The Quad is an informal multilateral grouping of India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan aimed at cooperation for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Origins and growth of the grouping:
- India took up large scale humanitarian and disaster relief work in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. It helped its maritime neighbours: Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. The other three naval powers of the region— the U.S., Australia and Japan also joined in the efforts. This marked an important moment in the coming together of the four countries that led to the birth of a new framework: the Quadrilateral or Quad.
- The then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promoted the idea of an “arc of prosperity and freedom” that brought the Quad countries closer together in cooperation and collaboration.
- The dynamism between the member countries got an impetus with the 2007 Indo-U.S. Malabar Java exercise which saw participation from Japan, Australia and Singapore apart from India and the U.S.
- The Quad lost momentum post-2007 meeting and was only revived later in 2017 amid increasing assertiveness of China and revised assessments of the China challenge. Though regular meetings were taking place between leaders of the four countries, the meetings were termed the ‘India-Australia-Japan-U.S.’ dialogue and not referred to as a Quad dialogue to avoid the perception of it being a “gang-up” against China. The grouping thus far had failed to come up with an explicit set of objectives, areas of cooperation, and even the definition of Indo-Pacific.
- It was in March 2021 that the leaders met virtually, for the first time as an official Quad summit, releasing a set of objectives for the grouping called the ‘The Spirit of the Quad’ and outlined actionable goals, and formed expert working groups in multiple areas.
Objectives of the grouping:
- The realization of a free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and ensuring security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific was the main objective of the grouping.
- Though unstated, a major basis for the grouping is to check China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. This was evident in the emphasis laid on rule of law, territorial integrity, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, and democratic values. This was an indirect reference to China’s actions in the region.
Notable initiatives of the grouping:
- The grouping sought to strengthen equitable vaccine access for the Indo-Pacific, through the Quad Vaccine Initiative (QVI), which sought to manufacture and distribute at least a billion COVID-19 vaccines for the Asia region by the end of 2022.
- In the domain of emerging and critical technologies, the four countries aimed to work on the development of 5G telecommunications with an emphasis on diversification. They also aimed at the creation of supply chains for critical minerals and technologies for making semiconductors used in smartphones. Notably, China has been a leader in these areas.
- Quad nations have agreed to build joint connectivity projects and transparent infrastructure funding for countries in the region. This is aimed to counter China and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- The Quad has also created a working group for climate action with a major focus on fostering green shipping by decarbonising maritime supply chains and promoting the use of clean hydrogen.
Future of the Quad:
- The ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis has triggered geopolitical shifts. Notably, India is the only member of the Quad that has not imposed sanctions against Russia and has in fact ramped up its intake of Russian oil.
- The newly unveiled ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’ (IPEF) offers an opportunity to bind the countries in closer economic cooperation.
At the ongoing meeting, Quad members have also launched a maritime monitoring plan to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific. This seems to be directed at countering illegal and unsustainable fishing practices of the Chinese in the region.