With China repeating its increasingly frequent denunciations of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) grouping of India, US, Australia and Japan, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s assertion of the conglomerate as “a force for global good” was a timely, apt and much-needed response aimed at countering Beijing’s agenda to defame the forum. This will also go a long way towards the group gaining much wider support and popularity across the globe where there is hardly any taker of China’s views about the Quad “being an exclusive bloc with the agenda of driving wedges between regional countries”. EAM’s response will also set the tone for a bigger Quad strategy to counter China’s war of perception against the grouping.
Contrary to China’s remarks, the global community over the years has seen the Quad establishing itself as a forum that has been working for ensuring peace, economic prosperity and geostrategic equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific, and other significant regions of the world as well. Immense cooperation amongst the member countries of the forum is what cannot go down well with China which, on several occasions, also tried to trigger misunderstanding among the members by attributing Quad’s formation to “the US’ design to establish its hegemony in the region playing up the China-threat theory”. After the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Melbourne, the picture that emerged was that of members expressing commitment for better coordination to help the beleaguered countries facing the deadly pandemic. Much to the chagrin of China, Jaishankar said in Australia, “The Quad has worked well as a force for global good due to the strong bilateral relations between India, the US, Australia and Japan.”
So, it is good that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which began as a coordination mechanism to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, continues to focus also on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) missions in various countries seeking help. As COVID-19 infections raged, the entire world saw how the Quad nations leveraged their unique strengths in medical technology, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and logistics to reach out to several countries in need of help and relief. This dismisses the notion that the Quad is an Asian NATO as has been alleged by China. The message that the Quad is responding to a more diversified and dispersed world is bringing the forum much closer to other countries as well. There are indications that the Quad has been accepted both within and beyond the member countries of the Indo-Pacific as a group having strategic, economic, development, and welfare objectives. South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam are amongst the countries which are said to be keen to work with the Quad. Many more like-minded democracies have shown tilt towards the forum in view of the dynamic role and dimensions of the Quad. Bangladesh has once expressed its willingness to work with the forum only to be criticized by an angry Beijing later. Counter-terrorism, dealing with de-stabilizing forces and ensuring that Indo-Pacific is open for all and free from coercive actions (by China) are some of the key areas where the Quad’s commitment to enhance cooperation has been welcomed by many nations facing one problem or the other like this. The reports about several ASEAN countries cozying up to Quad member states signal the forum’s growing popularity in what is another big setback to Beijing.
It was also a welcome development that the Quad FMs’ meeting in Australia for the first time since the group’s formation called for justice for the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai (2008) and the Pathankot airbase attack (2016). That the Quad foreign ministers discussed China’s land-based threat against India was also a good move by the forum which, hitherto, remained focused on maritime security only. India is the only Quad member to share land border with China. But as a result of India’s diplomatic efforts, the Quad has now widened its strategic scope covering terrorism from Pakistan and Afghanistan and China’s aggressive behaviour along the Line of Actual Control (LaC). It is clear now that the Quad members will now develop a more broad-ranging approach to the key challenges facing the region in India’s neighbourhood. Indian diplomatic leadership seems to be working in that direction as well.