Thirteen years can be a long time in regional security and diplomacy.
It is thirteen years since the Quadrilateral security dialogue (or the Quad) between the officials of Australia, India, Japan and the US, gave in to Chinese coercion.
This year it is back and potentially stronger.
India has decided to stand strong, as it becomes a significant regional power. It is again leading the Quad in the Malabar series of naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal – the exercises aim to support an “open and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.
In 2007 countries like India and Australia gave in to Chinese pressure and pulled out of the exercises – China then described the Quad as an “Asian NATO” designed solely to contain China.
The Malabar series of naval exercises is a complex annual fixture with ships, aircraft and submarines of the Indian, US, Australia and Japanese navies exercising alternately in the Indian and the Western Pacific Oceans.
India is different from the other Quad members in that it shares a land border with China – so in that way, it has most at risk in stirring up the Chinese. To put it in perspective, this border is the world’s longest unsettled boundary. Recent military escalation along the border has caused global concern.
All four members of the Quad know that China might “punish” them in response to the Malabar exercises, but they are going ahead anyway.
One narrative is driving most of the strategic decisions and activities in the Indian Ocean region – and that is the need to respond to China. China is seen as the only major power acting to the detriment of the order and stability of the region.
Most feel that attempts to appease China have only led to increased belligerence and a disrespect for diplomatic avenues. Hence, the Quad. And hence, India is stepping forward.