Resurgence of QUAD in Post-Covid-19 World Order

 By Shahnawaz Mughal
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To enhance its commitment of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ India and Australia signed Seven new agreements on 4 June 2020. In a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a joint statement was issued to strengthen the bilateral ties [1]. Memorandum of Understanding for ‘The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement’ was the one which hit the headlines. This agreement allows India and Australia to use each other’s military bases for refuelling and maintenance purpose and will further strengthen defence cooperation between the two nations.

The declaration is also seen as an effort to revive the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), an informal security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States. It was started after the 2004 Tsunami for aid and rehabilitation purpose. Moreover, it’s covert objective is to contain growing Chinese Influence in the Indo Pacific region. This started with the naval exercise Malabar in 2007 in which navies of the four QUAD members and Singapore participated. This exercise had irked Chinese leadership and it issued demarches to the participating countries. China saw the grouping as a threat against its expansionist interests in the South China sea. Surprisingly, next year Australia and Japan were not invited for the exercise. Japan participated in 2009 but Australia was not seen as a participant in the exercises up to last held in 2019. Even at the height of the Doklam Crisis in 2017, India refrained from inviting Australia to the annual exercise as it could have escalated the Chinese aggression.

QUAD has not taken an institutionalised form because of several factors. Among the issues which QUAD primarily faces is the creation of security architecture to advance the goal of ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’. This has not been possible largely because of the security concerns of the nation’s differ in the region. India and Australia avoided shaping the grouping as a security alliance to avoid Chinese displeasure. United States presence in the region is disliked by China. Even its ally Republic of Korea was unwilling to join hands with the United States on this issue.

Resurrecting QUAD as a security alliance within an institutionalized framework is an attainable task citing the current security environment. The 2006 Defence White Paper of China plans to achieve expeditionary capability by 2035 and further achieve global scale influence by 2049. The Defence budget has been expanding year after year and at a faster rate than the GDP rate. China is using the Coronavirus as a cover to advance its expansionist policies in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Indian territory of Ladakh. ‘The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement’ was signed in the wake of Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh. In Hong Kong, the CPC has decided to introduce a new controversial security law causing a massive uproar. Taiwan’s fight for representation in global organizations has always drawn negative flak from China.

More recently Taiwan’s quest for representation in the World Health Organization after its excellent handling of the Coronavirus was blocked by China as it did not align with its ‘One China Policy’. Australia’s demand for an enquiry into the origins of coronavirus drew negative attention from Beijing. China’s Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye’s remarks to the Australian Financial Review can be compared to ‘economic blackmailing’[2].  Further, China issued an advisory to its citizens travelling to Australia due to ‘significant increase’ in racism against Chinese and Asian people. It is important to note that 27 % of Tourist spending in Australia comes from Chinese visitors. [3]

US President Donald Trump has been at the forefront of labelling China for the spread of Pandemic. China reciprocally accuses the US of the pandemic. The long-standing trade war and Trump administration’s efforts to move American manufacturing units out of China in the wake of Coronavirus has further intensified the rivalry. It is quite evident that China is challenging the US dominance and wants to carve out a new world order centred around itself. It has shown that it will pursue this dream by expanding economic reach backed by an all-powerful military.

When the world rises from the Coronavirus, the new world order will also rise along with it. China in pursuit of ‘The Chinese Dream’ will resort to more aggressive and arm twisting behaviour as it has shown in recent times. The onus falls on the like-minded democracies to resist this and build a new multipolar world order. In this context groupings such as QUAD become ever important for the upkeep of regional security. An institutionalized QUAD working as a security alliance will certainly keep Beijing’s aspirations in check. Therefore, India’s ‘Mutual Logistics Support Agreement’ with Australia can serve as a foundation for the new Indo Pacific security architecture. Further, the Indian Government is planning to invite Australia for Malabar-2020 exercise to counter Chinese adventure’s in Ladakh. India already has a similar agreement with the United States in place signed on 30 August 2016[4]. An agreement on the same lines with Japan will bolster defence ties between the QUAD nations. Thus India has an active role in the formation of the New World Order based on the principles of mutual trust, respect and partnership.

End-Notes

[1] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/32728/List+of+the+documents+announcedsigned+during+India++Australia+Virtual+Summit

[2] China issues stark warning to Australia over Coronavirus investigation, Melanie Kaidan, 4 May 2020, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1277361/china-australia-coronavirus-investigation-dossier-warning-economic-threat-trump

[3]  Tourism loss may be just tip of iceberg in China Australia row, Global Times, 7 June 2020 https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1190849.shtml

[4] India US sign military logistics pact, Varghese K George ,30 August 2016 https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/India-US-sign-military-logistics-pact/article14598282.ece