The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)

China’s strengthening is causing considerable political and economic tension in the Asia and Pacific Region. This is particularly spectacular on the South China Sea, which China claims for itself entirely and has been using for the establishment of artificial islands and military bases for several years. Numerous countries in the region suppose that China’s military, political and economic activities threaten the international system prevailing for over seventy years and based on internationally adopted rules and free navigability in the region. Since the countries of the region are unable to enforce their interests against China’s huge military and economic dominance, the four countries (Australia, Japan, India and the United States) attempt to restrict China’s power within the frames of cooperation, the so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (abbreviated as Quad).

The first Quad

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (abbreviated as Quad) originates from the tsunami taken place on the Indian Ocean in late 2004, after which Australia, Japan, India and the USA jointly provided assistance to the countries affected and established the Tsunami Core Group to harmonize the common efforts. However, the cooperation among the four countries did not continue after the end of the assistance following the tsunami.[i] Other antecedents of the Quad include the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue established for the support of the free, open and democratic Indian Region among Australia, Japan and the US in 2002. This cooperation has mainly been operating at ministerial level since 2005.[ii]

The idea of the Quad started to be outlined in 2006 when Japanese Prime Minister Candidate Shinzo Abe published his idea on a foreign policy based on values (e.g. democratic system and constitutionality), under which he suggested closer relations among Japan, India and Australia. In early 2007 the USA also joined this concept (although in the Bush Administration the accession enjoyed no uniform support), and in May in the same year the first Quad Meeting was held. In September 2007 a common naval drill was also performed in the Bengali Bay, with Singapore as the fifth participant.[iii]

According to the Indian Prime Minister and the Indian Minister of Foreign Relations, the official purpose of the Quad is to realize a “balancing behavior” in foreign policy and “an exchange of ideas among the members”. The four countries highlighted that the cooperation means no alliance and was not set up with the aim of restricting China. However, China saw it differently, and through diplomatic channels it protested prior to the Quad Meeting at all the four countries, demanding an explanation to the real purposes of the Quad.[iv]

The meeting held in May 2007 had no official program and no continuance was under discussion; however, the dialogue was generally expected to be continued (US Presidential Candidate John McCain expressly wrote in an article that if he is elected, he will institutionalize the Quad).[v] This, however, did not happen: China’s protest stopped the initiative as early as in July 2007 when Australian Minister of Defense Brendan Nelson visiting Beijing stated – responding to China’s reservations – that Australia does not intend to participate in the cooperation,[vi] which later he explained with the fact that Australia does not wish to get involved in any cooperation related to defense policy that would raise reservations in the region, primarily on behalf of China.[vii] Another unfavorable development with respect to the Quad was that the main supporter, Prime Minister Abe resigned in September 2007. In India the Quad had to face several difficulties: first, demonstrations were held against the military drill in September 2007, and second, the Government tried to please China so that it decides favorably during a procedure related to an Indian atom program in an organization called Nuclear Suppliers Group, aiming to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. As far as the USA concerns, the country finally considered the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue more important as the Quad.[viii] In November 2007 a new government was elected in Australia, and Kevin Rudd, an opponent of the Quad became the new Prime Minister.[ix] The Quad ceased to exist ultimately in February 2008, when the new Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith announced that Australia withdraws from the cooperation[x] (by the way, without discussing it with the other member states[xi]).

The reorganization of the Quad

In autumn 2017, nearly ten years after the Quad had faded, attempts were started for its revival. The new foreign policy white book released by the Australian government showed that Australia is open for multilateral cooperation with other countries, and the US National Defense Strategy released soon after that stated that the USA will increase the quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, India and Australia. The National Defense Strategy of the Pentagon also pointed out that the US aims to expand its existing relations of allies in the Indo-Pacific Region.[xii]

In October 2017 US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated in his speech that Australia could join the US-India-Japan cooperation, existing since 2011.[xiii] In the same month, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono declared that Japan will initiate a high-level dialogue with the USA, India and Australia in order to consolidate free trade and defense cooperation in the region stretching from the South China Sea through the Indian Ocean to East Africa (the idea was already raised by Kono to the US Secretary of State and the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs in August).[xiv] The proposal was supported by the spokesman of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs[xv] and the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs.[xvi] Besides, during his visit to Asia in November US President Donald Trump regularly used the term “Indo-Pacific Region” instead of the earlier phrase “Asia and Pacific Region”, highlighting the importance of the “free and open” nature of the region. (The term Indo-Pacific Region has been commonly used in the region since Trump’s visit to Asia, which shows the geopolitical significance of the territory covered by the Quad.[xvii])

