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Explained: Quad, the anti-China bloc, and what it hopes to achieve

The members of the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ will meet in the US this week for their first in-person discussions. Topping the packed agenda will be discussions on how to to counter China.

September 21, 2021 / 03:44 PM IST
(Left to right) US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison (Original images: Associated Press and Reuters)

(Left to right) US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison (Original images: Associated Press and Reuters)

US President Joe Biden is hosting a ‘Quad’ Summit at the White House on September 24. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison will be in attendance along with Biden. Per a statement from the White House, the leaders are slated to discuss the ongoing pandemic and their joint efforts to boost global vaccine supplies, the climate crisis, partnering in emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.

 Moneycontrol explains the Quad, how it was formed and its objectives.

 What is Quad ?

The Quad, officially the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’, is a strategic forum involving four nations — the US, India, Japan and Australia — to exchange strategic intelligence and conduct joint military exercises. It was initially formed as a military bloc, and the Navies and Air Forces of the four nations have conducted large-scale joint exercises, including in Bay of Bengal.

While the level of military cooperation in the Quad has not reached the levels of NATO, wherein an attack on one nation is taken as a sovereign breach on all member nations, or the US’ agreement with South Korea and Japan, which is along similar lines, some observers feel that the Quad could develop into such a grouping.

 So far, Quad meetings have happened only at the foreign minister, diplomatic and military leadership levels. 

 The first summit of leaders of Quad nations took place only in March this year, as a virtual affair, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, the members of the group will be meeting in the US for their first in-person discussions.

 What are Quad’s objectives ?

Officially, the group was conceived as a space to cooperate for safeguarding joint security and other interests in the Indo-Pacific region. However, observers and analysts say that the Quad was formed to counter China’s military and economic rise in recent decades. 

 While the Quad nations will not admit that the grouping has been formed to check China’s dominance, all the countries share a common concern over China’s growing assertiveness and dominance in the Asia Pacific. 

 India: There has been a major military stand-off between India and China since May 2020 in eastern Ladakh, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The simmering tensions led to a violent face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley in June, which led to the death of 20 Indian Army personnel and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers.

In recent years, China’s violation of international norms as well as its growing military and economic power have posed a strategic challenge for India.

US: Ties between the US and China hit a low during the tenure of Donald Trump and saw the two countries engage in a tariff war. Moreover, after exiting Afghanistan, the US is now closely watching China’s growing ties with Afghanistan’s Taliban. 

China’s growing willingness to challenge the status of the Indo-Pacific region, particularly its construction of military facilities on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, is a worry for the US’s maritime interests. In 2019, $1.9 trillion worth of U.S. trade had passed through the region. So far in 2021, 42 percent of the world’s exports and 38 percent of global imports are expected to pass through as per a report by the UN. 

Japan: China’s assertion of its sovereignty in the South China Sea, as well as Chinese interest in the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which both countries claim, poses a strategic threat to Japan. 

Australia: Relations between Australia and China soured following the former’s call for a probe into the theory that a virus leak from a Wuhan lab was responsible for Covid-19 becoming a global pandemic. Furthermore, China slapped sanctions on Australia earlier this year.

Recently, a decision by Australia to dump a deal with France and buy American nuclear submarines as part of a security pact with the US and the UK, has added to its tensions with China.

 How was the Quad formed ?  

The idea of a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However the group dissolved after accusations that it was an anti-China bloc. The early idea of the Quad was largely based around maritime security. 

In December 2012, Abe again floated the concept of a “Democratic Security Diamond” for Asia involving Australia, India, Japan and the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific. In 2017, the four countries revived the Quad in the face of the growing threat posed by China, broadening its objectives and creating a mechanism that aimed to slowly establish a rules-based international order.

What are the Quad's immediate objectives ? 

On the menu for the upcoming summit is a variety of issues ranging from a free and open Indo-Pacific, climate change, countering Covid-19 as well as Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution as well as supply chain resilience.  

At the end of the March summit earlier this year, a joint statement by the leaders termed the “Spirit of the Quad”, called for “a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” Given that the ties between China and each of the Quad countries are at a low, that declaration is bound to gain traction.

 The Quad Climate Working Group was set up during the March summit. The leaders are expected to discuss the goals to be included in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), such as NetZero Carbon emissions, renewable energy goals and usage of coal in thermal power plants ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, in Glasgow this November.

Also on the agenda is the issue of countering the covid pandemic and the production and distribution of vaccines. During the March summit, the Quad countries announced plans for a vaccine initiative that involved manufacture of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines at facilities in India with funding by the US and distribution by Japan and Australia. 

India had to cancel its vaccine-export programme, Vaccine Maitri, in April and is yet to restart it. It had also decided against signing the indemnity waiver for US-made vaccines, hence the upcoming agenda will be watched for any discussions on this. 

The Quad also set up a working group on critical and emerging-technology “to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future” during the March summit. Discussions on G5 technology to be used by the Quad nations, data security flow, and building supply chains are also expected to be taken up. 

Shreeja Singh