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Context: US President will host the first in-person meeting of the Quad countries on September 24.
Formation of the Quad
- Following the Indian Ocean tsunami, India, Japan, Australia, and the US created an informal alliance to collaborate on disaster relief efforts.
- In 2007, then PM of Japan, Shinzo Abe, formalised the alliance, as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad.
- The Quad was supposed to establish an Asian Arc of Democracy but was hampered by a lack of cohesion amongst its members and accusations that the group was nothing more than an anti-China bloc.
- The early iteration of the Quad, largely based around maritime security, eventually dissipated.
- In 2017, faced again with the rising threat of China, the four countries revived the Quad, broadening its objectives and creating a mechanism that aimed to slowly establish a rules-based international order.
- However, despite its lofty ambitions, the Quad is not structured like a typical multilateral organisation and lacks a secretariat and any permanent decision-making body.
- Instead of creating policy along the lines of the European Union or United Nations, the Quad has focused on expanding existing agreements between member countries and highlighting their shared values.
- Additionally, unlike NATO, the Quad does not include provisions for collective defence, instead choosing to conduct joint military exercises as a show of unity and diplomatic cohesion.
- In 2020, the trilateral India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercises expanded to include Australia, marking the first official grouping of the Quad since its resurgence in 2017 and the first joint military exercises among the four countries in over a decade.
- In March 2021, the Quad leaders met virtually and later released a joint statement titled ‘The Spirit of the Quad,’ which outlined the group’s approach and objectives.
Objectives of the Quad
- Quad, primary objectives include maritime security, combating the Covid-19 crisis, especially vis-à-vis vaccine diplomacy, addressing the risks of climate change, creating an ecosystem for investment in the region and boosting technological innovation.
- Quad members have also indicated a willingness to expand the partnership through a so-called Quad Plus that would include South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam amongst others.
- China initially opposed the formation of the Quad and in the 13 years since, Beijing’s position has not changed.
- Beijing sees the existence of the Quad as part of a larger strategy to encircle China and has pressured countries like Bangladesh to avoid cooperating with the group.
- Each of the Quad members are threatened by China’s actions in the South China Sea and its attempts to extend its sphere of influence through initiatives such as the One Belt One Road Project.
- The US has long been concerned about the global competition with China and successive US presidents have maintained that China aims to subvert the international rules-based order.
- Japan and Australia are likewise both concerned about China’s expanding presence in the South and East China
- For Australia, relations with Beijing are at a considerable low after Australia passed foreign interference laws in 2018 which China responded to by restricting trade to Canberra.
- As the only Quad country to share a land border with China, India is also suitably wary of Beijing but also reluctant to allow tensions to spill over.
- Although the Quad is perceived to be anti-China, there is no direct reference to China or military security in either the joint statement or the Washington Post op-ed.
- This in turn has led experts to speculate that the Quad will refrain from addressing the military threat posed by China and instead focus on its economic and technological influence.
- The Quad’s decision to establish working groups on vaccine development and critical technologies can then be viewed as an attempt to constrain China but more importantly, to create a democratic, inclusive blueprint that will encourage other states to work with the Quad.