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Indo-Pacific Region

As the first step after the declarations, high-ranking officials of the four countries met in Manila, capital city of the Philippines on 12 November 2017, simultaneously with the summit meetings of the Alliance of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asian Summit (EAS). Right after the meeting, China warned the four countries that their regional cooperation must not be politicized, exclusive or harmful to the interests of other parties.[xviii] At the second meeting held in relation to the Quad in January 2018, the naval commanders of the countries involved in the cooperation held negotiations at the Raisina Dialogue Conference in New Delhi.[xix]

What is the purpose of the Quad, and why has it been reorganized? The cooperation officially aims to secure the free and open Indo-Pacific Region.[xx] In the background of this cooperation is the implicit fact that China’s increasing and often illicit military activity as well as its economic influence arising from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) threatens the interests of the countries of the Quad on the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the East China Sea.  Although the four countries deny this, their actual objective is to restrict China’s spread on the seas and influence in the region by cooperating in the fields of maintaining free navigability and aviation, observing international law, resolving the conflicts amiably, maintaining marine security and other affairs.[xxi]

As for India, Australia and Japan, the Quad has another purpose, too: to ensure that the USA can keep assuming a role in the Indo-Pacific Region in the future, too. Since World War II, the USA has been a dominant military power of the region, the grantor of the status quo and the international order based on rules; however, since Trump’s rise to power the traditional regional role of the country has been questioned. Therefore, the three countries mentioned above try to ensure the further regional presence of the USA through the Quad.[xxii]

The current situation of the Quad

For half a year passed since its reorganization, the Quad has taken no actual shape, and we can talk about no substantial cooperation. Nevertheless, doubts have already arisen about the operability and efficiency of the formation. The main reason for this is that India seems to be less committed towards the cooperation than in late 2017. This April the country rejected Australia’s request again (in the fourth consecutive year[xxiii]), according to which Australia would participate in the Malabar Naval Drill held by India, the USA and Japan at Guam in June. India’s refusal definitely aims to avoid the confrontation with China.[xxiv] In recent years the India-China relations have considerably deteriorated for several reasons: India is strongly against the BRI, under which China is increasing its influence on the Indian Ocean (e.g. in Sri Lanka[xxv] and on the Maldives[xxvi]), and the two countries got close to the military conflict in the summer of 2017 owing to the conflict of interest related to the Doklam Plateau near their borders.[xxvii] In recent months, however, India warmed up towards China: for instance, this spring India did not allow an event series planned by the Tibetan emigrant government, which definitely was a gesture towards China before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in April[xxviii] and June.[xxix]

India’s unfavorable standpoint related to the naval drill was also because India traditionally avoids definite commitment in its foreign policy and aims to establish good relationships with as many countries as possible[xxx] (which raises the question whether India could be a totally reliable partner in the Quad in the long term). It can also be imagined that India finally decided to be satisfied with the existing trilateral military cooperation forms with the member states of the Quad, instead of the Quad: the India-Japan-US cooperation since 2011 and the India-Australia-Japan cooperation since 2015.[xxxi]

Another issue is related to the infrastructure developmental ideas of the Quad: the cooperation intends to compete with the BRI in the fields of both infrastructure developments and assistance, because this initiative is gradually increasing China’s economic influence in the Indo-Pacific Region. In this spirit, the Quad plans to draw up a regional infrastructure plan (which officially would be the alternative rather than the rival of the BRI). This idea has started to gain ground on other forums as well: negotiations on infrastructure developments are conducted in the Japan-US-India and Japan-Australia-India trilateral cooperation, too,[xxxii] and Japan has set the aim of establishing “high-standard infrastructure” in the Indo-Pacific Region under its official development assistance (ODA) in 2017.[xxxiii] Nevertheless, as far as the Quad concerns, the infrastructure plan is in its initial stage for the time being, and it is questionable whether the member states have sufficient capital and political intent to provide a true alternative against the BRI, which offers unique possibilities to numerous countries.[xxxiv]

