Context: Recently, the foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. held a standalone meeting in Tokyo.

More on the news:

  • China’s misbegotten military adventure in Ladakh has certainly breathed fresh life into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as a loose, consultative entente of like-minded democracies in the Indo-Pacific.
  • If the Quad grouping is to prosper as a geopolitical construct, it would do well to heed lessons drawn from the long arc of Asia’s history and geopolitics.

Background of the region:

  • No Indo-Pacific: 
    • There has never been Indo-Pacific system ever since the rise of the port-based kingdoms of Indochina in the first half of the second millennium. 
    • Instead, there were two Asian systems: an Indian Ocean system and an East Asian system with intricate sub-regional balances. 
    • The earlier British empire never managed to combine the Indo and the Pacific into a unitary system.
  • No prior experience of enduring peace:
    • Dynamic long cycles of Chinese influence in the Asian region and sharp periods of turmoil of the collapse of China and the Asian system hampered peace.
  • Balance of power:
    • For their part, the Indo-Pacific’s ‘flanking powers’, India and Japan, have never balanced Chinese power throughout their illustrious histories.
    • Earlier the European ‘balance of power’ system was existent in the region before the 18th century era. Here the ‘flanking powers’ (Britain and Russia) resisted revisionist challengers to periodically restore the continent’s equilibrium.


Certain issues currently revolving around the region

  • Divergence of India from the Quad in certain issues:
    • Sea lines of communication issue:
      • This constitutes the connective tissue that links the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific. 
    • It is also a valuable arena of leverage vis-à-vis Chinese shipping and resource flows. 
    • This leverage must be wielded judiciously on India’s terms, not on the Quad’s terms.
  • Valuable role of Quad
    • Quad has a valuable role to play as a check on China’s Indian Ocean ambitions.
    • India needs to develop ingrained habits of interoperable cooperation with its Quad partners and, thereby dissuade China from mounting a naval challenge in its backyard. 

Way ahead:

  • In his keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue in 2018, Indian PM noted that India would “work with its friends individually or in formats of three or more for a stable and peaceful region, but these friendships are not alliances of containment”. 
  • Therefore, reconciling this capacity to resist armed revisionism while nudging the region’s geopolitics towards cooperation as opposed to conflict should be India’s, and the Quad’s, priority.

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD)

  • It is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India.
  • It would  also be known as the Quad.
  • It has a shared objective of ensuring a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.
  • The idea of grouping was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007.

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