10th April 2021
In a first, the leaders of the Quad countries met virtually on 12 March 2021. The Quad summit reveals that even with changes in leadership in two of the four democracies, there has been a need for advancing a shared vision of the Indo-Pacific and continued regional engagement in the arena despite an ongoing global health and economic crisis. The summit marks a turning point in how the grouping envisions itself as more than just a counter to China. India, Japan, Australia and the United States affirmed that the Quad is striving for a region that is free, open and inclusive. Moreover, the group is also committed to working with a range of partners.
The Quad has in some shape or form contoured the security architecture of the Indo-Pacific, and expanded its horizons over time. After a lull period of 10 years, it was revived in 2017 where the group was more engaged and proactive in the region. Since 2017, it has sculpted its objectives and reconfigured long-term goals. The group’s momentum partially owes its continued vigour to the Quad plus partners. On 20 March 2020, officials from the Quad countries gathered to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic and was joined by South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand. The pandemic undoubtedly created more synergy with all members of the Quad and saw active participation from Quad Plus countries discussing vaccine development and strategies to provide assistance to countries that were economically impacted by Covid-19. The mini lateral engagement in the Quad has explored ways to improve the group’s effectiveness and create elbowroom for cooperation with like-minded partners outside the group. However, it raises questions about whether a broadened platform can be sustained and create an apparatus for increased security cooperation. While these questions are critical in understanding the trajectory and viability of the Quad Plus, it definitely lends a global characteristic and adds an element of inclusivity within the grouping. Additionally, the Heritage Foundation in the United States has been organising Track 1.5 consultations under a Quad Plus label since 2013, which has involved countries such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and France on a rotating basis.
A Broader Strategic Intent and How It Will Work For India
India has shown support for a Quad Plus narrative as illustrated by Indian Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar’s statement where he approved a broad based approach to alleviate challenges brought on by the pandemic. Additionally, an official statement released by India’s Ministry of External Affairs on 14 May 2020 reiterates India’s intention to support the Quad core group’s regular meetings with the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam. India’s embrace towards a Quad Plus mechanism aligns well with its current foreign policy ambitions of increasing multilateral and mini lateral partnerships. Moreover, the Quad Plus platform is an amalgamation of developed and developing countries that could provide effective solutions and diverse representation to crises in the region. A Quad Plus proposition compliments New Delhi’s vision of an inclusive Indo-Pacific construct. However, New Delhi also realises that a Quad Plus narrative will not go unchallenged by China whether that is bilaterally or multilaterally. India is aware that beyond the Quad, Beijing will continue to engage with Quad Plus countries, making these countries careful enough not to engage in a narrative that is “anti-China”. While the core group has fashioned itself as an inclusive ensemble, China has been the fuel that has kept the fire going in the Quad. Nevertheless, embracing a Quad Plus proposition, enables New Delhi to expand its continental connect with like-minded countries and definitely lends some staying power to the Quad.
Does the Quad Plus Have A Future?
The most noteworthy outcome of the Quad summit in 2021 was the establishment of a new Quad Climate Working Group and Emerging Technology Working Group. The Quad’s activities have always been viewed as a direct counter to a rising and “aggressive” China, however with married issues being addressed; it puts forth the idea of the Quad going beyond just the China factor. The core group pondering over ideas that plague the Indo-Pacific region could potentially put the Quad Plus on the map and exponentially add various dimensions to the grouping. In the meantime, countries like France have already scheduled naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal with India and the other Quad members. France’s La Pérouse naval exercise comes amidst talks of a Quad Plus framework especially since the U.K. released its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign policy which outlined its tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. Hence, with convergent interests in the Indo-Pacific, the Quad Plus provides an opportunity for like-minded countries to work in critical areas with mutual interests; paving way to create and implement a positive agenda for the Quad.
***The author is a freelance strategic analyst and holds a Master’s Degree in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education***