The changing dynamics of geopolitics has thrown up a new window of opportunity for India to play a greater role in the region. The resurrection of a decade-old idea of forging a Quadrilateral group, comprising United States, Japan, Australia and India, offers a huge platform for New Delhi to emerge as a key player to counter the growing influence of China. The significance of the first meeting of officials from these four countries in Manila, ahead of the Asean summit, did not go unnoticed in the diplomatic circles. It signals a joint effort by powerful nations, bound by democratic values, to rein in China, which has maritime disputes with several Southeast Asian nations and Japan. More importantly, the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ is being replaced by ‘Indo-Pacific’, reflecting the growing importance of India in the region. The idea of ‘Quad’ as a ‘diamond of democracies’ was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 but it could not be pursued further. The revival of the proposal comes at a crucial time as Beijing has been flexing its muscles in the region and displaying hegemonic ambitions by stepping up its military presence. The first Quad meeting called for keeping the Indo-Pacific region free, open and inclusive, thereby sending out a clear message to Beijing. The grouping is expected to boost free trade and defence cooperation across part of South China Sea and Indian Ocean and re-align power in the region. It also exchanged views on addressing the common challenges of terrorism and proliferation linkages impacting the region as well as on enhancing connectivity.
China, which has been making aggressive military assertion in the South China Sea region, has every reason to worry about the emergence of the new grouping. The Quad nations will now insist on the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, including freedom of navigation and overflight, respect for international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. It is expected that the Quad members could help patrol sea lanes and stabilise the region and set concrete goals for military and strategic cooperation. The development clearly reflects a new American strategy to enhance India’s prominence and bring the country into its network of alliances and partnerships in the region. India and the US are on the same page as far as Afghanistan and China are concerned. The larger goal is to prevent China from destabilising the regional security environment. India is already facing the impact of the growing Chinese aggression in the region with the Doklam military standoff being the latest instance. New Delhi had rightly stayed away from the ‘One Belt, One Road’ summit hosted by Beijing early this year because one of its key components runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.