Formed in 2007, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or ‘Quad’ is an informal strategic forum between India, Japan, Australia, and the United States, which allows the four nations to meet and exchange important information, decisions, and strategic moves. It was pushed to inception by the then Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, following the relief efforts of the four nations for the 2004 Tsunami.
The Quad met virtually on March 12, in what was the first Summit meeting with all four leaders present — US President Joe Biden, Indian PM Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga.
Due to several political conflicts, the forum was disbanded soon after it was created. In 2008, then Indian PM Manmohan Singh declared that “India is not part of any so-called 'contain China' effort”, while the former Australian PM Kevin Rudd stated the same year that Australia would be exiting the Quad: a move that was said to be aimed at pacifying China and benefitting from the uranium trade with India. The latter was widely criticised and in 2014, under PM Tony Abbott, Australia finally resumed selling uranium to India. Though such tensions seem to have been resolved, one can anticipate that they are still likely to prop up.
In November 2017, during the ASEAN Summit, all four former members re-joined the negotiations to revive the quadrilateral alliance, and the primary point of discussion and concern was China’s increasing (and threatening) involvement in the South China Sea. The United States appeared to have been the frontrunner in addressing this matter and this point may have ushered in the eventual reconciliation of the Quad in efforts to control China. During 2017-2019, the group is recorded to have met five times. Their last pre-Covid meeting being September 2019, known to be the first ministerial meeting of the ‘reformed’ Quad, aimed to strive towards a ‘free, open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo-Pacific’. More importantly, it was one that could stand as a barrier to Chinese influence.
Then came Covid-19, and China was put on the stand globally, so to speak. From here on, meetings (in-person and virtual) were directed towards curtailing the spread of the virus, but no significant joint statement had been issued.
While the Quad has been referred to in the past as ‘the Asian version of NATO’, it appears that this is not quite so. To begin with, Australia and India both often revert to a non-aligned stance, which deters the four from making any ground-breaking decisions, especially to do with China. While US runs the show, the rest are often sceptical. China is Australia’s largest trading partner and Japan’s second-largest. China recently imposed several sanctions on Australia, following Canberra’s backing an inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus. As for India, supporting the Quad in an informal capacity is one thing and being part of an anti-China bloc is entirely another game, which, I believe, Modi does not wish to play.
There seems to be no set direction as such, except efforts to make the vaccine available beyond the Chinese influence, and covertly counter brutalities in Myanmar. Recently China has started allowing foreigners — including those from the US, India and Pakistan — to enter the country, given that they have taken the Chinese vaccine for Covid-19. This is also an interesting turn of events, as two members of the Quad are now importing these vaccines to keep the trade-flow with Beijing running. With the Chinese vaccine proving to be the most effective to date, the Quad’s efforts to deter China may take a turn. At the same time, all four members of the Quad are also uniting efforts to manufacture the vaccine, vis-à-vis India. In a joint statement issued after the Quad’s first virtual summit on Friday, the member states said they were “working collaboratively to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines at facilities in India.”
US President Joe Biden seems focused on maintaining alliances and the Western Liberal system in his stride to contain Chinese influence. Nevertheless, while the race to the vaccine may have complicated matters for the Quad, it is certainly possible that future Quad efforts can bring about a great positive change. Not only has it promised to provide one billion vaccine doses to Southeast Asia, but the Quad Climate Working Group and the Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group are also all working towards significant goals with high impact.