Quad, Southeast Asia and Regional Synergy

Shaurya K Sangra
“Good regionalism is good geopolitics; and bad regionalism is bad geopolitics”
After the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in 2017 by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, Quad has become quintessential not only for the four member nations (India, US, Japan, Australia) but also of primary importance to the geopolitics of the Southeast Asia region. Quad, which was first formed in 2017 today can be considered an end result of the Obama administration’s 2012 “Pivot to East Asia” regional strategy which shifted the priorities from the Middle East region to the South East Asian Region giving it more resources and international assistance to move forward. This more or less was due to the strong, sudden and indisputable rise of China not just as a regional powerhouse but as a Global Superpower, capable enough to challenge Washington in the post covid world.
Since the 21st century the world has in effect become Multipolar with nations like India, South Africa, Brazil becoming focal points of International Trade and Development. The world hitherto was close to a Unipolar one since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991. This has led to Multilateralism and the setting up of more overlapping Bilateral and Trilateral partnerships within the nations. Countries have realized that to have a more firm regional policy and growth, a more active and inclusive foreign policy needs to be advocated.The very fact, due to which the US administration went towards reviving Quad was a power like that of China cannot be adversed unilaterally sitting 7000 miles away with no NATO ally to counter its growing strategic influence.
Unsurprisingly when the Quad started to take shape again there was and still is chatter of Quad being an “ASIAN NATO ” by Chinese mouthpieces sitting across the globe. In response, the Minister of External Affairs clarified at the Raisina Dialogue that the discussion surrounding Quad being an Asian NATO was a “misrepresentation of reality”. Undoubtedly Quad not being a military alliance to start with focuses on boosting Technological Innovations and Maritime Security. The condition of the Malabar Exercise, like the one that was conducted in the Bay of Bengal last week , is a naval exercise of unprecedented scale- a testament to the same.
The reason Quad has more relevance today and has become a pivot for the United States’ foreign policy to counter China is that it consists of regional Countries capable enough of countering and looking China in the eye, be it economically or defending their strategically significant boundaries.
Last year we saw how India retaliated against the Chinese in eastern Ladakh without giving anything away. Japan has faced Chinese claims over the Senkaku Islands which have been disputed. Australia too has had to face trouble countering China’s claim over maritime water. India, which shares a long land boundary with China and is both an economical and military power in the region, has a lot to offer to America. This special relation was seen at the first, in-person Quad summit at Washington on the 24th of September last month. Even though there was a Quadrilateral summit, the Prime Minister had a bilateral talk with president Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga of Japan, Scott Morison of Australia and a subsequent meeting with vice-president Kamala Harris on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The summit was a great success and was also the first time, Indian government interacted with the new Democratic administration under President Joe.
Since the de-hyphenation of American foreign policy towards India under the Bush administration in 1990’s. India and America have found common grounds to build the relationship that was previously fraught. India and America since the events of September 11, 2001 have been advocating the global war on terror as they suffered from the very same problem of radical Islamic terrorism. India and America worked on the breakthrough Nuclear Deal in 2006 giving a huge boost to the Indian Energy sector. India then became a major defense partner of the United States of America. The exit of America from Afghanistan after the 20 year war and the haphazard way the exit went down, showed the world that America really wanted to move away and stop the $100 billion flow of money in the land-locked region each year. This is going to be an integral shift in American policy both ideologically and practically as the focus would totally shift to the eastern side of Afghanistan. America can now devote its full attention to the matters concerning Beijing and putting its best man and economic power to work. Even though India is not part of the string of pearls nor the Belt and Road Initiative, the neighboring countries are left with no alternatives and have to go the China way. Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, Pakistan’s Gwadar and soon to be Karachi Port are perfect examples of the same. The repercussions of the debt trap policy of China can clearly be seen in Sri Lanka which is currently in a state of emergency for shortage of essential goods and services. Sri Lanka is thus suffering from high inflation and the situation of the Pakistani economy is also not any better.
If Quad in its true sense wants to counter the rise of China by just limiting itself to policy making and maritime exercises to intermediate its adversaries, in this case China. The Dialogue would just become a matter of a few handshakes, photographs, speeches and high profile leaders. Quad is past its nascent period and needs to hit the ground running. It would be too early to call for results but the need to start taking initiatives is necessary. Quad needs to involve regional partners and stakeholders, integrate them within the system while giving them incentives and reliefs enough to counter the Chinese. The case of countries struggling especially in the South China Sea, east of the Malacca Strait needs to be advocated.
BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) which is a sector-driven cooperative organization, that consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, if properly maneuvered has the potential to create comprehensive regional territorial and economic partnership within the member nations spearheaded by India itself. With the help of other multilateral organizations like the Quad or AUKUS (Australia, UK and US), they could be used as a force to stop the growing strategic Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and beyond.
(The author is pursuing his Higher Secondary at the Jodhamal Public School)