Decoding the Minilateral Heterogeneity of QUAD and the 'China Factor'

Updated: May 26

Nikita Mulay,

Junior Research Analyst,

Internationalism Research.

Parul Chaturvedi,

Research Intern,

Internationalism Research.


India and the US initiated the Malabar exercises in 1992, but the frequency of the exercises reduced due to the United State’s disapproval with regards to the nuclear tests conducted by India in 1998. However, the bilateral exercises restored regularity after the year 2004. The scope of the bilateral agreement has extended over the years, in the year 2007, Japan, Australia and Singapore were also included. In the same year India, Japan, United States and Australia held security talks known as ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ (‘Quad’). 'Quad' represents a political partnership between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. To no surprise, China was not satisfied with this alliance. Beijing protested calling ‘Quad’ an anti-China coalition.

In light of the pandemic, the global position is against China but it remains unaffected, China is furthering the harm caused due to the pandemic and has been rising border conflicts. In addition to this, China is using its ‘debt trap policy’ as a ploy for Chinese expansionism endangering the stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This article aims to analyse the role of 'Quad' and whether it will play a major role in securing the Indo-Pacific region against Chinese expansionism and its importance to south-east ASEAN Nations.

Impact of Quad

The point of deliberation here is the Impact of Quad on the policies of the countries. Shortly after the formation of Quad 1.0, Australia withdrew from its membership because of its relationship with China (anti-Quad) which resulted in the decline of Quad1.0. Australia kept reassuring China about their disinterest in Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ (‘Quad’). This is probably why Quad 1.0 was unsuccessful. The 'China factor' was crucial to Quad 1.0 failure to take off only a decade later appears to serve as the pivot from which the minilateralism of Quad 2.0 is attempting a rejuvenation. Quad 2.0 has met biannually at a senior official level since 2017 and was subsequently upgraded to the ministerial level in 2019. Quad 2.0 aims to maintain regional maritime stability by ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific under the norms of the rules-based global order. Indo-Pacific region faced increasing security challenges, the Quad states have also heightened their congruency in foreign policy. Security issues including terrorism, cyber and maritime arenas have consistently been amongst the priority in the agendas of their meetings.

Quad 2.0 has emphasised on the continued importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in maintaining regional maritime stability. This implies that the mini-lateral partnership does not intend to undermine or supersede the functions of the multilateral ASEAN. This is probably why ‘Quad’ 2.0 has come into being despite Beijing’s disapproval. Countries are becoming increasingly aware of their economic interdependence on the Chinese economy- manufacturing industries. Quad 2.0 has emphasized the continued importance of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the maintenance of regional maritime sector stability. This is extremely important due to the unrest in the Indo-Pacific region.

Quad functions to enhance interoperability, reinforce intelligence and recognition skills, and monitoring skills continue to be central in all military cooperation, its members should cooperate actively to develop the economic, technical and military skills of each other to counter China.

Agenda’s for Quad 2.0 Meetings are as follows

The agendas for the Quad meetings held between 2017-2020:

  • North Korea's Denuclearisation, Free and Open Indo-Pacific, Rules Defense.

  • The security of rules based on order, the disturbance of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

  • Secure, open and inclusive zone of the Indo-Pacific.

  • The role of ASEAN in regional stability has been verified.

  • Topics included disaster relief, aviation and cybersecurity cooperation, finance and counter-terrorism.

  • It also included communication and technology growth and security cooperation in the maritime, cyber and terrorist fields.

  • Quad-plus inclusion of New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea.

  • Coordinated efforts to counter Covid-19, Vaccine production, repatriation, the global economy

Malabar and the Quad

The Malabar exercise was supposed to be carried out in 2020; however, it has been pushed back to 2021 due to the pandemic. India, Australia, Japan and the United States participate in this exercise. Australia has long wanted to be part of the Malabar exercises, but India has been against it because of Chinese disapproval. Regardless of the Chinese retaliation, India has finally welcomed Australia. This is a positive sign that reiterates strengthening of the Indo-Australian relationship. Australia is deepening its ties with India and Japan, including China. New Delhi’s relationship with Canberra is strengthening. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Quad held a virtual meeting which included other countries like Vietnam, New Zealand and South Korea to strengthen inter-state coordination in mitigating the impact of the pandemic. The agenda of that meeting included issues of vaccine development, repatriation of overseas citizens, and the economic fallout of COVID-19. However, while they have met twice in November 2017, three times in 2018, and again twice in 2019, the Quad has not issued any joint statement following any of these meetings. The four have only released independent press statements of their perceptions of the outcomes of these meetings.

