Quad steps up to security, top commanders to meet in California
Quad chief of defence staff level meet signals a pushback of democratic powers to aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific.
Senior military commanders from Quad member countries, including India’s chief of defence staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan, will meet in Sunnylands in California to attend a high-profile meeting on Indo-Pacific Security on May 15-17 in a clear indication that the grouping is now taking security cooperation to the next level before the Quad Summit in Sydney on May 24.
Among other invitees to the meeting hosted by Admiral John C Aquilino, Commander, US Indo-Pacific Command, are: General Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of Staff, joint staff, Japanese self-defence forces and General Angus Campbell, chief of defence force, Australia.
A vice-admiral rank representative of the UK chief of defence staff is also likely to attend, given that Australia, the UK and the US have their own grouping, Aukus, whose focus overlaps with that of Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). This is General Chauhan’s first visit to the US.
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Quad Malabar naval exercises are scheduled off the coast of Sydney in August this year and the apex meeting of military commanders of this grouping next week is seen as both a game-changer – Quad leaders have treaded carefully on the issue of military co-operation until now – and an effective response to the aggressive challenge posed by Chinese in the Indo-Pacific. Although Chinese President Xi Jinping in presence of then US President Barack Obama in September 2015 had said that Beijing did not intend to pursue militarization of contested Spratly Islands, the PLA has done just the contrary by militarizing the entire South China Sea with the world waiting for the promised Asian Pivot by the US.
“India, after the 2020 PLA aggressions in East Ladakh is convinced that China has no intentions of resolving the boundary issue bilaterally and is putting pressure on India in the Eastern sector particularly in the Siliguri corridor. It is in this background that India has decided to take help from multilateral platforms such as QUAD to rein in the rampant aggression of the PLA on the land as well as the Indo-Pacific,” a senior official in India’s security establishment said on condition of anonymity. China has been choking India through a string-of-pearls, seaports in the Indian Ocean and using access denial in the Pacific and Far Pacific including South China Sea.
Already, India, Japan, and Australia have deepened defense co-operation by sharing US-made military platforms such as the P 8I anti-submarine aircraft, C 130 J Hercules, C-17 heavy lift transporters, and Chinook helicopters.
The Quad CDS level dialogue in Sunnylands, where Obama hosted Xi in 2013, is expected to take things to the next level, and perhaps indicates that India has fully exited the Cold War mindset and the resident suspicion involved in dealing with like-minded powers such as the US, Japan, and Australia apart from strategic partner France.
With China sending no less than 53 surveillance and survey ships to the Indian Ocean between 2017 and 2021 (numbers since then are still being toted up) and the numbers continuing to climb, India faces a serious challenge from the PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean Region, especially with Beijing establishing new ports in Cambodia and long-term plans to make Hambantota a dual use seaport India is also reviewing the contents of the leaked memo titled “Pakistan’s Difficult Choices” penned by Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to the country’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif advocating “real strategic” partnership with China and avoiding any appearance of appeasing the west (read US).
“National interest is paramount for the Narendra Modi government and Quad is a platform for all like minded democratic countries to join hands to counter the Indo-Pacific challenge without sacrificing India’s strategic autonomy. The speed at which China is growing economically and militarily with President Xi holding leverage against 148 countries through Belt Road Initiative (BRI), India has been forced by Beijing to seek multilateral Quad help with Japan and Australia in the same boat,” said a former Indian foreign secretary who asked not to be named.