The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) was an informal strategic dialogue between USA, India, Japan, and Australia. It was born out of a disaster. The QUAD countries were the first and most active respondents of the 2004 Tsunami. They formed a “Tsunami Core Group”. It brought together the four nations best equipped to deal with the disaster. Incidentally, China has traditionally kept away from such relief activities. The first QUAD1.0 meeting was held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meet in Manila in May 2007. In September 2007, a Naval exercise was held in the Bay of Bengal as part of the 2nd Malabar Series. It featured the four navies, along with the Singapore Navy. QUAD1.0 had differing perceptions, lack of clear purpose or objectives. There was apprehension that it will become an Asian NATO. The Chinese objected vehemently. It dissipated in 2008
In 2017, the QUAD had a second coming due to Chinese coercive behavior in trade, Doklam, and South China Sea. Representatives of the QUAD met in Manilla again in Nov, 2017. From then, things have progressed incrementally. QUAD2.0 centered around “Free, Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific Region”, stable balance of power, promotion of a rules-based system and limiting Chinese assertiveness in its territorial and maritime claims. However, differences on threat perception, capabilities, strategic compulsions, priorities, constitutional bindings, and culture persisted to limit QUAD2.0. The Chinese have been dismissive about it. Their foreign minister remarked that the QUAD will dissipate like sea foam. However, China’s actions in the recent past has changed the scene completely.
China is waging a multi domain war and has become dangerously militant. The BRI and debt trap diplomacy forces 70 odd countries to politically align with China. Of the balance 120 odd countries, it needs support of about 30 (25%) countries to have a simple majority in any world/ international forum to pass any resolution. Natural differences of opinions will give China these numbers. If WHO is any example, China has cornered enough heft in other international institutions to parrot its line. It is also a Veto holder. All put together it is at a stage to reframe the global rules. It is cornering most consumer nations to continue dependence on it for manufacturing and daily supply. It is aggressively using diplomacy and military power to scare off countries which can take on the relocation and decoupling mantle. Even if decoupling is possible, it will finance that effort in the relocated country. Hence the location might change but the manufacture and supply chain could still be Chinese. Its manufacturing web and BRI can potentially continue to power its monopolistic rise and give it control over world trade. The BRI debt trap has ensured raw material and energy instreams at depressed prices (for the next 25 years at least) from most Africa, Middle East, and South America. It has weaponized its markets as experienced jarringly by Australia. It has also weaponized the Wuhan Virus to infect the world and debilitate it. Chinese armed forces are in the process of usurping the ‘Global Commons’ of the China Seas. Hence major sea trade routes could be sovereign to China. Its ‘Three Strategies’ – publicopinion, legal exploitation, and influence operations have undermined governments and subverted democracies. It is also on a data suppression cum theft spree through normal electronic gadgets. It aims to build the greatest military on earth. It has protected its flanks with two impoverished nuclear mavericks – Pakistan and N Korea. These China dependent wild cards are let loose on its competitors to keep them unpleasantly occupied. N Korea on Japan, S Korea, and USA. Pakistan on India. Military Civil Fusion has ensured that it gets front end technology at no cost or risk by theft/compromise. The risk, effort, investment, and thought are of progressive western democratic nations against whom their own technology is used to their detriment at their cost! It is amply clear that China is on a high roll of global subsidy. Their model is perfect for 1.4 billion Chinese who will be subsided by 6.4 billion of the rest of the earth as underlings. Chinese ‘Tianxia’ will be communist. Welcome to a new Sinic Global Order protected by the Great Firewall of Information. If this juggernaut is not stopped, I might end up as an orderly of Xi, in this ‘Tianxia’. I am naturally worried! So should you be.
USA led the world out of all crises from the Great Depression to the 2008 Financial Crisis, However, it stepped out of the global leadership role ever since the Wuhan Virus stuck the world. The trend had started earlier with President Trump’s “America First Policy”. It was exacerbated with US inability to deal with the Wuhan Virus, race riots unseen for a long time, preoccupation with Presidential elections, and a general fogging of its global outlook and power. Suddenly the world does not have a leader. Number One is temporarily incapacitated. Number Two is the Global Villain. The international community is in choppy seas. It is also evident that USA alone will not have the power to stop Chinese machinations. Powerful democracies must come together to sort out the problem. An aging EU is not willing to even look at the gauntlet. There is no other option than QUAD2.0.
