Is India-US-Australia-Japan grouping finally gaining momentum against China?

New Delhi (NVI) The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of four democratic countries, commonly known as ‘Quad’ and comprising India, USA, Australia and Japan, seems to be finally getting alive and gaining momentum, 13 years after it came into being mainly to counter China’s growing assertiveness in South China Sea.

This impression can be drawn from the fact that the Foreign Ministers of the four countries will be having their first structured meeting in Tokyo on October 6.

This is the second meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers, with the first taking place on the margins of UN General Assembly in New York in September last year.

The indication that the upcoming meeting would be a structured one came as senior officials of the member countries last week held a meeting through virtual mode, apparently to prepare ground.

Although the grouping came into existence in 2007, the members have begun showing seriousness regarding it only recently, thanks to China’s expansionist manoeuvres and questionable conduct over COVID-19, which surfaced from the Chinese city of Wuhan and spread to the entire world, causing unprecedented global catastrophe.

All the four member countries of the Quad are of the common view that there is earnest need to counter China’s expansionist designs and territorial ambitions, which have got amplified by its aggression against India on the Ladakh border and repeated military manoeuvres targeted at Taiwan.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, for the record, has said the agenda of the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting will be “broadly focused on the post-Covid-19 international order as well as the need for coordinating responses to the challenges emerging from the pandemic.”

He added, “There will also be a discussion on regional issues. The foreign ministers are expected to collectively affirm the importance of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”

The Quad has so far been almost a dead grouping. The first setback came just within a year after it was formalised, with Australia pulling out after China took strong objection to formation of the grouping, saying it was an effort to encircle the Communist nation.

However, after the outbreak of corona pandemic and amidst sharp differences, Australia recently changed its stand and decided to be an active participant of the Quad.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, while announcing her travel to Tokya, said the meeting was taking place at an important time because “our shared interests are under unprecedented pressure, including as the region responds to Covid-19”.

She said her visit was “an opportunity to advance Australia’s interests, deepen ties with like-minded partners, and reaffirm our shared commitment to promoting a stable, inclusive and prosperous region as we work towards Covid-19 recovery”.

China is closely watching the developments related to Quad. Its Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui recently said the Quad was “an anti-China frontline” and “mini-Nato” which reflected the “cold war mentality” of the US.

The Quad was launched as a security dialogue forum in 2007 by the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with active support of the US. India and Australia, under Prime Minister John Howard, also joined.

It initially became a forum for informal summits and military drills, ostensibly to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

However, Australia withdrew from it in February 2008, shortly after Kevin Rudd took over as Prime Minister. The Australian withdrawal came after China lodged protest over a joint naval exercise involving Quad member countries and Singapore.

The Quad also suffered as Japan did not take keen interest after Yasuo Fakuda became the Prime Minister of Japan in late 2007. Fakuda was considered China-friendly.

However, India, Japan and the US continued to hold joint naval exercises under the code name Malabar.

During the 2017 ASEAN Summit in Manila, leaders of four former members — Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — resumed efforts to revive the Quad amidst growing assertiveness of China in South China Sea.

Now, it is to be seen whether the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries come up with some concrete ways to deal with an aggressive China or it becomes just another meeting.