Why Beijing's protest an anti-China coalition?

Beijing’s continued protest calling ‘Quad’ an anti-China coalition, could be because this alliance threatens Chinese diplomacy, this is not the only instance where Beijing protested there were several other instances where Beijing retaliated against this alliance for example in 2015 when Japan was made a permanent member and China protested against this trilateral engagement too. In the decade since 2007, rising Chinese belligerence in its land and maritime disputes, the increasingly questionable intent of its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) programme, and its related debt trap diplomacy have only further upended the thesis of a “peacefully rising and status quoist China, Australia, India, Japan and the United States have sought to breathe new life into Quad.

India - China relations

Connecting ‘Quad’ with the Indo-Pacific could unnecessarily lead China to open up a new front in the Eastern Indian Ocean Region (IOR), where China has so far avoided direct naval confrontation with India.

New Delhi has always been diplomatic, so much so as not to offend other countries, even China. China's questionable intent of its Belt and roads initiative, and its debt-trap diplomacy has reversed the thesis of Peacefully Rising and Status Quest for China” and this is why the development of a strategic alliance is imperative.

Japan's strategic rivalry with China

China has strained ties not only with India, America and Australia but also Japan. Japan's strategic rivalry with China, especially about the disputed Senkaku islands south of Japan, has flared since the beginning of the decade, owing to different historiographies and rivalry over the natural resources of the islands. The strained ties of these nations with China have led to the strengthening of Quad.

The fact that the scope of ‘Quad’ is expanding while intensifying its relations with the countries involved in the dialogue sends a strong message to China being its strongest opposition. China’s growing dissident diplomacy is one of the reasoning for strengthening this strategic partnership. The countries feel the need for ‘Quad’ a strategic alliance to compensate the countries vulnerabilities making it a stronger strategic military alliance for all the parties involved.

India Australia relationship

On 4th June 2020, India and Australia issued a joint statement on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership amongst the two countries. The statement included their partnership towards enhancing the science, technology and research collaborations along with economic, defence and multilateral co-operation and much more indicative of a stronger relationship among the two countries. This comes after the clash in the Galwan valley. With Indo Australia's increasingly rising interconnections over the past half-decade, it now seems reasonable for India to take the leap and extend the Malabar from a trilateral initiative to a quadrilateral one, including Australia in the next naval exercise. The Indo-Australia relations were seen to have "trust deficit", owing to the latter's uncertainty concerning its relationship with China, motivated by its strategic interests, however, the relation among the countries is now recuperating.

India’s engagement in the Malabar

It was not until 2015 that the Malabar exercises elevated Japan’s status as a permanent member. India-US engagement continued with the bilateral Malabar exercises taking place annually from 1992-2020. It is clear that since 1992-2007 (April) Both countries soon Japan, Australia and Singapore joined in 2007 (Sept). Australia, Singapore and Japan withdrew later in 2008 then again Japan rejoined in 2014 and became a permanent member in 2015 and 2020 then India welcomed Australia to join the Malabar exercise.

A Pseudo-Cold War: the United States and China

America’s growing talks with China seem like a new cold war between the two, blaming Beijing for trade abuses, economic espionage, and neighbourhood expansionism. Increased military and economic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region among Quad partners would keep the influence of the United States by sharing the burden on maritime responsibilities.


The ‘China factor' is key to the failure of ‘Quad’ 1.0 to take off. China’s belt and roads initiative, increasing unrest with regards to the maritime boundaries and its debt-trap diplomacy have a huge role to play in the formation of the ‘Quad’ from a trilateral agreement to a quadrilateral agreement. Recently, there were speculations with regards to the creation of a supply chain between India, Australia and Japan as a move to counter China's dominance instead of trade and political escalations three nations are discussing a supply chain resilience initiative. Intensifying U.S China trade wars. Japan is also trying to diversify the factories to pare its dependence on manufacturing. The news of supply chain has not been confirmed by the official sources however, this move will lead to the strengthening of multilateral relations and foreign direct investment in the Indo-Pacific region. Reducing the dependence on China is a step in the right direction which will further affirm the strategic autonomy of the countries in ‘Quad’. There is a need for this partnership to protect the interests of all the countries involved. Quad is a way of showing resilience against China to combat its dissident diplomacy and to uphold its strategic autonomies.

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