The Quad takes shape: An Asian NATO to balance China.
The growing India-US relationship is a seminal and significant strategic development for the global order signifying as it does the abandonment of British colonial views of Delhi by Washington. It is also just one facet of the future trend in the evolution of Asian geopolitics. There will be a series of bilateral and multilateral alliances formed with a single objective in mind: balance China. The now well known ‘Quad’ of the US, Australia, Japan and India is a powerful new grouping that will cause some consternation in Beijing.
There are significant consequences to this new quasi alliance which is forming. It suggests that policy across the Asia-Pacific region will be co-ordinated between the major powers in an effort to balance the moves of China. Beijing has demonstrated, in recent times, a determined and arguably aggressive stance on disputes throughout the region from the South China Seas to the Indian border that has alarmed its neighbours. There are many reasons why such an alliance is likely to give China pause for thought. The combined GDP of the group is nearly three times that of China. They also include in Japan and the US some of the world’s foremost and formidable naval powers, a rank which the fast developing Indian navy now aspires to.
Needless to say the combined diplomatic, economic and military power of such a grouping would be very formidable. The capacity of this ‘Quad’ to triangulate China and potentially in time box it in would be substantial. The current emphasis of this Quad at the moment is on diplomatic co-operation, but the growing regularity of military exercises between the four powers suggests strongly that there will be an evolving security role for it. There have been a raft of military exercises involving the armed forces of all four powers of late, albeit not all four together – yet.
The political rationale for such a group is clear. It demonstrates a pan-Asian solidarity in the face of alleged Chinese assertiveness and aggression. It builds upon and reinforces the strong existing bilateral relationships between the four countries, harmonising them into a political structure that will have significant implications for the balance of power in Asia for a long time going forward. While talk of an ‘Asian Nato’ may be overblown at this juncture, the interest of Great Britain and France in working with the alliance to carry out so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols in areas claimed by China highlights how the pre-eminent task of balancing China will be approached.
The countries in the Quad can cover one another’s operational as well as strategic weaknesses in the face of the Chinese challenge. For example the Japanese have shown an interest in operating in the Indian Ocean, as well as collaborating with the Indians on anti-submarine warfare. This is significant because it will also allow the Indians to hone and upgrade their anti-submarine warfare skills by working in tandem with one of the most advanced and formidable submarine hunting fleets in the world. It can also reduce the threat posed to allied shipping by Chinese submarines. Politically, bilateral groupings such as Japan-India have the financial heft to attempt to balance China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The BRI of China has been criticised for charging very high rates of interest for Chinese loans, enabling Beijing to capture countries in a debt trap. By offering to build infrastructure at lower rates, India and Japan can outbid and outcompete China for infrastructure contracts throughout Africa and Asia, undercutting Beijing’s strategic initiative. This is a net positive, balancing China and adding development to the world.
In a world where US hegemony is increasingly challenged by a mix of debt, Russian and Chinese resurgence and Middle Eastern insurgency, the fast emerging Quad represents an important stand for liberalism, democratic ideals and the freedom of global trade itself. It is a hugely important development, one that will be watched by many interested eyes around the world for some time to come.