External affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's candid admission that China was discussed at the Melbourne Quad meeting in the neighbourhood context indicates that the democratic group has started to mature into a launchpad for long term strategic and economic partnerships.
While the Quad summit in Japan is expected to take place after the Australian general elections in May 2022, the push back of the group to deliberate barbs of China on the group shows that none of the participating nations are going to take Beijing lying down. This is in sharp contrast to 2007 Malabar naval exercises, when China sent demarches to participating Quad nations plus Singapore virtually asking whether the target of the Bay of Bengal war was Beijing. Facing protests from then UPA government ally, the CPM, and the China sympathizers in India, the 2008 exercises was scaled down to a bilateral level in the Arabian Sea. After 13 years, the 2020 and the 2021 Malabar exercises were between Quad navies and that too in the Bay of Bengal and the Philippine Sea with carrier battle groups participating in advanced manoeuvres. The 2022 Malabar will be no different with the complexity of the naval war game increasing by the year.
Chinese potshots at QUAD betrays Beijing's insecurity
At the Quad summit, the four countries acknowledged the centrality of Asean countries to the larger Indo-Pacific strategy and presented the democratic grouping as an alternative to authoritarian China for close economic and security partnerships. With EAM Jaishankar in the Philippines today, it is quite evident that the Quad is engaging the Asean countries with Djakarta and Manila, the keys to Indo-Pacific security. Just as the Biden administration has approved the sale of F-15 EX fighters to Indonesia, India is ready to equip Djakarta with supersonic BrahMos anti-ship cruise missiles. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan virtually control all the ingress routes to the South China Sea and present a deterrent to the increasingly aggressive and rapidly growing Chinese PLA Navy. Indonesia is also buying 42 Rafale F-4 fighters from France and is on its way to becoming the most powerful Air Force in south-east Asia.
Post Quad summit, EAM Jaishankar put the onus of present LAC tension on China as the latter had broken all the written agreements. That he chose to deliver the message from Melbourne was also a riposte to Beijing that deliberately put Kashmir and minority rights in a Sino-Pak joint statement on the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Beijing this month. Not only this, EAM Jaishankar also rebutted the Chinese on the credibility of Quad in his characteristic style.
With the deepening of ties with Australia post-2014 and continuous close engagement with the US and Japan, the Narendra Modi government is sending a message of no compromise on national security to China. That it is a legitimate partner in Indo-Pacific will be further reinforced when EAM Jaishankar addresses the EU foreign ministers Indo-Pacific alliance meeting in Paris on February 22.