India should be an important player in regional security
Moves to resurrect the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which brought Australia, the US, Japan and India into an “Asian Arc of Democracy” in 2007 before it was unwisely scuttled by the Rudd government, have drawn fire from Beijing. Australia’s unilateral withdrawal from the so-called “Quad” in 2008, a weak-kneed response to Chinese pressure, saw the dialogue mothballed. At the time, India also was concerned about China’s response to what it perceived as the region’s democracies ganging up against it.
On the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia summits in Manila, the first steps were taken towards a “Quad redux”. As the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement, there is a need to discuss “a shared vision for increased prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region and to work together to ensure it remains free and open”. Officials are examining how to uphold “the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, increased connectivity, co-ordination on efforts to address the challenges of countering terrorism and upholding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific”.
The need for the region’s democracies, including India, the world’s most populous democracy, to work together is incontrovertible. Important strategic interests are at stake as China asserts its economic and military muscle. The co-operation seen previously, when the Quad countries joined in military manoeuvres known as Exercise Malabar, have greater significance given Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea and China-India border tensions
Beijing remains bitterly opposed to the Quad concept, accusing the four nations of “politicising and excluding relevant parties” — a reference to itself.
While previous US administrations spoke of an “Asia-Pacific” concept, Donald Trump, in a significant change of emphasis during his 12-day regional visit, referred repeatedly to the “IndoPacific”. Reconstituting the Quad will take time. Once in place, it must not be discarded as it was under Mr Rudd.