The ‘Quad’ Approach to the South China Sea

The Quad Approach to South China Sea
The Quad Approach to South China Sea

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is the informal strategic dialogue between India, the USA, Japan, and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.

China’s unilateral claim on the Nine-Dash Line within the South China Sea; rapid warship building its first overseas base in Djibouti; and its surface and subsurface activities in the Indian Ocean beyond the Malacca Straits have alarmed regional countries like India and Japan about increasing Chinese ambition. In this context, the thought of Quad was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia’s continuous interruptions, apparently thanks to Chinese pressure.

In December 2012, Shinzo Abe again floated the concept of Asia’s “Democratic Security Diamond” involving Australia, India, Japan, and therefore the US to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific. In November 2017, India, the US, Australia, and Japan gave shape to the long-pending “Quad” Coalition to develop a replacement strategy to keep the critical sea routes within the Indo-Pacific free of any influence (especially Chinese). Quad is criticized by China as an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The Quad: the United States, Japan, India, and Australia

Quad Nations and China

  • The USA had followed a policy to contain China’s increasing influence in East Asia. Therefore, it views the coalition as a chance to regain its influence within the Indo-Pacific region. The US has described China, along with Russia, as a strategic rival in its National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy and the Pentagon’s report on Indo-Pacific Strategy.
  • Australia is concerned about China’s growing interest in its land, infrastructure, politics, and influence over its universities.
  • Within the last decade, Japan has expressed concerns associated with China’s territorial transgression within the region. Trade volume with China remains the key lifeline to the Japanese economy, where net exports contributed exactly one-third of Japan’s economic growth since the start of 2017. Therefore, considering its importance, Japan is balancing its economic needs and territorial concerns with China. Japan has also agreed to get involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by participating in infrastructure programs in third country. In this way, Japan can mitigate Chinese influence in those countries while improving relations with China.

Opportunities for India under Quad Arrangement


An enormous chunk of Chinese trade happens via the Indian Oceanic routes that undergo maritime chokepoints. In the event of any Chinese aggression on borders, India by cooperation with Quad countries can potentially disrupt Chinese trade. Hence, unlike within the continental sphere where India seems facing a ‘nutcracker-like situation’ thanks to China-Pakistan collusion, the maritime sphere is wide hospitable India to undertake coalition building, rule sets, and other sorts of strategic exploration.


There’s a growing world power interest within the maritime sphere, especially with the arrival of the concept of Indo-Pacific. For instance, many European countries have recently released their Indo-Pacific strategies. With India, located right at the center of the Indo-Pacific, geopolitical imagination can realize the vision of a ‘broader Asia’ that can extend its influence away from geographical boundaries. Moreover, India can build 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. Further, India with Quad countries can check imperialist policies of China in the Indian Ocean region and ensure Security and growth for beat the region.

Challenges for Quad

  • CHINA’S TERRITORIAL CLAIMS: China claims that its historical ownership over nearly the whole region of the South China Sea, which provides it the proper to manufacture islands. However, the International Court of Arbitration rejected the claim in 2016.
  • CHINA’S CLOSENESS TO ASEAN: The ASEAN countries even have a well-knit relationship with China. The Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) may be a recent example of China’s increasing influence over ASEAN nations.
  • ECONOMIC POWER OF CHINA: Considering the economic might of China and therefore the dependence of Quad nations like Japan and Australia on China, the Quad nations cannot afford to have strained relations with it.
  • CONVERGENCE AMONG QUAD NATIONS: The nations within the Quad grouping have different aspirations, aims at balancing their own interest. Therefore, coherence within the vision of Quad nation as a grouping is absent.

Way Forward

  • NEED FOR CLEAR VISION: The Quad nations got to better explain the Indo-Pacific vision in an overarching framework with the target of advancing everyone’s economic and security interests. This will reassure 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. The forthcoming Ministerial meetings can be an opportunity to define the idea and chart a future path.
  • EXPANDING QUAD: India has many other partners within the Indo-Pacific, therefore India should pitch for countries like Indonesia, Singapore to be invited to hitch within the future.
  • NEED FOR A MARITIME DOCTRINE: India should develop a comprehensive vision on the Indo Pacific which might ideate on the present and future maritime challenges, consolidate its military and non-military tools, and engage its strategic partners. In order to secure national and regional interests, India should now specialize in the maritime sphere also. In this context establishing a replacement division under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to affect the Indo-Pacific may be a step in the right direction.

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