The revival of Asia’s quadrilateral security dialogue

The revival of Asia’s quadrilateral security dialogue

A meeting between senior officials from the United States, India, Japan, and Australia took place in Manila on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit to discuss regional and global cooperation. The revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad, suggests a renewed commitment for peace and stability regarding the Indo-Pacific region.

Against the backdrop of the East Asia Summit, the United States, India, Japan, and Australia met to revisit their shared interest in a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” coming together for the first time in a decade to discuss their plans to establish a rules-based regional order, provide maritime security as a regional public good, uphold international law, and enhance connectivity.

Revival of the Quad

The initiative of the Quad can trace back to 2007, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out a bold vision of a “broader Asia,” linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans and expanding outward to include the United States and Australia. He envisioned an open and transparent network, in which people, goods, capital and knowledge could flow freely in an “arc of freedom and prosperity” along with the outer rim of the Eurasian continent. The vision never moved beyond the initial phase, however, as both Australia and New Delhi wavered under Chinese pressure.  

Currently, the four countries have been careful to deepen their cooperation without formalizing a multilateral arrangement; however, with Japan, the United States, and Australia having maintained trilateral security relations since 2002, the three countries need only India’s support to fully revive their decade old ambition.

In recent years, the India-Japan partnership has grown, in which New Delhi signed security agreements with Canberra; and the former Obama Administration designated India a “major defense partner” in 2016, a relationship that has continued to thrive under the Trump Administration.

Both India and Australia welcome the move toward a quadrilateral cooperation. India’s Ministry of External Affairs suggested India was open to working with countries “on issues that advance our interests and promote our viewpoint” and that New Delhi has “an open mind to cooperate with countries with convergence.” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has, likewise, indicated her country is open to reviving the quadrilateral forum, stating it was “natural” to continue such discussions.

Three Strategic Goals

There are three main goals inherent to the vision of the Indo Pacific region. The first is to uphold the principles of a rule-based regional order, particularly with regard to the resolution of maritime territorial disputes. Secondly, promoting free trade by liberalizing regional trading regimes and promoting freedom of navigation, which is essential for the secure passage of the vast volume of commodities shipped through the Indo Pacific. The third is to provide security assurances to smaller countries, especially in Southeast and East Asia, that the Quad countries are willing to enforce freedom and openness in the region.

The reconvened quadrilateral agreement is also an opportunity to counter Chinese attempts to rewrite the rules of Asia’s regional security and economic architecture. China’s regional ambition and footprint are far greater now than they were a decade ago.

Not only has China become more assertive regarding its core interests in the region, its economic and military capabilities have grown immensely in only a short time. The Belt and Road Initiative signals China’s desire and ability to establish a commercial empire stretching across the region.

A Security Diamond?

The revival of the Quad supports Trump’s vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, plainly offered as an alternative to a China-led ­region. Rather than an alliance-based security framework, the Quad is more likely to serve as a consultative mechanism.

Its forums provide a platform for a close discussion between parties in the Indo-Pacific and will carve out strategic space for other interests in a region that has been gradually yielding ground to a more assertive China.


However, just as objections from Beijing splintered the Quad in 2007, the four-party initiative of today may face a similar threat. India, is locked into a long standing border dispute with China that contributed to a 73-day military standoff between the two countries. This could provoke Beijing into taking a stronger stance regarding the Himalayas.

Similarly, Japan and Australia both depend on China for approximately 22 percent of their trade and cannot afford to place their economies at risk. As the Quad countries push to get their initiative off the ground in the coming days, their success will likely hinge on how they hold their ground against pressure from China.


Categories: Asia Pacific, Security

About Author

Qi Lin

Qi is a Washington, D.C.-based analyst. She specializes in East Asian security and Chinese foreign policy. She is a Chinese native speaker and proficient in English. She holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of North Carolina and a Master’s in International Affairs from the George Washington University.