The prospects of the Quad  

Upon the reorganization of the Quad in late 2017, the enthusiasm of the member states has broken by today. According to the original concept, discussions would be held among the members regularly, and the following meeting would have been organized in March or April 2018. This finally did not happen, mainly because the US Secretary of State and National Defense Advisor posts were changed. Nevertheless, this meeting has not been held since then either, and it is still not clear at what level the cooperation would continue: at secretary of state / deputy secretary of state level similarly to the previous meeting, or at the level of the minister of foreign affairs.[xxxv]

Obviously, the establishment of a form of cooperation comprising four countries is a long process but taking this fact into consideration regarding the future of the Quad, serious reservations arise. The greatest challenge today is the approach of India and China, with an ill omen concerning the Quad that India did not allow Australia to attend the Malabar Naval Drill, which would have been an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the military cooperation of the Quad. Further doubts arise concerning the future of the cooperation due to the relations of the member states with China: although the member states of the Quad are afraid of China’s increasing influence, China is one of their most important trading and economic partners.

Besides India, there is political uncertainty for the other member states regarding the long-term cooperation: Japan’s military role can be hindered by the pacifism of the Japanese public opinion and the restrictions of the Japanese constitution regarding the possible role of the Japanese army.[xxxvi] As for the US, the unforeseeable foreign policy of the Trump Administration raises doubts,[xxxvii] while as far as Australia concerns, although the relationship of the country with China has been most bad since the middle of 2017, the potential victory of the opposition at the Australian elections in May 2019 can be a turn in Australia’s commitment towards the Quad.[xxxviii]

The potential military weight of the Quad is significantly decreased by the fact that there are no signs that the free navigability operations performed periodically by the USA in the South China Sea territories that are disputed but are practically under Chinese control (e.g. near the Scarborough or the Mischief Reef) would be carried out together with the other member states of the Quad in the future.[xxxix]  The operation of the Quad can also be hindered by the decision in what proportion the armies of each member state will contribute to the military cooperation (this is a particularly sensitive issue for India because its defense abilities are the weakest as compared to the three other countries).[xl]

A further question regarding the future of the Quad is how the cooperation will affect the ASEAN because this ten-member organization fulfils a central role in the region concerning the regional security issues, so tensions may arise if the Quad tries to take over this role.[xli] On the other hand, it is doubtful that the ASEAN is unable to keep control over China’s power because no uniform standpoint is represented regarding the most important security political issue of the organization, i.e. the disputed supremacy over the South China Sea. Although in the declaration released at the end of the ASEAN Summit in March 2018 the member states urged the establishment of a code of ethics concerning the South China Sea between China and the ASEAN, certain member states – primarily Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines – find the economic relations with China more important than the geopolitical considerations; therefore, (unlike other member states) they do not oppose China’s arbitrary activity on the sea that practically demands the whole sea.[xlii] Furthermore, according to the declaration of Singapore’s Minister of Defense in February, the code of ethics, which seems to have no binding force, cannot be expected to be adopted within a year.[xliii] Overall, the ASEAN will not restrict China’s ambitions on the South China Sea within a short time, and although certain member states of the ASEAN would not be pleased about the activity of the Quad officially, it is questionable how the relations of the ASEAN and Quad will develop in the future.

Source: Shutterstock

ASEAN Member States

Despite all these challenges, the Quad may operate efficiently in numerous fields: the member states can share their estimations about the Chinese military capabilities and intents with each other and cooperate in the fields of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, energy security, cyber security and anti-terrorism.[xliv]

Conclusion

The above challenges question whether the Quad becomes a real cooperation and can actually influence China in the future. Undoubtedly, China will protest against all activities aimed against it, and during the first Quad this was enough for the failure of the cooperation. However, China has become far more confident and stronger since 2008, and it already wants to become the leading power of the world. Therefore, far more uniform and active cooperation is needed to keep a tight hand on it that the Quad would be able to.