The overall objective of the Quad2.0 was ambiguous to start with. However, as international focus is sharpening on an aggressive China, clarity is emerging. Hence the primary focus and aim should be to stall China from putting us underneath their Tianxia. If it amounts to containing and bottling it up even by force so be it. The rest of the objectives like open seas and rules-based order will follow. The four leaders need to put their shoulders to it together.
QUAD2.0 must provide leadership to the world. A superpower and three middle level powers; all four vibrant democracies comprising three civilizations – Western, Japanese, and Indian are a strong combination. Already this is finding traction with S Korea. Vietnam and New Zealand who are now part of QUAD Plus. In due course if things are put together, the EU will eventually join in. The deteriorating Sino Indian and Sino US relations and China’s unrelenting belligerence will propel QUAD2.0 into Global leadership. USA has been upping the stakes in the South China Sea. This has already emboldened Philippines to pivot away from China. Indonesia has followed suit by conducting a four day exercise in the South China Sea. An uptick in alignments with the QUAD2.0 is visible. The converse is that once the QUAD takes up the leadership role, USA will automatically assert itself.
QUAD2.0 has tremendous military potential. USA and India have strong and experienced Armed Forces. Combined with forces of Australia and Japan, it will be an overmatch for China. Contrary to popular imagination, these countries need not even come to each other’s direct aid. A coordinated multidirectional threat/ application of force is enough. China needs to be forced to look at two or more fronts constantly. This paradigm is playing out now. It needs to be refined. QUAD2.0 will be best served if there is understanding and commonality of intelligence sharing, communication, and logistics with just operational coordination. Political consonance is more important.
The economic dimension is more important than the military one. QUAD2.0 has three of the top five economies in the world. It is a healthy mixture of raw material, manufacturing, and consumer power with tremendous innovation capability. QUAD2.0 has the protective power of enforcing decoupling from China and creating alternative markets if it takes the PLUS countries along economically. US resolve and experience during the Trade War to challenge Chinese economic practices will be crucial.
While China’s greatest strength is its unitary Communist Ideology, that is also its weakest link. QUAD2.0 has the global strength of being able to target the CCP. China’s game of dividing the opposition should be beaten through a unified approach. USA has already embarked on a program to attack the CCP. If QUAD2.0 de-legitimizes the ’One China’ policy and rejects ludicrous territorial claims, things will start falling in place. Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are waiting for quadratic solutions. The Great Information Firewall must be broken.
The prospects for the QUAD2.0 look promising. For long India was the reluctant partner due to its non-alignment history, deep relations with Russia and the need to balance relations with China. However, with ‘gloves off’ on the China front those decks are cleared. It is time that we move past historical baggage to secure our interests. Additionally, India has concluded some significant pacts with members of the QUAD independently. This paves way for a comprehensive partnership to evolve since the other three are on one page by and large. QUAD2.0 must have a frank word with Russia. They are next on the Chinese hit list. Already a warning shot has been fired over their bow with Chinese claims on Vladivostok. Further, Russia has a long border with China. With its miniscule population Russia cannot defend its huge territories from Chinese expansionism. If put in correct perspective Russia will see the light.
However, there are other internal contradictions in the QUAD2.0. Japan has a pacifist constitution. How far will it go if the penny drops? Japan and India are the only countries with direct territorial disputes with China. Their interests and perceptions are different from USA and Australia who are extra regional players. The Australian problem with China is more economic and Pacific centered. USA sees direct competition from China and clearly wants to contain it. USA has historically preferred alliances however it is now diluting NATO. The ‘America First’ mantra of USA puts questions on its reliability as an alliance partner. Then there is a question whether there should be an alliance or a partnership. In my opinion these are good issues to handle and we must thank China for giving shape to QUAD2.0.
QUAD2.0 has the toolkit to handle China. It needs to sit across the table and thrash out things. It is now widely accepted that an alliance is not feasible. It would be more prudent to get into a need-based partnership with focused objectives to bottle the Chinese genie. Alliances can be thought of later. “It’s time for free nations to act” as per US Secretary of State. The free nations must also decide whether to slide into the hell of a Chinese ‘Tianxia’or bring the QUAD2.0 on.