With India and Australia holding their first 2+2 ministerial dialogue, there’s no denying that the Quad continues to take shape as a security-plus platform. Earlier this year the group comprising India, US, Japan and Australia held its first leaders’ summit. In fact, militaries of the four countries participated in the Malabar joint naval exercise last year, while work is underway to produce and deliver a billion Covid vaccines through the group’s network by 2022.
Of course, an increasingly assertive China is the main factor bringing the Quad countries together. Beijing is clearly irked by what it sees as an Asian Nato. But external affairs minister S Jaishankar has done well to shoot down that nomenclature saying that the Quad looks to the future and doesn’t hark back to the Cold War era. It has been deliberately kept as a high-level diplomatic platform – notwithstanding a separate naval component – to prevent a return to the bloc politics of the past. There are two reasons for this. First, the four Quad nations need to get into the habit of working together. True, the Covid pandemic and the Galwan valley clashes between India and China last year have seen the group coordinate. But more is needed to achieve regular operational momentum.
Second, the Quad also needs to find the golden mean between security and civilian cooperation. After all, China represents a multidimensional systemic challenge. This is why the Quad working on Covid vaccines, open technologies and resilient supply chains is so important. Plus, as the global axis of power shifts partly from the West to the East, Quad democracies need to shape the Indo-Pacific as a free and open region. This will give Southeast Asian nations options to resist China’s strategy of weaponising economic interdependencies. In short, the Quad needs to be flexible to counterbalance China across a range of issues, be it Afghanistan or the South China Sea. If that worries Beijing, the Quad will be doing its job.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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