 

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[i] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

[ii] TOW, William: The Trilateral Strategic Dialogue: Facilitating Community-Building or Revisiting Containment? In: Assessing the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, http://www.nbr.org/publications/specialreport/pdf/Preview/SR16_preview.pdf (12.2008), 4.

[iii] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

[iv] Ib.

[v] Ib.

[vi] McDONELL, Stephen: Nelson meets with China over military relationship. In: ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2007/s1973940.htm (09.07.2007)

[vii] MENON, Kesava: “There is nothing but goodwill towards India”. In: The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/ldquoThere-is-nothing-but-goodwill-towards-Indiardquo/article14801813.ece (29.09.2016)

[viii] BURNS, R. Nicholas: Media Roundtable in Singapore. In: U.S. Department of State Archive, https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/us/rm/2007/96058.htm (03.12.2007)

[ix] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

[x] BAGCHI, Indrani: Australia to pull out of ‘quad’ that excludes China. In: The Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Australia-to-pull-out-of-quad-that-excludes-China/articleshow/2760109.cms (06.02.2008)

[xi] CALLICK, Rowan: Rudd revelations are old news. In: The Australian, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/wikileaks/rudd-revelations-are-old-news/news-story/8a6b02959ecd19731cdcf12833c4538b (09.12.2010)

[xii] CURRAN, James: All shot and no powder in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. In: East Asia Forum, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/01/28/all-shot-and-no-powder-in-the-quadrilateral-security-dialogue/ (28.01.2018)

[xiii] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

[xiv] HAYASHI, Saki and ONCHI, Yosuke: Japan to propose dialogue with US, India and Australia. In: Nikkei Asian Review, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Japan-to-propose-dialogue-with-US-India-and-Australia (26.10.2017)

[xv] Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (October 27, 2017). In: Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, http://mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/29065/Transcript_of_Weekly_Media_Briefing_by_Official_Spokesperson_October_27_2017 (27.10.2017)

[xvi] Doorstop interview. In: Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, https://foreignminister.gov.au/transcripts/Pages/2017/jb_tr_171031.aspx (31.10.2017)

[xvii] Remarks by President Trump on His Trip to Asia. In: WhiteHouse.gov, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-trip-asia/ (15.11.2017)

[xviii] JIANGTAO, Shi and ZHOU, Laura: Wary China on ‘Quad’ bloc watch after officials from US, Japan, India and Australia meet on Asean sidelines. In: South China Morning Post, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2119719/wary-china-quad-bloc-watch-after-officials-us-japan (13.11.2017)

[xix] Navy chiefs of India, Japan, Australia and US share dias at Raisina Dialogue 2018 in Delhi. In: The New Indian Express, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/jan/18/navy-chiefs-of-india-japan-australia-and-us-share-dias-at-raisina-dialogue-2018-in-delhi-1757759.html (18.01.2018)

[xx] HUI, Tan Ming and HUSSAIN, Nazia: Quad 2.0: Sense and Sensibilities. In: The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/quad-2-0-sense-and-sensibilities/ (23.02.2018)

[xxi] TATSUMI, Yuki: Is Japan Ready for the Quad? Opportunities and Challenges for Tokyo in a Changing Indo-Pacific. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/japan-ready-quad-opportunities-challenges-tokyo-changing-indo-pacific/ (09.01.2018)

[xxii] TATSUMI, Yuki: Is Japan Ready for the Quad? Opportunities and Challenges for Tokyo in a Changing Indo-Pacific. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/japan-ready-quad-opportunities-challenges-tokyo-changing-indo-pacific/ (09.01.2018)

[xxiii] SMITH, Jeff: A U.S. Perspective. In: Return of the Quad, The Diplomat, issue 42, https://magazine.thediplomat.com/#/issues/-LAWCg2zSGAbYVn-2Qr2/read (05.2018)

[xxiv] SCIMIA, Emanuele: Malabar 2018: India deals a blow to Australia and ‘the Quad’. In: Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/malabar-2018-india-deals-a-blow-to-australia-and-the-quad/ (01.05.2018)

[xxv] SAFI, Michael and PERERA, Amantha: ‘The biggest game changer in 100 years’: Chinese money gushes into Sri Lanka. In: The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/26/the-biggest-game-changer-in-100-years-chinese-money-gushes-into-sri-lanka (26.03.2018)

