Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[oped of the day] Quad in the spotlight


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : QUAD - its position; with respect to China


Quad convened on November 4 at the level of senior officials on the margins of the EAS in Bangkok.

China – QUAD animosity

  • The US Secretary of State said that the “Quad” between Japan, Australia, India, and the United States would ensure that “China retains only its proper place in the world”. 
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry retorted to condemn the American plain-speaking as habitual lies and malicious slandering. 


  • Early origins – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed in early 2007 to hold a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
  • It was endorsed by US Vice President and the governments of India and Australia, leading to the first meeting at the official level.
  • Non- military – There was a general understanding that it would not take on a military dimension against any country. 
  • Chinese response
    • The strategic community in China branded it an emerging “Asian NATO”. 
    • It began with maritime-centric concerns.
    • It is gradually seen by China as a means to involve the use of the wider Indo-Pacific theatre to target China.
  • Growing idea – Abe’s “Confluence of Two Seas” address to the Indian Parliament gave a fresh impetus to the nascent concept. Abe had spoken of a “broader Asia” taking shape at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 
  • Broader Asia – It recognised the economic rise of India and brought Japan and India together as part of a network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, the US, and Australia. It was seen as a network that would allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely.
  • Australia walked away – The Quad dissipated when Australia walked away on account of Chinese sensibilities. 
  • Later, Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” was announced – involving Australia, India, Japan, and the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific.
  • Reducing differences – differences among the Quad countries have narrowed down in the last two years. They hold a common interest in the creation of a free, open and inclusive regional architecture, rules of the road, freedom of navigation and overflight, and, ASEAN centrality. 


  • Friendships with China – Even as the US has described China and Russia as revisionist powers, Japan has dropped the word “strategy” from its own Free and Open Indo-Pacific to better ties with China. 
  • Dependence on China – Japan’s overwhelming economic dependence on China, Australia’s continued commitment to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China signify the nations’ relationship with China.
  • Chinese response – 
    • China believes that the concept of the Indo-Pacific and Quad is a plot by the US to contain its rise. 
    • It believes that trilateral compacts involving the US, Japan and India and the US, Japan, and Australia are aimed at strengthening the Quad.
    • China believes in “Asia-Pacific” for building an inclusive regional cooperative structure. A switch to “Indo-Pacific” implies erosion of its pre-eminence.
  • Chinese five-point formula for Asia – Pacific
    • making greater efforts to work together on the BRI
    • forging China-ASEAN digital cooperation, including in 5G
    • fully implementing the China-ASEAN FTA
    • finalising regional rules-of-the-road based on the negotiating text of the Code of Conduct 
    • engaging in joint maritime exercises
  • China – ASEAN 
    • China also pitched for synergies between the BRI and ASEAN’s development. 
    • China has signed bilateral agreements with ASEAN countries to advance transportation routes, including the existing economic corridors, China-Thailand Railway, China-Laos Railway, and Jakarta-Bandung high-speed Railway.

India – China

  • India’s commitment to “strategic autonomy” is reassuring to China. It suggests that India would never agree to fully align itself with the US against China.
  • This impression has been reinforced by India holding up Australia’s participation in the annual Malabar naval exercise. 
  • India did not join the Indo-Pacific Business Council.
  • The recent Mamallapuram summit is a positive development as the key to giving strategic guidance to stakeholders on both sides. 

China – other QUAD nations

  • Japan – With Japan, the opportunity for China lies in working together on agreed-upon projects in third countries
  • Australia – it is an alliance partner of the US and is involved in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. China wants to leverage its deep economic engagement to balance the hard line being taken by Australia’s security and intelligence establishment.

China – QUAD : way ahead

  • China remains wary of the Quad and its future contours. 
  • It remains worried about the advantages that the Quad process might offer to India in the Indo-Pacific. 
  • It will seek to use its considerable bilateral engagement with Japan, Australia as well as India to ensure that the Quad does not flip over from a regional coordinating mechanism focused on connectivity and Infrastructure, capacity-building, HADR and maritime security and cyber security and counter-terrorism to become an “Asian NATO”. 
  • Much will depend on China’s actions and how others perceive her capabilities and intentions.





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