Despite the first Quad summit held on March 12 dominating headlines of global media reports, it is evident that its members are loosely knit with temporary purposes and interests. The fact can hardly be changed even if Indian media outlets are busy hyping up the Quad-plus-France military exercise, which will take place in the Bay of Bengal from April 4 to 7, in an attempt to show off the group’s military cooperation.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit India from Friday to Sunday. Against the backdrop, Indian media are sensationalizing the importance of the Quad-plus-France military exercise to show that India plays a dominant role in such military cooperation.
Joint military exercises among the US, Japan, India and Australia are usually dominated by the US because it has the strongest military power. Even in the Indian Ocean, the US has a much stronger military presence than India does.
But New Delhi has always believed that the Indian Ocean should be dominated by India. It therefore wants to make a preemptive statement to show that India’s role in the Quad framework is important.
After the US proposed its Indo-Pacific Strategy, India has dreamed to take advantage of US influence to achieve some of India’s strategic goals. Although Washington and New Delhi have a strong need for cooperation, the two sides are by no means real friends. They are making use of each other for their own ends.
The upcoming naval drill between Quad members and France is more like a publicity stunt.
For the moment, Washington is hoping to draw more NATO members into its Indo-Pacific military framework and to invite them to cooperate with the US’ future military operations in this region. However, many European countries are not enthusiastic about it.
Since the US plays a dominant role in NATO, France has to show some cooperative gestures. But France won’t carry out hostile actions which are directly targeted at other major military powers in the West Pacific. It is impossible for France to maintain a long-term military presence in this region. As such, France’s participation in the Quad-plus-France drills is only to give face to the US.
Although some Indian media outlets claim that certain Western countries are eager to cooperate with Quad to tackle a “belligerent” China, those countries may pay more attention to India’s defense market, because India cannot produce many kinds of large combating equipment and weapons by its own and has to import them from other countries. Therefore, reports and rhetoric made by some Indian media outlets were too arrogant and too overconfident.
Many Indian media outlets have portrayed China as a “threat.” This, in fact, will make it impossible for defense cooperation between European countries and India to go further.
Currently, China’s military presence in the Indian Ocean is only for peaceful purposes, including fighting piracy and providing escorts for vessels. These actions do not target India or pose a maritime threat to any other country in the region. On the contrary, India has always been aggressive in the Indian Ocean.
India’s major-power ambitions are growing. It even hopes to build a hegemonic system in the Indian Ocean. However, the US desires to maintain its hegemony in the Indian Ocean. As a result, although there is some military cooperation between the two countries targeting China, ultimately, contradictions between New Delhi and Washington in the Indian Ocean region will be irreconcilable. When India’s military power grows, New Delhi will challenge the US in the region sooner or later.
This actually reflects that the security-based framework of Quad is not as solid as it looks. There is still a big gap between US’ and India’s military presence in the Indian Ocean. But if India deploys more aircraft carriers, more advanced nuclear submarines and fighter jets there in the future, it will seriously ponder which country has the final say in the waters. However, the US will never allow any other country to dominate strategic patterns in the Indian Ocean. By then, Washington and New Delhi will inevitably turn against each other. Fundamentally speaking, Quad is a loosely knit group which was established for temporary interests of its members.
The military moves of Quad are obviously aimed at China. What China needs to do now is to improve its own military capabilities and to strengthen its comprehensive maritime combat abilities while proving to the world that a stronger Chinese navy will safeguard world peace and stability.
The author is a Beijing-based military analyst.