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Maritime Cooperation Under Quad - Amidst Turbulences in the Indo-Pacific region

Quad is the informal name of the groupings of India, Australia, the US, and Japan, as one of the ideal examples of a ‘balance of power’. Two main narratives are roaming around the establishment and the impacts of quadrilateral security. One is countering the growing assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region, and another is that the Quad does not amount to much in terms of catering to the Indo-Pacific strategy.


An Illustration on Maritime Cooperation under Quad

Illustration by The Geostrata


Quad is not a new grouping, but it was established in 2000, and the first collective military evacuation mission after the 2004 tsunami proved the commitment to cooperation in disasters. But it had hardly an influence on shaping any geopolitical strategy. However, it was rejuvenated in 2016 to make the platform effective and structure its institutions.


The active participation of the four countries, especially in the context of humanitarian assistance, vaccines, and medical equipment deliveries during COVID-19, was not seen in a good light by China.

Over the years, the working pattern, diplomacy, and areas of cooperation increased. While maritime cooperation started as one of the first areas where the countries of the Quad showed resilience during the 2004 tsunami, like-minded countries also expanded their commitments in areas such as tackling security challenges, collective economic growth, and health issues in common. 

 

COMPONENTS OF MARITIME COOPERATION


Quad is a platform to cooperate, hold effective discussions, and chalk out strategies in the Indo-Pacific region. Understandably, the four members of the platform have a primary interest in the Indo-Pacific. Although the Quad, as a platform, started its journey way back in 2007, it has revived its existence only in the context of growing Chinese assertion in the Indo-Pacific.


The current South China Sea maritime disputes are also part of the broader Indo-Pacific region. The Quad Nations are united by their collective pitch, “Free and Open Indo-Pacific."

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first described Quad as a ‘Security Diamond’, which means to safeguard the maritime commons in the region. Apart from the Chinese factor, there are other inherent challenges, such as unregulated fishing, piracy, smuggling, and so on, in the maritime regions. In the following sections, there will be a discussion of different aspects and how Quad countries cope with the challenges. 

Disasters

 

The formation of the quad grouping happened only after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The ad hoc Tsunami Core Group, consisting of India, the US, Australia, and Japan, eventually became the current Quad.

Surprisingly, after its formation, due to the complex structure of the platform and in the face of Chinese discontent, the operation has become difficult. Dealing with such disasters is one of the fundamental areas in which all the Quad Nations cooperate. The Indian Ocean region (IOR) is often termed one of the most risk-prone areas due to frequent cyclones, floods, droughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, and others.


The Quad countries focus on disaster management in multiple phases. The first one is preparedness, for which the Quad nations have independent, sophisticated systems for tracing and tracking, and they come together to achieve the common goal. 


Japan has an efficient early-warning system, while the US has the tools for mapping disaster vulnerability. Again, India has an active tsunami alert system (IOR), and Australia has the same for the Pacific Ocean.

The pillar of information sharing is technical and knowledge exchanges for best practices that facilitate the initiatives of the Quad countries. However, the area of disaster mitigation covered by the collective commitment still needs significant improvements. Disaster mitigation requires long-term policy. Sometimes population relocation and rehabilitation are also demanded by the mitigation strategy, which is very much subject to national jurisdiction. 


Interestingly, the Quad Nations have a bilateral or trilateral framework for disaster management. For example, India and the US signed a disaster relief initiative in 2005, while with Japan, India has a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) on the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative.


The US and Japan's cooperation is also for energy response, and with Australia, the US has a MoU regarding emergency management cooperation in times of disaster. Through the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, the US, Japan, and Australia conduct disaster relief operations. In 2022, the Quad Nations signed the operational guidelines for the ‘Quad Partnership on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the Indo-Pacific’. It is expected that the dedicated framework will augment the capacity, interoperability, and operational efficiency of the Quad Nations. 


Maritime security is a prime area of concern for all the Quad Nations. While India always acknowledges the importance of smooth trade and connectivity through the maritime route, the US, Japan, and Australia have concerns over the increasing influence of China in their maritime backyards. 


The Malabar exercise is the grand naval exercise among the Quad nations to reinforce the rule-based maritime order and counter the malign influence of China in the region. In 2021, Quad added France as a non-Quad member party, making it Quad Plus Exercise.


The major five maritime powers, through this exercise in the Bay of Bengal, signalled for an open maritime trade route in the region.

