By Prakash Karat
The forthcoming Malabar exercises in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal in November will feature all the four countries of the quadrilateral grouping (Quad) – the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The Malabar exercises had begun as joint exercises of the Indian and US navies in the early 1990s. In recent years, it has become trilateral with Japanese participation.
Only once in 2007, did Australia and Singapore join the Malabar exercises in the Bay of Bengal. At that time, the CPI(M) and CPI had conducted two joint jathas from Kolkata and Chennai culminating in Visakhapatnam to oppose the US-led multi-national military exercise.
The Quad which was sought to be launched in 2007, finally came to fruition with the Trump administration pushing it. From the outset, the US conceived it as a grouping to contain China. In 2017, it was revived with a meeting in Manila of secretary- level representatives of the four countries. The Quad, it was proclaimed, will strive for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” designed to check China’s rising influence.
Last year the Quad was upgraded to the ministerial level and a meeting of the foreign ministers of the four countries took place in September in New York. The second ministerial meeting was held in Tokyo this year on October 6.
The United States has been openly proclaiming the Quad as an anti-China alliance. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State said at the Tokyo meeting: “As partners in the Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) exploitation, corruption and coercion”.
In India, the Quad has been vigorously advocated by various strategic experts and the corporate media after the India China stand-off at the LAC in Ladakh. There was a chorus of demands that India strengthen ties with the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region as a necessary counter-measure to China.
However, the alliance with US strategic interests in what is now termed as the “Indo-Pacific” region began much before. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had signed onto the “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” during President Obama’s visit to India in January 2015. To inveigle India further, the Asia-Pacific region was rechristened as the Indo-Pacific region by the Trump administration.
India signed the logistics supply agreement in 2016 with the United States called the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). This has been followed by logistics agreements with Australia (June 2020) and Japan (September 2020). These are major steps in the emerging military alliance that the Quad represents. These facilitate “inter-operability” and the use of each other’s military facilities by the armed forces of the concerned partners of the Quad. The inclusion of Australia in the Malabar exercises is a logical culmination of the quadrilateral alliance.
Japan and Australia are traditional military allies of the United States and the Americans have military bases in these two countries. Now India has joined them.
The foreign minister, Jaishankar was being disingenuous when he stated that India would not become part of any “alliance system” at a seminar in September. India has already signed two of the so-called foundational agreements with United States – LEMOA and CISMOA. The third agreement Basic Exchange and Communication Agreement (BECA) is being finalised. The 2+2 meeting of the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries which is to be held on October 27 in New Delhi may see an announcement in this regard.
Such agreements are signed by the military allies of the United States, whether it be NATO countries or those in the Asia-Pacific region. India is already a “major defence partner” of the United States. The Modi government has no qualms whatsoever in compromising national sovereignty and assuming the role of a subordinate ally of the United States. There is no concern whatsoever that none of India’s neighbours or the ASEAN countries show any inclination to join the Quad.
The reality is that the Quad is driven by the ambition to preserve US hegemony over the region; it will prove illusory and ineffective in defending India’s territorial boundaries. As for the US hope that a Quad plus can emerge and develop into an Asian NATO, it is going to remain just that, a hope.
It will be in India’s interest to engage politically and negotiate at the highest level with China to address the border stand-off. Strengthening economic and trade ties with China is vital for India’s development in the post-Covid period. Becoming a cog in the geo-political strategy of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region will only complicate efforts to resolve the border issue. It will also severely restrict India’s strategic autonomy which is so essential for the country’s progress in an increasingly multi-polar world. (IPA Service)