quad countries to focus on maritime security
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Navy South China Sea
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The “Quad” countries, namely India, US, Japan and Australia, will hold their next meeting on the sidelines of the 13 th East Asia Summit at Singapore in mid-November, with the grouping keen to step-up maritime security and disaster relief initiatives as well as economic development projects in the critical Indo-Pacific region.
The US believes the Quad, as one of the elements of its larger Indo-Pacific strategy for “a free, open and rules-based order” in face of an aggressive and expansionist China in the region, should eventually evolve into a ministerial-level dialogue imbued with a strong military dimension.
But Washington also recognizes that New Delhi for now remains opposed to any militarization of the Quad, which was revived after a decade as a joint secretary-level dialogue in November 2017, with its second meeting being held in June this year. India has also made it clear that the US should not “conflate” the Indo-Pacific with the Quad, stressing the centrality of Asean in the former.
“Quad is an opportunity for like-minded countries to share notes and collaborate on projects of mutual interest. All four countries share a vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific. Each is involved in development and economic projects as well as in promoting maritime domain awareness and maritime security,” senior state department official Alice G Wells told TOI.
“The Indo-Pacific strategy recognizes the centrality of Asean and APAC (Asia-Pacific region). This kind of grouping (Quad) is not in any way an effort to bypass these critical institutional bulwarks in the Indo-Pacific,” she added.
While “not ruling out” a military dimension in the Quad “in the future”, she stressed the present focus was on economic development and maritime security to ensure “the unimpeded use” of the international waterways and airspace in the region.
Senior US defence officials, in the Indo-Pacific Command at Honululu and elsewhere, were more direct in calling for a cooperative security framework. Blaming “closed and authoritarian” regimes like China for using “coercive tactics” and “trying to subvert international norms” in South China Sea and other areas, they said it would be “logical” to impart a military construct to the Quad. “We are not pushing it aggressively but see it as a natural progression,” said an official.
India, like the other three Quad countries, is also wary of China’s rapidly-expanding military and expeditionary capabilities. But it has studiously kept Australia out of the trilateral Malabar exercise with the US and Japan to avoid needling a prickly China, which sees any multi-lateral naval grouping in the region as a security axis seeking to contain it. China, after all, had lodged a strong protest when the Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 had been expanded to include Australia and Singapore as well.
India, of course, continues to strengthen its strategic and military ties with the other three Quad countries on a bilateral and trilateral basis. Amid the Chinese Navy’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, India is also undertaking “mission-based naval deployments” with warships spread across choke points from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait for any operational contingency, as reported by TOI earlier.