By Pratik Kumar
Whenever it comes to Indo-Pacific, the term most commonly heard is perhaps Quad; an informal group consisting of four democracies, USA, India, Australia & Japan. And why Quad should not be famous as it has every reasons to be; it consists of world’s most vibrant democracies who share similar aims & objectives, it aims for a safer & prosperous Indo-Pacific region, combined armed might of quad can spook anyone, some scholars see it as a counter to China with Beijing calling Quad as ‘Asian NATO’, and what not. Further as Indo-Pacific has become the new ‘heartland’ of 21st century with power shifting to this region from Trans-Atlantic, the Quad itself has lots of opportunities and also for the world in almost every domain like economy, healthcare, freedom of navigation, safety & security and so on.
The Grey Zone
The Quad looks really impressive on a paper but the real world is different from what appears on a piece of paper. Paper has become a great source of deception today. The most important question that we must ask is ‘does Quad really have capacity & intent to deliver it’s promises, do all the countries have converging interests, will USA keep it’spromise? Such issues really raise doubts about Quad. A closer analysis of Quad will clear these doubts & show the other side of the coin.
First, Acharya Chanakya preferred an alliance with equally powerful or weaker kings as compared to more powerful kings. A powerful king will always have an upper hand & have it’s own interest fulfilled. Being the most powerful & given it’s history of treachery towards it’s allies, USA is most untrustworthy country in Quad grouping. It has always deceived it’s allies & friends & infuses it’s hegemony in every domain. No doubt India’s ex army Chief, Gen. Bikram Singh recently warned New Delhi to be very cautious when dealing with Washington.
Second, America in reality is run by it’s deep state which includes large corporate arms mafias, oil mafias, left liberals etc. China has a very deep link with them with their interests converging on many aspects. Hence expecting help from Washington to counter Beijing is foolishness.
Third, If China is hegemonic so is America. There have been several cases of US Navy illegally entering India’s EEZ and carrying out espionage activities. Who knows Washington may be providing such information to Islamabad & Beijing. Adding to this is the agreements that India has signed with USA such as COMCASA, LEMOA etc. Many military veterans & defence experts in New Delhi have raised concerns over these agreements. Under the pretext of Quad, Washington may find more opportunities to stay in IOR, thus indirectly challenging New Delhi’s influence.
Fourth, even if Quad agrees to counter China (assuming for a while), it would still be difficult for USA to help other three countries despite being world’s largest economy as Washington is far away from Beijing. Geography plays very important role in geopolitics.
An Alternate Quad
Above are some of the grave issues in Quad which challenges effectiveness of this grouping with America being the main villain. Hence even after the formation of Quad Chinese hegemony has not reduced, in fact it’s increasing. Therefore there is a need for India to have an alternate Quad grouping with all like-minded countries, and without any dominance of anyone of them. This alternate Quad will consist of India, Japan, Philippines & Vietnam. It makes immense sense for these countries to cooperate together both in countering China & developing partnerships in other region. Some of advantages new Quad can provide are:
First, all four countries are facing increasing threats from China, hence they can have a common vision which can form the bedrock of their partnership. With Japan planning to develop space based weapons, hypersonic missiles etc. to counter China, Philippines buying Brahmos from India & Vietnam too interested in procuring different types of weapon platform from India, it makes great sense for these countries to come together.
Second, the three countries namely Japan, Vietnam & Philippines lie close to Chinese eastern & southern shores. With New Delhi already having logistics agreement with Tokyo & Hanoi, a permanent presence of Indian Navy with submarines & modern warships in South China Sea region can threatChina’s whole eastern belt which is the heart of Beijing & Hainan islands where PLAN’s most powerful fleet is housed. This will give a clear message to Beijing as threatening the mainland creates psychological fear. Bajirao Peshwa’s strategy in Battle of Palkhed is good example. In short India can provide security to these countries against China.
