. He is not one to shy away from taking up international discourses on any important matter and does not believe in insecurities between major players of the region. India is emerging firmly committed to freedom of navigation, flight and unhindered commercial trade backed by international laws especially the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). This brings India's conflicting opinion on the Expansionist policies of China in the South China Sea into light. Another interesting element proposed by the Modi government is the up-gradation of India's 'Look East Policy'(LEP) to the 'Act East Policy'(AEP). While deeper economic ties with the countries in the Asia-Pacific region was the major focus of the LEP, the AEP seeks to improve the stand on broader issues like politics, security, strategy and counter terrorism among these countries, mainly Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Australia. While India's involvement in multilateral agreements between major Asian countries makes China uneasy, China's aggression in the SCS does the same to India. Hence the AEP can also be a platform to enter into the acts of balancing the power of China in the Asia-Pacific. Although India doesn't wish to be found in direct rivalry with China, the current and future relationships among the two countries may not prove to be as smooth as before.
IS THE QUAD HERE TO STAY?
Unlike the first time, the quadrilateral needs to alter its approach to be successful. Their agendas need to be carefully planned out and meetings fixed in advance about relevant issues to be tackled. The primary object of the quadrilateral is the re-establishment and maintenance of the International rules-based orders in the Asia Pacific. The dialogues are aimed at resolving any disputes that may disrupt this order by keeping a check on the operations of leading countries in the region, especially China, although not explicitly cited anywhere. For the fulfillment of its purpose, the quad is required to be informed about major challenges internally amongst its own members and describe to its external audience its plans and strategies lest it be deciphered by them in a way that seem destructive to the interests of a third party.
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Panganiban, A. V. (2016, September 11). Nature of SCS Arbitral Tribunal. Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Ramabadran, S. (2017, May 8). India's Act East Policy- from the ASEAN to the Pacfic. South Asia Program at Hudson Institute.
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