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Four corners: on the Quad’s agenda
Officials from the ‘Quadrilateral’ grouping of India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. are scheduled to meet in Singapore on 14th November, 2018.
- Lack of Common Agenda despite its formation long back.
Objective of the session:
- It is important to note that the Quad is billed as four democracies with a shared objective to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
- The four countries are expected to discuss infrastructure projects they are working on, and building humanitarian disaster response mechanisms.
- India and Japan have announced they will combine efforts on a number of projects in South Asia, including bridges and roads in Bangladesh, an LNG facility in Sri Lanka and reconstruction projects in Myanmar’s Rakhine province.
- Australia has unveiled an ambitious $2 billion project to fund infrastructure and build maritime and military infrastructure in the Pacific region, on which it is willing to cooperate with other Quad members.
- The four countries are expected to talk about regional developments, including elections in the Maldives, the collapse of the government in Sri Lanka and the latest developments in North Korea.
Significance of Indo-pacific region:
- The Indo-Pacific region is a geostrategic and geo-economic concept that has been gaining significance in the realm of geopolitics for some time now.
- Geographically, it refers to the area which covers the Eastern Coast of Africa through Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean.
- The Indo-Pacific region is at the heart of India’s engagement with the world. India’s engagement with the region, encompasses many of the world’s most dynamic economies.
- The very concept of the “Indo-Pacific” was popularized by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his 2007 “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech to the Indian Parliament.
- As a matter of fact, the Japanese PM’s speech went further, urging the United States, Australia, Japan, and India to venture into a quadrilateral security dialogue. This group has been informally termed as “the Quad”.
- The government of India has over the past few years, renewed India’s Look East Policy (LEP) into an ‘Act East Policy’, this change in outlook seeks to increase the people-to-people contact and connectivity in the region, and at the same time, seeks to play a larger and active role in this vital region.
- The region represents the centre of gravity of the world’s economic, political and strategic interests.
- Being rich in natural resources, especially hydrocarbons, there is a natural competition for resources by the littorals of this region.
- Further, the region consists of many of the world’s vital choke points for global commerce, including the Straits of Malacca which is very critical for the growth of world economy.
Why shift towards Indo-Pacific region?
- It is important to note the driving factors that has led to focus shifting towards the Indo-Pacific region.
- One of the main reasons have been the aggressive policies adopted by China, which over the last few years.
- Building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Over and above this, China has established its first overseas military base in Djibouti.
- China is planning to open a new naval base next to Pakistan’s China-controlled Gwadar port.
- China has leased several islands in the crisis-plagued Maldives, where it is set to build a marine observatory that will provide subsurface data supporting the deployment of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs (SSBNs) in the Indian Ocean.
A Brief Note on the Initiatives taken by Government of India:
- There have been visits made by important officials from India to the East African and West Asian littorals- for example, President Ram Nath Kovind’s visit to Mauritius and Madagascar last month. Such initiatives can also be looked upon as India’s response to China’s challenge.
- The President of India committed a $100 million line of credit for defence procurement by Mauritius. India is developing a new airstrip, along with jetty facilities on the islands of Agaléga, perhaps for future use by the Indian Navy.
- With reference to Madagascar, the President promised greater cooperation in the “blue economy” domain- this includes, the promotion of sustainable fisheries, maritime connectivity, marine resource management, ecotourism, and pollution control.
- For Mozambique, the government of India will be increasing the training of military personnel and upgrade defence equipment and infrastructure, including medical facilities and hydrographic surveying of Mozambique waters.
- Further, the presence of ASEAN leaders at the Republic Day celebrations held on 26th Jan, 2018 was a truly significant sign of the increasing ties that India is pursuing particularly in Southeast Asia.
- The Barack Obama administration, gave much emphasis to the ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy. Currently, under the Trump administration, the phrase ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ replaces the idea of ‘Pivot to Asia’.
- This 21st century partnership must take into account each country’s economic trajectory, political values and strategic posture. The Indo-Pacific will be the region in which this partnership can truly be leveraged to the fullest possible extent. It is important to note that the US has been a principal architect and the traditional guarantor of a liberal economic and maritime order in the Indo-Pacific.
- The Malabar exercise, conducted annually, which now formally includes a third partner, Japan, is another key feature of military cooperation, improving coordination and interoperability. Further, adding to these efforts are the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), which will create maritime logistic links, and a white shipping agreement which promotes regional maritime domain awareness. The signing of COMCASA agreement during the inaugural 2+2 dialogue between India and the U.S. bears further testimony to the growing closeness between the two countries.
- Apart from these convergences, it is suggested that India and the US must also collaborate to promote a market-driven blue economy as a framework for growth and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, especially keeping in mind that this region is home to abundant supply of hydrocarbons, minerals, and food resources. Further, it has also been suggested that through direct investments in Indian efforts, such as in identified coastal economic zones and India’s Sagarmala initiative, and participation in regional groupings like the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the US can support regional collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region.
- As China seeks to increasingly expand its political and military influence in the region under the aegis of the Belt and Road Initiative, it is imperative to formulate a rules-based order for the region. To ensure this takes place, states must work together to forge a more inclusive approach towards an emerging regional architecture. It is in this respect, that the India-US partnership has an important role to play. The American vision of the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor supplements India’s Act East policy. Further, India-US cooperation in physical and soft infrastructure can a) link cross-border transport corridors b) assist in creating regional energy connections and c) foster greater people-to-people interactions.
- Experts believe that despite the potential for cooperation, the Quad remains a mechanism without a defined strategic mission.
- It is important to note that in 2007, when the grouping was first formed following cooperation after the 2004 tsunami, the idea was to better coordinate maritime capabilities for disaster situations.
- When the idea of this grouping was revived in 2017, the grouping seemed to have become a counter to China’s growing inroads into the region, despite denials that any particular country had been targeted.
- Even a common definition of the geographical area encompassed has yet to be found. While Washington sees the U.S. and India as “bookends” of the Indo-Pacific, India and Japan have included the oceans up to Africa in their definition.
- Experts point out that the entire focus on the Indo-Pacific makes the Quad a maritime, rather than land-based, grouping, raising questions whether the cooperation extends to the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian regions.
- As a matter of fact, even on maritime exercises, there is a lack of concurrence. India has not admitted Australia in the Malabar exercises with the U.S. and Japan, despite requests from Canberra, and has also resisted raising the level of talks from an official to the political level.
- Experts believe that the fact that India is the only member not in a treaty alliance with the other Quad countries will slow progress somewhat, although each member is committed to building a stronger Quadrilateral engagement.
- Lastly, it it believed that the outcome of the third round in Singapore will be judged by the ability of the group to issue a joint declaration, which eluded it in the first and second rounds.