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The Quadrilateral or the Quad grouping of countries was the brainchild of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But back in 2007 when he proposed this coming together of Australia, the US, Japan and India, there were very few takers for the grouping. And the simple reason for it was this: back in 2007, China was not the threat it is today.
China was not the bully in Asia that it is now, neither did it have global hegemonic ambitions. Shinzo Abe was very clear about why he wanted this group of countries to come together. It was explicitly to counter a growing and assertive China. There was no other rationale for the grouping. Countering China was its raison d’etre.
Quad was not meant to be the forum that pushed back against climate change or a club of do-gooders gifting vaccines to the world. There’s a reason why China calls it the Asian NATO. Because it is. But last week, with the announcement of AUKUS, that singular raison d’etre of Quad has been killed.
The list of discussion points for the first ever in-person Quad summit have been classified under four buckets: climate change, emerging technologies, vaccine development and public health. These are the top four issues that the leaders of the big democracies in the Indo-Pacific will be discussing. That’s not what Shinzo Abe would have discussed.
While these are all noble, and perhaps, important topics to discuss, this is not what is going to deter an assertive China. What is going to deter Beijing is if it is made to realise that the cost of confrontation is too high to pay. That’s what Quad was meant to do. But it has floundered.
However, that is exactly what AUKUS is doing. By equipping Australia with a nuclear powered submarine, and by allowing British submarines to park in an Australian base, that is exactly what AUKUS will do: counter China.
This sends out a loud and clear message to Beijing. The next time you try to bully smaller countries like Vietnam or Philippines in the South China Sea or run bombers past the Taiwan Straits, you better think twice because the battlefield just changed. Someone just brought a machine gun to a pistol fight.
Of the four Quad countries, US and Australia are already military allies, so that ticks a big box. The Japan and US are treaty allies wherein if Japan is attacked by China, then the US is treaty bound to defend it. Yes, there is still the issue of Japan’s pacifist constitution which will still hold back the full extent of military co-operation with the US and other strategic partners. But the only country which will be tooth and nail opposed to any kind of military alliance with the US or any other member of the Quad will be India.
It does not matter whether a right or left-leaning government is in office. This one thing they both agree on. What good are the Malabar exercises which now includes both Australia and Japan, if in the real world, it doesn’t translate into a brotherly code of defending each other when the enemy attacks.
Hypothetically, if China were to attack a Sri Lankan vessel or a Maldivian boat and if these countries turn towards big brother India, what would we do then? Are we better off standing up to the dragon alone? Wouldn’t India be better off if it were to have the backing of three other big military powers? If the Quad needs to live up to what it was founded for, then all four countries, and India in particular, needs to shed its reticence to deeper military co-operation.