By Arvind Gupta
The consultations among the officials of Australia, India, US and Japan on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila on November 12 under the chairmanship of Japan have led to revival of the earlier idea of the so-called ‘Quad’. Each country issued a separate statement which seemed to suggest that officials discussed several themes including the rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific, connectivity, maritime security, North Korea, terrorism, etc. The absence of a joint declaration shows that common positions have yet to be firmed up.
Unlike the other three, the Indian statement did not mention either the phrase “rule-based order” or the “freedom of navigation”. All three, except Japan, mentioned connectivity.
This is interesting, indicating that Japan perhaps does not want to openly confront China on the Belt and Road initiative. India was the only country that mentioned its Act East Policy being the “cornerstone” of its Indo-Pacific vision. Thus, India wants the centrality of ASEAN to be maintained. The Indian statement also did not explicitly mention maritime security. But India has been having maritime cooperation with these countries. On terrorism-related issues all countries agree. India did not mention North Korea by name but talked about its concerns about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
China has not been mentioned in any of the statements, though assertive China is very much on the minds of the participating countries. It is too early to be sanguine about the Indo-Pacific idea. Why? First, it is still a vague concept that lacks common positions on major issues.
Second, the Indo-Pacific cannot be centred on the idea of countering China. That will make many countries uncomfortable. Third, the Quad has not set its direction. Will it develop into a formal organisation?
Fourth, no plan of practical cooperation has emerged so far. Fifth, it is not clear whether Indo-Pacific order will maintain the centrality of ASEAN. Sixth, will the Indo-Pacific idea be extended to include African and Gulf countries?
Seventh, will the individual countries be able to remain united in the event of a pushback from China?
In order to give impetus to the Indo-Pacific concept, the four countries should think of setting up a quadrilateral ‘Forum for Cooperation in Indo-Pacific’ (FCIP). This forum could be converted into a more formal structure subsequently. FCIP should define political, economic and security components along with a roadmap.
The items for the common agenda could be: Countering terrorism, including maritime terrorism; humanitarian disaster and relief, maritime domain awareness; exchange of information on white shipping, infrastructure and connectivity; anti-piracy operations; joint escorting of international shipping; deep sea mining; pollution control; freedom of navigation and flights; safety of sea lanes of communications; defence production; joint naval exercises; blue economy; and capacity building cooperation with other like-minded groupings like IORA, IONS, WPNS, etc.
China’s objections should not hold back the setting up of the quadrilateral forum. Once it is established, a practical agenda of cooperation will emerge and other countries will show interest. The idea should not be to contain China but to indicate that other countries also have legitimate interests in the region.
FCIP cooperation should be on the basis of a non-threatening, inclusive agenda. This by itself will send a positive signal all around. Time is of the essence. The Quad should give concrete shape to the Indo-Pacific concept at the soonest.
India need not be unduly pressurised by the criticism that it is tilting towards the US. India is already a member of BRICS and Russia-India-China trilateral forum. That is not considered anti-US. India is not a member of some groupings on Afghanistan of which China is a member. So China should not object if India is in the Quad. India should follow an independent policy based on its national interests in approaching the Quad and the Indo-Pacific.
The author is former deputy National Security Adviser
Source : https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/quad-it-shouldnt-be-about-china-but-legit-interests/articleshow/61841742.cms