The hesitant and unsure revival of the strategic Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) between the United States, Japan, Australia and India through meetings in Singapore in June and now reflects a cautious approach to the original goal of a forum to counter Chinese economic and military power in the Indo-Pacific.
When it was kicked off in 2007 on the initiative of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, it had drawn protests from China. The dialogue went into hibernation when Kevin Rudd replaced John Howard as Australia’s prime minister, and remained in limbo during Rudd’s tenure. Significantly, around the time of its launch, it was accompanied by joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale titled Exercise Malabar.
Upon revival after Australian regime change again in 2010, the revived grouping has shifted the spotlight on expanding Quad’s ambit by partnering with other countries to promote a free, open, rules based and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific. The participants in the current meeting which included Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed ASEAN centrality in the new scheme of things.
In a veiled critique of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which has forced some nations into a debt trap, the member-states committed to strengthening connectivity and quality infrastructure based on sovereignty, and territorial integrity as well as transparency, economic viability and financial responsibility. The undercurrent is to watch out against Chinese neo-colonialism but the tone is circumspect and conscious of not provoking a reaction from Beijing.
Yet, it is heartening that there is the revival of a watchdog against hegemonic Chinese designs and by including Southeast Asia, the Chinese machinations in South China Sea are sought to be watched since the ASEAN member-states have a high stake in warding China off the coastal states of the South China Sea.
That US President Donald Trump did not attend the quad meeting and sent his vice-president Dick Chaney for it was of course a bit of a dampener but Trump had attended the Manila meeting in 2017 at which it was decided to revive the Quadrilateral as a part of the ASEAN summit with Southeast Asian centrality as a cornerstone of the revived forum. With the latest meeting in Singapore, three meetings have taken place, reflecting the seriousness of the forum to emphasise its presence and its message. There indeed should be no going back as had happened due to Kevin Rudd’s lack of interest in the forum. China must be deterred from any adventurism.