France operates two military bases in Djibouti and Abu Dhabi and notably has a permanent military presence across the Pacific region with a full infantry brigade of 7,000 soldiers. Although earlier India lacked a naval presence in the region, with the changing dynamics, India is now engaged with the US, France, and so on to access port facilities and get logistics support.


In the last few years, the growing threat of piracy and armed robbery has posed a significant threat to international trade. The year-long naval presence and standing of the aircraft carriers for surveillance have improved the situation effectively.


The Indo-Pacific, as a growing theatre of conflict, has also been in the limelight, and being a region where most of the trading ships pass through, many countries, especially ASEAN countries and the EU, have also started to show their interest in safeguarding the vital maritime route. The Quad member countries have launched the ‘Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness’ initiative at the Tokyo Summit on May 24, 2022. This will enhance awareness and education across the different regions and facilitate the monitoring facilities in the long run.


The programme aims to increase specific knowledge and awareness by categorising three regions: Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and IOR. Including more stakeholders is also one of the main future plans for this.

This initiative on the ground will not only help the Quad Nations but also support the regional partners to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The programme will also help gather in-depth information in response to climate change and natural disasters. 

 

CONCERNS ABOUT STRENGTHENING MARITIME COOPERATION

 

Since its resurgence in 2017, especially after India and the other Quad nations joined the French-led naval exercise La Perouse in the Bay of Bengal in 2019 and the Malabar exercise in 2021, analysts point out that after the Galwan Valley border conflicts in 2020, India started to shift from its conventional appeasement policy towards China.


During this exercise, China officially underscores that the Quad is nothing but a conspiracy against Beijing to contain it in the Indo-Pacific. China’s discomfort regarding the proximity of the Quad countries is understandably preventing the member nations from collaborating in many vital areas.


Considering the Indo-China and Sino-Japan border clashes, Australia’s economic dependency on Beijing has become a crucial factor in deterring the pro-active approach of the Quad nations. 

National interest is the prior concern for all the nations, even in a multilateral grouping like the Quad. Lack of a concrete strategy and diverging interests are the core challenges to working effectively. On one side, Japan has an immense interest in the South China Sea, but the territorial disputes and military buildup activities by the Chinese PLA, stretching 1,750 miles from the Luzon Strait to Singapore and 1,250 miles from Hong Kong to Brunei, have become a cause of concern for further collaboration with the other countries.


During the pandemic, while Australia claimed an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19, Beijing immediately put sanctions on Australia, which hurt its economy at its worst. India, since 2020, has faced PLA on its northern border near LAC. Furthermore, India’s dependence on China for necessary items is also serving as a deterrent factor for cooperating with other Quad nations.


India has its own approach to dealing with the crisis. India never condemned Russia’s invasion, and it reiterates ‘strategic autonomy’ as the reason. Notably, India is one of the key countries that keeps sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

However, with Russia being the ‘all-weather friend’ and the growing closeness between Beijing and Moscow, India plays a balancing game to navigate this highly complex situation. India cannot afford a direct conflict with China, and it also does not want to lose Russia. This is why India is often referred to as the ‘weakest link’ in the Quad platform. 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS


Quad continues to emphasise enhancing technology cooperation in critical areas. The latest proposed ‘Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use’ does not include the maritime domain, which is the vast area for the Quad member nations. The Quad countries can collaborate on projects like ‘Deep-Sea Exploration, which will help to accustom with a better understanding of the seabed. In terms of communication networks, the Quad countries can come together to install strong surveillance equipment so that security-related challenges can be prevented without even forcing intervention. 


The Quad Nations are law-abiding countries and believers in the rule-based international order. Hence, the platform needs to adopt a dialogue-based approach to resolve the small-scale maritime disputes based on international law contained in the region. 

The Quad Nations should include other stakeholders, such as industries, academicians, and so on, to draft a maritime policy to address challenges like piracy, theft, robbery, and others. There should be a collective navy station, with every member country contributing to developing collective maritime security capabilities. 


The Quad countries should collaborate in developing the ‘Blue Economy’ in the littoral countries of the Indo-Pacific. While China engages in the militarization of the disputed island, the Quad countries should have the proper investment mechanism to build upon the economies of the coastal parts of the countries as well as the smaller island countries. In this context, Quad can coordinate with ASEAN countries to improve the outreach of its operations.


 

 BY SANCHALY BHATTACHARYA

TEAM GEOSTRATA

1 comentário


vanshika Kakkar
vanshika Kakkar
23 de abr.

QUAD will play an important role in determining stability and security in the Indian Ocean Region

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