The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Rising Above the Chinese Concern

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic dialogue initiative between four countries, namely India, United States of America, Japan and Australia. It was initiated in the year 2007. It majorly consists of diplomatic and military interactions between the participants. It was created in one of the informal discussions in Manila during one of the Asian summits. Some scholars have also nicknamed the initiative as ‘Asian NATO’. This is because almost all the activities within this alliance are of the military nature. There is a popular opinion of people who question its capabilities citing that it does not have a well-established doctrine or an agenda. In this article we shall look at how the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue can be more than a counter-initiative against China and enable an overall development of the Asia-Pacific region.

The four countries in the alliance have engaged with each other in multiple dialogues in various combinations. For example, Japan, India and USA have a separate platform while Australia, Japan and USA share another platform as well. However, the four countries come together as a quadrilateral for a very single-minded and specific objective. Their aim is to create a balance of power in the concerned region with respect to China. India is constantly threatened by its aggressive neighbors. USA, on the other hand, has not had a very fruitful relation with China. Similarly, Japan also had its skirmish with the giant neighbor. An important factor that brings the four distant countries together is China and the Indo-Pacific region.

China is known to follow an expansionist policy popularly termed as the String of Pearls. Its objective is to acquire maximum presence in the Indian Ocean. In this regard, it has captured a number of ports across Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. On one hand it is speedily progressing with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and constructing a National Highway that would lead straight into Central Asia, while on the other hand it is creating a foothold in the ocean. Many scholars believe that such a strategic action will give China an unprecedented reach deep into Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia. This is likely to boost its economy even further. Naturally, its hostile neighbors and many distant adversaries perceive this as a huge threat. As a response to the String of Pearls, the Quadrilateral has now and then engaged in naval exercises and military cooperation among themselves in the Pacific region. Although it wants to respond China, its course of action has only been limited to such joint military operations.

Many scholars argue that the four countries can cooperate at a much larger scale than their roles at present. One of the most important binding factors of the quadrilateral is that all the four countries are democracies. Being committed democratic systems enables a sense of commitment and trust among them. This factor can foster a larger level of interaction between the countries and engagement across diverse fields. They are all committed to collective responsibility and accountability. Instead of being restricted to military operations, the Quadrilateral can expand its objective to economic cooperation. The Pacific Ocean still needs a boost in its trade routes. The countries can use this region of International Waters to boost its inter- trade relations. Also, in due course of time they can involve and include the other countries present in the region.

The limited scope of the initiative runs parallelly with the informal institutionalization of the initiative. The dialogue would continue to remain informal and non-institutionalized as long as there is a lack of clarity in the objectives and agendas of the diplomatic engagements. The countries do not share our common geography, history and culture. As mentioned earlier, the only factors that bring them together is their interest in the Asia-Pacific Waters. Therefore, it should diversify its interests beyond China. The four countries can expand the scope of the dialogues in fields where they have common interest. This includes Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, regional trade, countering terrorism, countering sea piracy and also propagating democratic values in the region.

The number of times the four countries have engaged and convened meetings has increased over the years as the Chinese threat has grown. However, the initiative is still in its nascent stage. Nonetheless, what is lacking among the four countries is the willingness to take the partnership forward. Instead of waiting for the Chinese actions to direct them, it would be better if the four countries start taking the dialogue seriously. This could be started by formalizing the Quadrilateral into a legitimate organization and later on moving to expanding its objectives.

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