Contention over South China Sea



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quad members

Mains level : Paper 2- Future course of action for Quad

The article discusses the future course of action for the Quad and issues it faces in the present circumstances.

Evolution of the Quad

  • In 2007, the Quad (the United States, Japan, India, and Australia) was an idea whose time had not yet come.
  • The global financial crisis was yet to happen as America continued to enjoy its ‘unipolar moment’.
  • The American still expected China to become a ‘responsible stake-holder’.
  • America required Chinese goodwill in handling issues with North Korea and Iran, and the War on Terror.
  • Japan and Australia were riding the China Boom to prosperity.
  • If India was ambivalent at the time, it was because this mirrored the uncertainties of others.

China’s reaction and naval expansion

  • When the idea of Quad was barely on the table; the Chinese, labelled it as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
  • The real reason for China’s hyperreaction was out of concern that such a grouping would “out” China’s plans for naval expansion by focusing on the Indo-Pacific maritime space.
  • Once the idea of Quad 1.0 had died down, China advanced a new claim — the Nine-Dash Line — in the South China Sea.
  • It undertook the rapid kind of warship building activity
  • It built its first overseas base in Djibouti.
  • It started systematically to explore the surface and sub-surface environment in the Indian Ocean beyond the Malacca Straits.
  • China’s dismissal of the Arbitral Award in the dispute with the Philippines on the South China Sea and its militarization of the islands has given a second chance to the Quad.

Quad: A plurilateral mechanism

  • The Quad nations need to better explain that the Indo-Pacific Vision is an overarching framework being discussed in a transparent manner.
  • They should also explain that the objective of Indo-Pacific vision is of advancing everyone’s economic and security interests.
  • The Quad is a plurilateral mechanism between countries that share interest on specific matters.
  • In 2016, China itself established a Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
  • The Quad is no exception.

Way forward

  • The forthcoming Ministerial Quad meeting will be an opportunity to define the idea and chart a future path.
  • Needless provocation of China should be avoided.
  • Other countries might be invited to join in the future.
  • An outreach to the Indian Ocean littoral states is especially important since there are reports from some quarters suggesting that India is seeking to deny access to some extra-regional countries through the Indian Ocean.


A positive agenda built around collective action in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, monitoring shipping for search and rescue or anti-piracy operations, infrastructure assistance to climatically vulnerable states, connectivity initiatives and similar activities, will re-assure the littoral States that the Quad will be a factor for regional benefit, and a far cry from Chinese allegations that it is some sort of a military alliance.

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