[xxvi] MIGLANI, Sanjeev and ANEEZ, Shihar: Asian giants China and India flex muscles over tiny Maldives. In: Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-maldives-politics/asian-giants-china-and-india-flex-muscles-over-tiny-maldives-idUSKCN1GJ12X (07.03.2018)

[xxvii] What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? In: BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40478813 (05.07.2017)

[xxviii] SURI, Manveena and WESTCOTT, Ben: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jinping for informal summit. In: CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/27/asia/modi-xi-wuhan-meeting-intl/index.html (28.04.2018)

[xxix] VENKATACHALAM, K.S.: Tibet and India’s China Policy. In: The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/tibet-and-indias-china-policy/ (20.03.2018)

[xxx] SCIMIA, Emanuele: Malabar 2018: India deals a blow to Australia and ‘the Quad’. In: Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/malabar-2018-india-deals-a-blow-to-australia-and-the-quad/ (01.05.2018)

[xxxi] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

[xxxii] SCOTT, Jason, NOBUHIRO, Emi and MARLOW, Iain: U.S.-Led Group Mulls Asia Infrastructure Effort Amid China Push. In: Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-18/u-s-led-group-mulls-asia-infrastructure-plan-australia-says (19.02.2018)

[xxxiii] WARDELL, Jane et al.: Australia, U.S., India and Japan in talks to establish Belt and Road alternative: report. In: Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-beltandroad-quad/australia-u-s-india-and-japan-in-talks-to-establish-belt-and-road-alternative-report-idUSKCN1G20WG (19.02.2018)

[xxxiv] ZHU, Zhiqun: Can the Quad Counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative? In: The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/can-the-quad-counter-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative/ (14.03.2018)

[xxxv] SMITH, Jeff: A U.S. Perspective. In: Return of the Quad, The Diplomat, issue 42, https://magazine.thediplomat.com/#/issues/-LAWCg2zSGAbYVn-2Qr2/read (05.2018)

[xxxvi] HUI, Tan Ming and HUSSAIN, Nazia: Quad 2.0: Sense and Sensibilities. In: The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/quad-2-0-sense-and-sensibilities/ (23.02.2018)

[xxxvii] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

[xxxviii] Elections – Frequently Asked Questions. In: Australian Electoral Commission, https://www.aec.gov.au/faqs/Elections.htm (30.05.2018)

[xxxix] HUI, Tan Ming and HUSSAIN, Nazia: Quad 2.0: Sense and Sensibilities. In: The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/quad-2-0-sense-and-sensibilities/ (23.02.2018)

[xl] RAJAGOPALAN, Rajeswari Pillai: An Indian Perspective. In: Return of the Quad, The Diplomat, issue 42, https://magazine.thediplomat.com/#/issues/-LAWCg2zSGAbYVn-2Qr2/read (05.2018)

[xli] Trump in Southeast Asia. In: ASEANFocus, issue 7/2017, https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ASEANFocusDec17.pdf (12.2017) 5.

[xlii] TAKAHASHI, Kaori: Australian and ASEAN pursue maritime code of conduct. In: Nikkei Asian Review, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-Relations/Australian-and-ASEAN-pursue-maritime-code-of-conduct (19.03.2018)

[xliii] UNGKU, Fathin: ASEAN hopes to expedite code of conduct on South China Sea: Singapore. In: Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-asean-singapore-defence/asean-hopes-to-expedite-code-of-conduct-on-south-china-sea-singapore-idUSKBN1FR07V (07.02.2018)

[xliv] MADAN, Tanvi: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad’. In: War On The Rocks, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/ (16.11.2017)

Adam Csenger completed an undergraduate course in International Communications at the Faculty of Foreign Trade, Budapest Business School in 2004. He obtained a master’s degree in International Relations at Macquarie University (Australia) in 2015. His area of research is Australia’s foreign policy, particularly its relationship with Southeast Asia and China.

Csenger Ádám

Adam Csenger completed an undergraduate course in International Communications at the Faculty of Foreign Trade, Budapest Business School in 2004. He obtained a master’s degree in International Relations at Macquarie University (Australia) in 2015. His area of research is Australia’s foreign policy, particularly its relationship with Southeast Asia and China.

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