Dr. Renato Cruz de Castro, Trustee and Convenor of the National Security and East Asian Affairs Program of the Stratbase ADR Institute
Last week, the United States and Australia warned China against militarizing the South China Sea following reports that Beijing has installed missile systems in the Spratly Islands.
In the light of the changing geo-politics in the Indo-Pacific region, small states like the Philippines can rally the support of other “major powers” and use our common maritime interests to counter China’s pervasive influence and assertiveness.
In November 2017, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD was revived again in Manila on the sides of the East Asian Summit. The original QUAD was formed by Australia, India, Japan and the United States on the sides of the ASEAN Regional Forum Summit that was held in Manila in May 2007.
The four maritime powers, however, were not able to come out with a formal agenda and even failed to make any decision whether to meet or not to meet again. They simply expected that they would meet again in the near future.
Unfortunately, they did not meet again for another ten years as the QUAD suffered a natural death when Australia withdrew from the association in 2008 after China branded it as an Asian equivalent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
This security dialogue was revived with a senior official-level interaction with a hint that it could eventually become a ministerial-level consultation in the near future. Upon the initiative of Australia and the US, the QUAD took shape again as a four-cornered dialogue, emerging from a phoenix-like creature after a 10-year dormancy signaling the first multilateral pushback against an expansionist China.
A number of important geostrategic developments such as China’s maritime expansion, the US strategic rebalancing to Asia and the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative led to its revival in 2017.
The revival of the association stemmed from the four members’ view that Chinese behavior since 2008, with regard to territorial and maritime disputes the South China Sea, the terms and strategic impact of OBOR, the lack of reciprocity in economic relations, or the use of economic leverage, has increased concerns among their respective governments.
The QUAD’s aim is not containment nor alliance formation. Rather, to ensure that the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean remains free and open for multilateral trade and commerce.
It emphasizes the importance of rules-based order, connectivity ventures that are not fueled by predatory financing and that territorial disputes are resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.
The Trump administration’s decision to engage China in a strategic competition, along with the revival of the QUAD, led to the use of the geostrategic term Indo-Pacific to replace the old Asia-Pacific.
The new geostrategic term — the Indo-Pacific region refers to all countries bordering the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Rather than restricted by the old term Asia-Pacific region, the term Indo-Pacific region underscores the expansion of the ongoing geostrategic competition between China and the QUAD.
The earth’s two largest bodies of water — the Indian and the Pacific Ocean — are now a new arena for the competition for territory, resources and influence.
The main drivers for the enlargement of this competition are: China’s emergence as an economic and military power that has transformed the region’s strategic landscape in a matter of ten years; and the QUAD’s member states’ balancing approach in their foreign policies.
On May 11, the Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies will hold a forum that will examine the revival of the QUAD and the formation of the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitical region.
The forum will also tackle how these geopolitical developments will affect the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ centrality in the Asia-Pacific region, its coherence as a regional bloc, and the current thrust of the Duterte administration to affect an entente with China and avail of Chinese financial resources through the OBOR initiative for its “Build, Build, Build” program to develop Philippine infrastructure.