Over the past few months, the Indo-Pacific and West Asian geo-political chessboards are witnessing active moves and countermoves of global and regional powers. There are many players, including India, moving pieces to safeguard and promote their individual interests.
All these complex games are taking place within the overarching confrontation between the entrenched but troubled super power, the United States, and an impatient China, clearly signalling that its moment of destiny has arrived.
Quad and the Indo-Pacific Chessboard
Over the past three decades, China has gradually consolidated its position in the Indo-Pacific region on the back of its economic and commercial success. That provided China with the wherewithal to initially ingress the economic lives of regional states. It utilised these openings to attempt to gather the region in a comprehensive embrace. In doing so China has shown continuing disdain for the principles that undergird the present world order.
Japan, Australia and India, the principal powers of the Indo-Pacific region, are now shedding their hesitation to counter China. The Quad framework consisting of these countries and the United States is a collective mechanism for this purpose and it is being strengthened.
Certainly, India has given up a great deal of its past restraint in cooperating with the US in the defence and security areas. This will continue to have significant repercussions on the security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region.
The Quad online summit on 12 March projected a positive agenda of cooperation on global issues including COVID-19 and climate change but that could not mask the motivation which has drawn the four powers together.
La Perouse Naval Exercise & China’s Reaction to QUAD
China’s bitter reaction to the Quad declaration showed its wariness at the development. It railed against Cold War mentality and ideological cliques and of certain countries “keen to exaggerate and hype-up the so-called ‘China threat’ to sow discord among regional countries”.
Going beyond statements, the Quad countries are earnestly undertaking more purposeful and concrete manifestations of their cooperation including in the security sector. In this context their joint naval exercises are assuming greater significance.
India has joined the three other Quad countries for the first time in La Perouse, a France led naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal. The three-day exercise which began on 5 April is, according to a French statement, meant to “promote maritime cooperation throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
France has island territories in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This gives it very extensive Exclusive Economic Zones and, thus, stakes in countering China’s objective of dominating the area.