Australia and the 'Quad.'
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue ("Quad"), an informal strategic dialogue was revived after a 10 year-long hiatus in 2017 when the United States, Japan, Australia, and India met in Manila - initiated as a dialogue in 2007 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan - on the side lines of the East Asia Summit. The dialogue was paralleled by joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale, titled Exercise Malabar. It existed officially from 2007-2008, after which it was partially dissolved due to the Australian withdrawal from this forum under then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The four Quad countries first acted collectively in response to the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, providing disaster response aid in Indonesia in particular. The Japanese prime minister proposed a more formal Quad plan during his first term as premier in 2006.
Faced with the common challenge of a non-traditional security emergencies such as COVID-19, the Quad re-emerged in 2017 as a multilateral formation committed to a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific. However, the Quad isn’t regarded as a defence dialogue, much less an alliance, and It serves the limited purpose of political signalling and improves coordination among a set of like-minded and capable maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific.
Shortly after the October 2020 meeting in Tokyo, India announced that Australia would be invited to join the United States, Japan, and India for the annual Malabar naval exercises slated for November that year; Chinese state media condemned the exercise, with the Global Times newspaper calling the drills a 'risk to regional stability.' Of note is that Defence ministers are kept separate, but the Quad certainly has a military significance. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently outlined that the 'Quad less as a bloc of four countries and more as a matrix of trilateral and bilateral relationships.'
More recently, a virtual meeting of the leaders of the Quad - the first since its formation - was held on Friday the 12th of March 2021. PM Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga, US President Joe Biden and Australian PM Scott Morrison discussed on a variety of issues ranging for development, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and COVID-19 vaccination programme, through video conferencing.
President Joe Biden detailed during the meeting that “A free and open Indo Pacific is essential to each of our future of our countries. The US is committed to working with you, our partners and all of our allies in the region to achieve stability.” Talking about the need to enhance cooperation, he said “We are establishing a new mechanism to enhance our cooperation in ways that our mutual ambitions as we have addressed, accelerating climate change. We are renewing our commitment to ensure that our regions are governed by international law, committing to universal values and free from coercion ... the Quad is going to be a vital ingredient for cooperation in the Indo Pacific and I look forward to working closely with all of you in the coming years.”
Addressing the meeting, Prime Minister Morrison said, “We join together as Quad leaders of nations to welcome what I believe to be a new dawn in the Indo-Pacific. History teaches us that when nations engage together in a partnership of strategic trust, common hope and shared values, much can be achieved.” Talking about the Indo-Pacific region, Morrison said, “It is the Indo-Pacific that will now shape the destiny of our world in the 21st century. As four leaders of great liberal democracies in the Indo Pacific, let our partnership be enabler more peace, stability and prosperity and to do so inclusively with many nations of our region.”
Indian Prime Minister Modi said, “I see this positive vision as an extension of India’s ancient philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which regards the world as one family. We will work together, closer than ever before for advancing our shared values and promoting a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Today’s meeting shows that Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.“
Finally, Japan's Leader outlined that “I do feel emotional about this summit. With the four countries working together, I wish to fully advance cooperation to realise a free and open Indo-Pacific and to make a visible and tangible contribution to the peace, prosperity and stability in the region, including COVID-19.“ Prime Minister Suga also thanked the leaders of other member countries for their support during the 2011 Japan earthquake.
It has been well-publicised that relations between Canberra and Beijing have deteriorated since Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and it is quite apparent that Canberra is significantly adjusting its strategic posture. However, the Quad is not an Asian NATO, but many national security analysts - a view supported by our analysis - say it is a strategic reaction to China’s behaviour; something that the Australian government has been very keen to downplay. Quad members see a collective interest in working together at the leaders’ level in devising coordinated and collective responses in the region. The strategic and operational aim of the Dialogue is strength in numbers. It sends a strong message and aims to reassure ASEAN nations that may be compelled to engage/respond in a regional conflict or struggle.
The soft power agenda for the re-energised Quad alliance has been extended beyond a security partnership, with greater co-operation in responding to health and economic pressures, as well as the climate change challenge. During the March meeting, President Biden also announced the launch of a new vaccine manufacturing pact, in which he said that the Quad will be play an important role. “We are launching a new vaccine manufacturing pact. We will ensure that our pact is governed by universal laws. The Quad is going to be important,” Biden said. PM Modi further detailed that "United in our fight against COVID-19, we launched landmark Quad partnership to ensure accessibility of safe COVID-19 vaccines."
Following the meeting, China responded by saying that the Quad grouping resembles an "empty talk club".