Q) Amid the criticisms of QUAD being an harbinger of 'new Cold war' and its own struggle to find the meaning of its existence, the group has reaffirmed its existence time and again. Elucidate.
Source: The Hindu Editorial: Summit Spirit; The IE Editorial: A STORY FOR QUAD
GS2: International relations
Introduction: Over the years, since its formation, the development of QUAD as an idea has been limited. China has often sought to define the regional discourse by describing the forum as the “Asian NATO” and the harbinger of a “new Cold War”. On the other hand, the QUAD nations too have struggled to find the core areas of cooperation.
However, Its not an "Asian NATO". Because of the following reasons:
1. Strategic Independence of India: India also a member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) and BRICS. It doesn't want to be seen as being in a 'camp', taking sides.
2. No Military alliance: The Military element in the Quad is nascent. There is no mutual defence agreements as in the case of NATO.
3. Engagement with China: The new U.S. government is still exploring its own relationship with China; For Japan and Australia, China remains the biggest trading partner, a relationship that will only grow once the 15-nation RCEP kicks in.
4. Multipolar world: The world as in the 1960s to 80s is no longer bipolar. Thus such an alliance is not given.
5. No escalation: There is no equivalent of Warsaw Pact made by China, or a space race or increased nuclear threat as was in the case with Russia.
It is nonetheless true that the QUAD has struggled to find the meaning of its existence:
1. Defining the nature of engagement: Questions are often raised if it is a military engagement or a Strategic Partnership. It is difficult to call Quad members as natural partners due to diverse interests.
2. Geographical Extent: US sees US and India as the book-ends of the Asia-Pacific region. India & Japan have included the oceans up to Africa in their definition of Indo-Pacific. Thus the entire focus of on India-Pacific makes the Quad as maritime, rather than land-based grouping, raising questions whether the cooperation extends to the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian regions or not.
3. Military Engagement: There is no military alliance; and only a Malbar Joint Trilateral Navel Exercise , between USA, India and Japan, held generally in June every year since 2008. In 2020 after a decade of hesitation Australia has formally joined the group. US also participates in various exercises such as PASSEX individually with the other three countries.
4. Economic Front: All four countries have different diverse agendas on trade front. In fact, Austria is economically dependent on China, having a net trade surplus. In the Indo-Pacific region too, for example, India has always fiercely guarded as its own turf by not allowing other countries to invest in India's neighbourhood. India now however invites Quad partners to invest into South Asian countries to counter Chinese investment.
Growth of Quad, despite all Odds:
1. Regular meets: After 2008, importance of Malabar exercise has grown significantly. Similarly summit level meets have been held regularly. For example the leaders had met in Manila, Philippine during an ASEAN summit in 2017. In 2021, recently a virtual summit was held.
2. Cooperation on investment: Japan has various investments in India and South Asian Countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, along with India.
3. Cooperation on Technology and Climate Change: The present leadership of all four countries puts a great stress on Climate commitment. Recently a working group was formed on technology supply chains, 5G networks, and biotechnology. This is important on the backdrop of recent advancements of Chinese technology firms like Huawei taking advantages in such emerging technologies.
4. Cooperation on COVID: Quad is set to earn goodwill around the world by cooperating and distributing 1 billion vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region.
Conclusion: The recent virtual summit has stressed on technology, climate change and COVID as the main areas of engagement for the Indo-Pacific region. This not only defines the constructive nature of engagement in the region, but also shields it from the criticism of the military nature of engagement which can trigger any kind of escalation. Thus, this makes QUAD a relevant and a meaningful organization which suits the interests of all four countries as well as the world at large.