The 'Quad' is back to lock horns with China and is already creating a furore. A regional coalition, the quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, the United States and Australia. The 'Quad' has taken shape nearly a decade after the failed first attempt to bring the four countries together. In these intervening years, the world has gone through a recession, the US has lost some of its global power and influence, China has grown its military and economic might and a resurgent India has aimed to position itself as a counterweight to China in Asia.
China's 'One Belt One Road'(OBOR) initiative aims to create the world's largest economic platform and, along with Xi Jinping's 20 year plan to become a superpower, is worrying other global and regional powers. The concern is not only about China's ambitious agenda but also over the absence of an alternative force to contain it. This explains the emergence of 'Quad'.
On the sidelines of the East Asian Summit at Manila, diplomats from India, Australia, US and Japan sat together for first time to work out the modalities for co-operation and work out a strategy to take on an assertive China. The statements from these countries made no mention of China. But diplomats all across the world know that the China factor brings and holds the quadrilateral together. China has already put on record its displeasure over the formation of this coalition.
Australia is worried about China's growing interest in its land, infrastructure and politics and influence on its universities. Meanwhile, Japan suspects Chinese support to North Korea led to the two missile-launches over its territory. In the last decade, Japan believes that China has tried to bully it on several territorial issues. Similarly, China has border disputes with India and the recent Doklam standoff hit bilateral relations. To India's dislike, China is also cosying up to Pakistan, not only to block its path into the Nuclear Suppliers Group but also work against its interests on the issue of terrorism. Moreover, both India and Japan will have to counter China to balance the power equation in the region. A weakened US sees this as an opportunity to regain its influence in, what it refers to as the Indo-Pacific region. China continues to address the region as Asia Pacific. Renaming the region, clearly depicts the change in US strategy -- Washington now is keeping India at the centre of its game plan in Asia .
But India would have to work hard to make things work for the 'Quad'. India will have to push these countries to work towards creating an environment for free and fair trade in the region, along with ensuring peace and stability. India refused to join OBOR and is charting its own strategy to connect Central Asian and South East Asian markets. The is a proposal to build a ports-based model with Japan including African countries. Australia might be willing to join the network.
It will be in the interest of 'Quad' to provide an alternative to China globally. There is a proposal to promote free trade and defence cooperation across the Indian Ocean - from South China Sea to Africa, to countervail China's OBOR. China continues to defy the international community in the South China sea. This brings into focus the maintenance of the "rules based order" in the Indo-Pacific region. The 'Quad' is expected to resolve many of these issues.
A decade ago, the 'Quad' was formed on the initiative of Japan, with a strategic naval exercise, code named Malabar 07, in which Australia, the US and India also participated. But later Australia pulled out, apparently bowing to Chinese pressure. Later, then prime minister Manmohan Singh also backed out. China, then, perceived a probability of these countries 'ganging up' with the US -- it issued demarches to these two countries. Both Canberra and New Delhi felt in unnecessary to provoke China at the time and since then a lot of water has flown under the bridge. China no longer uses the term "peaceful rise" while referring to its economic and military growth. The ambitious OBOR is making regional power centres in the Indo-Pacific worried about China's emergence as a major global power and sceptical about the abilities of the US to manage the situation alone.
The art of diplomacy lies in finding the right balance. The emergence of 'Quad' favours India. But the emergence of China is a reality India has to deal with. Hence, India might have to build bridges with their neighbour and biggest trade partner as well.