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Melbourne Quad Meeting Reaffirms the Quad’s Centrality in the Indo-Pacific

24 Feb 2022
By Dr Ashok Sharma
Secretary Blinken Poses For A Photo With Australian Foreign Minister Payne at the Melbourne Quad Meeting in February 2022. Source: Wikimedia Commons, US Department of State,

As tensions rise in the Indo-Pacific, the Quad has emerged as a crucial regional forum. Its recent meeting in Melbourne offers insight into the arrangement’s mission and future.

On 11 February 2022, the foreign ministers of Australia, India, and Japan and the secretary of state of the United States met in Melbourne for the fourth Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The gathering of all four maritime democracies demonstrates that the Quad is a powerful Indo-Pacific dialogue that is here to stay and execute its agenda. The meeting was another step toward the Quad becoming more institutionalised and comprehensive.

The Melbourne meeting covered a wide range of topics, including maritime security, pandemic recovery, vaccination, cyber security, and global supply chain challenges, More specifically, the Quad called for an end to Myanmar’s violence and supported ASEAN’s efforts to find a solution, condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile launches, and discussed plans to thwart China’s incursions in the Indo-Pacific region. This demonstrated the Quad’s ability to adapt to new problems and its commitment to influencing the Indo-Pacific, not only on traditional security issues, but also on pressing non-traditional security issues. The Quad foreign ministers reaffirmed their commitment to work closely with Indo-Pacific partners to address the region’s most pressing concerns and provide practical assistance to the region, taking a positive approach to their ambitious agenda.

The Quad foreign ministers applauded progress on practical cooperation on regional concerns like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), maritime security, counterterrorism, disinformation countermeasures, and cyber security. The Quad nations have made tremendous headway in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, supplying more than 500 million vaccine doses collectively. The Quad Vaccine Partnership promises to deliver at least a billion vaccines by the end of 2022, with vaccine manufacture taking place at the Biological E Ltd plant in India.

Natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific have prompted the Quad to respond quickly and efficiently. Given the frequent natural disasters in the region and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to develop and sustain resilience. The Quad is supporting Tonga’s emergency and recovery activities following the January 2022 volcano eruption and tsunami. To provide prompt and effective HADR help to the region, the Quad is dedicated to deepening collaboration and creating connectivity between member nations’ response agencies.

The Quad reaffirmed its commitment to building sustainable clean energy supply chains that are both responsible and resilient. As China attempts to control the renewable energy market, this has become a global issue. Australia’s vast stocks of rare earth metals are crucial to navigating this challenge, and the country’s proposal to host an Indo-Pacific Clean Energy Supply Chain Forum in mid-2022 was warmly received.

Tackling Terrorism and Cyber Security

By exchanging information on ever-evolving dangers and collaborating with Indo-Pacific countries, the Quad has actively prioritised the prevention of terrorism. Without mentioning Pakistan, the Quad meeting called on all countries to ensure that land under their control is not used to commit terror activities.  The Quad reaffirmed UNSC Resolution 2593 (2021) that Afghan land should not be used to threaten or attack any country, conceal or train terrorists, or organise or finance terrorist operations, as such ungoverned spaces pose a direct threat to the Indo-Pacific.

Cybercrime has emerged as a serious security threat, with an estimated annual cost of US$6 trillion to the world economy, representing the greatest wealth transfer in history. The Quad has been working to regulate cyber standards, close the cyber security talent gap, and raise cyber security awareness. It also assists partners across the Indo-Pacific in dealing with the growing threat of ransomware by strengthening capacity building to ensure resilient cyber security and to counter cybercrime in order to promote international peace and stability in cyberspace. Finally, the Quad is helping regional countries build their capacity to implement cyber security measures including the UN Voluntary Framework for Responsible State Behavior in Cyberspace.

The pilot Quad Fellowship, which aims to prepare the next generation of STEM talent to lead the Quad and other like-minded partners towards innovation, is an important step towards a shared future in cyberspace. The Quad has the ability to make considerable progress on some of the most challenging technological and cyber security issues facing the world today.

Geopolitics: China’s Assertiveness and Russia’s Authoritarianism   

The Melbourne Quad meeting reiterated the importance of a rules-based order that is free, open, and inclusive. Without mentioning China, the Quad joint statement emphasised the importance of international law, peace, and security in the maritime domain for the Indo-Pacific’s development and prosperity, and reaffirmed the importance of adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and promoted the safety and security of sea lines of communication.

Committing to uphold and strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization at its core, the Quad has been working to fix global supply chains, which the world by default has let China dominate. The urgency to manage global supply chains has grown as a result of China’s decision to use the humanitarian situation in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak to further its geopolitical goals. Since the Quad’s creation in 2007, China has been a vocal critic of the arrangement. Beijing regards it as an anti-China group and has recently expressed doubts about its long-term survivability. After a nearly decade-long hiatus, the Quad has re-emerged in recent years as a formidable bulwark against China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, and it is no longer confined to the military dimension, having taken steps to address a range of security problems.

On the question of Russia’s military build-up on the Ukrainian border, however, the Quad ministers differed. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Russia’s military a threat to the rules-based order, and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne denounced China and Russia’s “no limits” partnership. Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar refused to be drawn into the conflict, emphasising that instead of a confrontational approach, all four democracies should work together practically and efficiently to make the world a better place.

This has been cited by critics as a topic of contention among the Quad members. Neither the United States nor Russia can afford a conflict akin to the Cold War. It’s critical that all four maritime democracies work together to find the best approach to avert a Ukrainian crisis. Although it will be difficult for the Quad to ignore authoritarian regimes that pose a threat to democratic nations’ sovereignty, it is crucial to remember that the Quad was formed to defend peace and security in the Indo-Pacific, the region important for the prosperity of the 21st century  prosperity, where the China threat continues to mount. The Quad has yet to be properly institutionalised and put into action. Stretching the Quad too far will just cause it to lose its focus.

Dr Ashok Sharma is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, the Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs; a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute for Governance & Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, and the Deputy Chair of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Auckland Branch. Dr Sharma is a Non Resident Fellow of the Australia-India Institute at the University of Melbourne. 

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