As External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar travels to Tokyo for the meeting of the so-called Quad — or the quadrilateral forum involving India, the US, Japan and Australia — Beijing and its official media are letting the political bile flow. If Chinese leaders looked in the mirror, they would see that it is Beijing’s overweening strategic ambition that is driving the consolidation of the Quad. The accidental origins of the Quad go back to the Boxing Day tsunami in the eastern Indian Ocean at the end of 2004, when the navies of the four nations came together on short notice to coordinate the regional relief efforts. Soon after, in 2007, Shinzo Abe, the then prime minister of Japan, articulated the concept of the Indo-Pacific and urged the collaboration between the US and the three Asian democracies — India, Japan and Australia — to stabilise the new strategic geography. It is only in the last couple of years that the Indo-Pacific geography has gained widespread political acceptance. This week’s meeting in Tokyo could well be the moment when the Quad begins to turn from an abstract idea into a credible political coalition.
Over the years, Beijing has reacted with condescension and hostility to the Quad. It often dismissed the Quad as a pitiful effort to contain a rising China and occasionally painted it as a great threat to global peace and security. As the case for the Quad gained ground amidst China’s post-pandemic aggression on multiple fronts, Beijing is trying to demonise the forum and generate opposition across the region and within the four members. Chinese arguments obfuscate the cause and effect in the transformation of the Quad. Until recently, there was much reluctance in all the four capitals against embarking on any venture that would give political offence to China. All four had serious economic stakes in China and a strong interest in building sustainable political relations with Beijing. All four tried to downgrade the Quad at different points. Resultantly, the Quad seemed a less-organised cousin of the BRICS forum that brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. What is transforming the Quad today from a talk shop into a purposeful strategic framework is China’s growing unilateralism and brazen effort to establish regional and global dominance.
China seems to believe that it can keep pushing India on a range of issues — from aggression on the Ladakh frontier to deepening military partnership with Pakistan and from blocking India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to refusing to address the mounting trade deficit — and yet claim a veto over India’s relations with other powers, including the US, Japan and Australia. Until recently, India has been the most cautious in imagining a robust future for the Quad. But Delhi’s attitudes have begun to evolve as China’s pressures on India intensified. No country, certainly not a large one like India, likes being cornered. Delhi may now be ready to contribute to the consolidation of the Quad.