Will AUKUS complement or relegate Quad?

 Will AUKUS complement or relegate Quad?

US president Joe Biden hosts a ‘Quad nations’ meeting at the Leaders’ Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework with India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison and Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga in the East Room at the White House in Washington, US, 24 September 2021. | Reuters

The AUKUS (Australia-United Kingdom-United States) security pact which was made public barely a week before the first in-person QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) summit on 24 September 2021, generated debate and discussion globally. AUKUS and Quad have common character and objective. Both are anti-China oriented regional groupings to contain China with the US in the lead. The fundamental difference between the two is, AUKUS is a trilateral cooperative agreement to transfer military technology to Australia, and QUAD is a quadrilateral non-military strategic consultative platform between the Australia, Japan, India and the United States.

Quad is a loosely bound hybrid platform that intends to address a range of non-military issues for a free, open and rule based Indo-Pacific. The Quad began as an ad hoc grouping after the tsunami in 2004. After its casual formation in 2007, Quad went into hibernation for a decade and resurfaced in discussions in 2017 under the Trump administration at Japan’s initiative. Again, there was no activity in the next four years. Nine months after the border scuffle between China and India on 20 June 2020 at Galwan valley, Quad countries held the first leader level summit virtually on 12 March 2021.

After the virtual summit, Quad leaders issued a joint statement entitled ‘The Spirit of Quad’. The statement, besides focussing on fighting the corona pandemic, pledged “to strengthen cooperation on the defining challenges… promoting a free, open rules-based order rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” It was committed to support “freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity.”

Six months after virtual summit, Quad leaders met in person. The leaders talked on a wide range of topics like climate change, global sufferings from COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain, 5G technology, free Indo-Pacific and ASEAN cooperation and recommitted to mutual partnership and shared security and prosperity and “promoting the free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond” and recognized that the regional security have become ever complex. Covid-19 response and progress in relief dominated the joint statement.

Long discussion on Covid vaccine was intended to counter China’s vaccine diplomacy. Quad leaders also discussed the issue of emerging technology to counter China, 5G technology, for example

AUKUS and Quad members view the two-prong Chinese “aggression” into the Indo-Pacific and beyond – hard power and soft power. Hard power is the China’s vertical and horizontal development of military capacity. Soft power is the economy oriented activities globally.

Both the joint statements’ focus is the cooperative development of soft power without reference to military dimension anywhere in the statements. Long discussion on Covid vaccine was intended to counter China’s vaccine diplomacy. Quad leaders also discussed the issue of emerging technology to counter China, 5G technology, for example.

According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Quad countries imports from China was US$715.07 billion and exports was 387.33 billion in 2020. USA, China’s largest trading partner went into trade war with China which could neither bring US companies back home nor turn the balance of trade. After the Galwan valley incident, India’s call for ‘China boycott’ could not yield any results. Acting individually Quad countries could not produce the desired result. Together they aim to turn the tables.

On the military side, the Quad was paralleled by the naval Exercise Malabar which began as bilateral naval drill between the US and India in 1992, suspended after India’s nuclear test in 1998 and resumed after 9/11 when India joined the US’ “global war on terror”.

Exercise Malabar is not mandated by the Quad. It has been a regular annual naval event of the countries who are also members of the Quad. Japan joined the naval exercise in 2007, the year Quad was formed. The US, JAPAN and India have been regular participants since 2007. Australia participated in 2007 and 2020. Exercise Malabar is a multilateral naval drill outside the Quad mandate although the media often tend to report the exercise as ‘Quad Naval Drill or Exercise’. China also views it as such. The exercise has been conducted in the waters abutting the Indian and the Pacific Ocean like the Bay of Bengal, the Philippine Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Arabian Sea, etc, except the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

AUKUS and Quad seem to be complementing on the common goal – containing China.The huge military dimension of AUKUS seemingly prevents any probability to include military component in the Quad. Thus, AUKUS relegates Quad from having any military texture in the future.

* Mohammad Abdur Razzak is retired Commodore of Bangladesh Navy and a security analyst. He can be reached at safera690@yahoo.com

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