. This time around, the four countries USA, India, Japan and Australia are navigating through more turbulent waters. The global pandemic and the faltering global economy are taking a toll on the region’s growth and prosperity. The two major Pacific powers (China and America), are moving into a more adversarial phase of their relationship. Public opinion about China in all four countries is different from what it used to be in 2007. The fact of the meeting itself will signal to China that assertive or aggressive behaviour is not going to derail this mechanism. The forthcoming Ministerial meeting will be an opportunity to define the idea and chart a future path. Needless provocation of China should be avoided. There is no gain in actions that anger the Chinese with no commensurate benefit to the others.
In a recent address to the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) on August 31, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun, spoke about making sure that all the countries were moving at the same speed. This is an important statement because a plurilateral mechanism should also serve national interest. He also suggested that other countries might be invited to join in the future. This too is welcome; India has many other partners in the Indo-Pacific.
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.
An outreach to the Indian Ocean littoral states is especially important since there are motivated reports from some quarters suggesting that India is, somehow, seeking to deny access, or to create infrastructure that impedes the legitimate movement of some extra-regional countries through the Indian Ocean. Prime Minister Abe had presciently said in the Central Hall of the Parliament of India on August 22, 2007 “A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.” It is the right time to realise Mr. Abe’s dreams.