Third, If India makes permanent presence in this region, New Delhi can have a better eye on Beijing with space based surveillance & spying. With India already having space cooperation with Japan & ISRO emerging to be one of the best space agencies of the world, the other two countries, Vietnam & Philippines can also be included. Space based cooperation can be a great source of generating thrust in new Quad.
Fourth, one of the strategies of smaller nations to protect themselves against bigger & powerful nations is to go for Anti Access/Area Denial approach (A2/AD). As India’s potential in arms exports is increasing, it can help the other three nations with the same. Indo Philippines Brahmos deal is a good start.
Fifth, apart from military, the new Quad also has potential for economic benefits. Japan is a tech giant, Philippines & Vietnam are emerging as new economic houses in SCS region, & India being fifth largest economy having potentially capable manpower, it makes tremendous sense for these countries in cooperating economically. Already New Delhi is leading in attempts for de-dollarisation, hence this could provide the basis of economic coopertion.
Sixth, other areas of cooperation may include blue economy, rules based global order, freedom of navigation, HADR ops, research for new minerals, oil & gas exploration & so on.
Scope for Future Engagement
The new proposed Quad is flexible in nature & has lots of opportunities for future cooperation with other like-minded countries. Some of the opportunities can be seen as:
First, in a move to counter China; India, Japan & Australia have launched Supply Chains Resilience Initiative (SCRI) aiming for virtuous cycle of supply chains. With Tokyo & New Delhi being the member of both these groups (SCRI & proposed alternateQuad), it would be very beneficial for the Indo Pacific region if these two groups cooperate against China.
Second, although none of the above countries have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, yet these countries are searching for new arenas of economic partnerships with Taipei. With Republic of China being the leader in semiconductor industry, working together with Taiwan can open new windows of opportunities for the region in general & proposed Quad in particular.
Third, the proposed Quad can include, in future, other like-minded countries both in East & South East Asia.
The aim of this article is not to prove that existing Quad is ineffective or newer proposed Quad is best, no never ever. It only aims to provide India with more flexible approach in geopolitics, that’s why the name ‘alternate Quad’. In fact the alternate proposed Quad also has certain challenges where countries like Japan & Vietnam also have deep economic cooperation with China & these countries still try to maintain a balance between Delhi & Beijing.Reducing Chinese grip on them is difficult.
However despite these challenges the proposed Quad really provides India in general and other three countries, Japan, Vietnam & Australia in particular lots of new opportunities in many domains like economy, military, environment, energy etc. with flexibility.
If New Delhi is really serious about countering China & taking leadership role, the proposed Quad is best as it doesn’t have any hegemon like USA. In fact any important role played by India is always welcomed by countries east of Malacca. Countries like Japan, Vietnam, Australia etc. see India as a best counter to China & are eager for Delhi to play a leading role in this regard.
Therefore it becomes imperative for India to be more assertive in the regions where China plays bullying tactics because Beijing only understands the language of hard power & this is the only way tomake Panda come to terms. The proposed Quadprovides India this very opportunity. It must be told here that China is not militarily strong as it appears. PRC is very good at psy & propaganda warfare, following Sun Tzu’s dictum of ‘all warfare is deception’. As Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had said ‘one should not underestimate the enemy but at the same time also not overestimate his strength’.
It’s easier to play the leadership role when other actors are willing to listen & cooperate with the leader. In this regard, the proposed Quad is best as hegemons like Washington are absent. Also if India starts to be more aggressive against China, taking leading role with calculated risks, New Delhi’s respect will only increase. Here more and more countries will look at India as a counter to China which in turn will provide it with more leverages.
However India should always maintain a fine balance between existing Quad & alternate Quad (if comes into picture).
As Indo Pacific region is the heartland of 21st century, whosoever will dominate it will dominate the world, thanks to enormous amount of trade passing through this region, various chokepoints, energy resources and so on. Geographically it’s India which is well suited to dominate IOR. A fineapproach for India can be following area dominance in IOR and making other countries in East & South East Asia go for area denial against China although it will be long term strategy. The proposed Quad will be quite handy here.