The four-nation Quad grouping may add a new layer of interactions at the level of top security officials to coordinate their posture and specific roles in the Indo-Pacific. The proposed defence secretary-level meetings, tentatively called Quad’s Defence Policy Group (DPG), would strengthen their security architecture and deepen defence cooperation between the grouping comprising the United States, India, Japan and Australia, people familiar with the matter said.
“The decision is still to be taken but scheduling a DPG at the Defence Secretary official level is being considered,” said a senior government official. News reports from Japan indicate that the next step is going to be multi-layered cooperation among Quad partners.
While the Quad virtual summit on March 12 did not discuss the threat posed by China due to the open nature of discussions, the Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and unilateral attempts to change the status quo has pushed the partners to scale up their security cooperation. The in-person Quad summit could take place on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in the UK or at the invitation of the US later. A face-to-face meeting of the Quad foreign ministers is also expected this year.
The proposed DPG mechanism will decide on the road map for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and could become an umbrella group at the official level of Quad to share information and its response to challenges.
“The DPG will decide on the scheduling of multi-lateral exercises between partners and ensure that Quad becomes a first responder to humanitarian disasters in the Indo-Pacific,” said a former foreign secretary.
The navies of Quad plus France are exercising under the “La Perouse” banner in the Bay of Bengal from April 4 to 7 with the Indian Navy sending an attack submarine and a destroyer for the war games.
The 2021 East Asia Review by the Japanese defence ministry’s strategic think tank, National Institute for Defence Studies, notes that all the four-member nations view the Quad grouping as a hedge to prepare for an uncertain future as US-China tensions rise and Beijing takes increasingly aggressive action in the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula.
Although strategic experts claim that the Quad partners differ in their perception of threats from China and have different policies on dealing with Beijing, the evolving Quad architecture is not specifically aimed at China and provides a democratic alternative to ASEAN, Gulf and African countries in the Indo-Pacific. Already, France and the UK have shown keen interest in the Indo-Pacific and have expressed interest in tying up with India and Australia.
With China tightening control over Hong Kong, eyeing Taiwan and threatening both Japan and the US over Senkaku Islands, India has decided to join hands as the next focus of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy is the Indian Ocean where it is expected to carry out warship deployments as early as 2023. Besides, India also has a land boundary dispute with China that Beijing does not appear inclined to settle and prefers to use as a lever to unsettle and pressurise India.