Quad’s maritime initiative could boost the militarization of the Indo-Pacific

The Quad’s MDA program could further militarize the Indo-Pacific region, where the US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is seen here in a file photo leading the formation.

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The Quad countries want to jointly track the movements of ships and submarines in the Indo-Pacific by satellite, a move that analysts warn could lead to militarization of the region.

“Although the Quad is not a security organization, it has the potential to quickly transform into one,” Major General Dhruv Katoch of the Indian Army told CNBC. “If China’s belligerence threatens ASEAN countries, then perhaps Southeast Asian countries will also be inclined to join such a group.”

The military nature of the initiative is also underlined by the fact that the program is manned by the respective navies of the four participating countries – the US, Australia, Japan and India.

The Indo-Pacific region has seen “freedom of navigation” patrols by US, Australian, German, French and British naval vessels in the waters and waters claimed by China. sovereignty.

With the new Indo-Pacific Partnership Maritime Awareness program, Notice at Summit of four leaders in Tokyo In May, a new aspect of vigilance will be added.

Indo-Pacific Maritime Security

IPMDA will share commercially available satellite data and warn smaller Southeast Asian nations if there is a territorial encroachment or if ships are engaged in illegal activities such as illegal fishing, trafficking, or illegal fishing. piracy or piracy in the waters within their maritime boundaries.

“This initiative will transform the ability of partners in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region to fully monitor their littoral waters, while maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House statement said.

China has maritime territorial disputes with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. Chinese ships frequently stray into disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.

The real purpose of the maritime sector initiative is strategic.

Dhruv Katoch

Retired Major General, Indian Army

The ship’s motion data will be shared with the participants at four “information aggregators” located at India, SingaporeSolomon Islands and Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, according to The White House.

Katoch, who said, “The decision of the Quad to make commercial satellite data available to countries across the Indo-Pacific region will bring enormous value to the region. In the South China Sea, it will strengthen cooperation between a number of ASEAN countries and the Quad”, Mr. Katoch, person. previously served on the Indo-Tibetan border.

Unraveling ‘dark transport’

The White House said IPMDA would track “dark transporters” – or ships that attempt to evade detection by turning off transponders that transmit identity and location data. It will also define other tactical level operations such as illegal transportation of Prohibited weapons or illegally caught fish.

The data will integrate three key regions – the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region – in the Indo-Pacific.

Chaitanya Giri, an information systems consultant in New Delhi with the Department of Information Systems and Research for Developing Countries of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told CNBC.

He said the new Quad initiative is capable of tracking submarines through commercial undersea cables in the region.

“The PLA Navy is looking to expand its influence over the first, second and third island chains. And to move eastward, towards the US Coast and gain a greater presence in the region. Guam and to Hawaii. The quartet will be watching that closely. , ”according to Giri.

The three island chains are part of a geo-security concept used by military planners. They describe three consecutive lines of land mass stretching from the islands closest to China, such as Taiwan, including the Philippines and Indonesia, and ending with Hawaii at the other end of the Pacific Ocean.

Giri said the data will also help law enforcement.

The stock of near-real-time data available under the program, he said, will include vessel identifiers or call signs, their locations, potential passages, ports of departure and their final destination.

“These are the means needed to track dark transport,” says Giri, adding that intelligence from ground-based sources can be combined with satellite data for immediate identification. goods being transported by such ships.

What it could mean for China

China ranks high in illegal fishing tracking indexes, according to IUU fishing index.

“It is quite well known that ships carrying out illegal shipping originate from China. Satellite data will help confirm this and improve the accuracy and capabilities of the ships,” said Katoch, general. retire.

Responding to CNBC’s request for comment, China’s foreign ministry said the allegation had “no factual basis”.

China has always played an active, constructive role for peace in the region [it] The ministry said in a statement. “We don’t know where the so-called ‘illegal shipping’ described comes from. We also do not accept criticism that has no basis in fact. “

Katoch said the Quad initiative would be welcomed in the Indo-Pacific region. “From a purely commercial perspective, this [maritime domain] Information is something smaller countries desperately want, he said, adding that the initiative can also identify and combat piracy, as well as terrorist threats. Father.

Another analyst said the Quad’s goals are broader in scope.

“The real purpose of the maritime domain initiative is strategic,” said Pavan Choudary, president of Blue Circle, a geopolitical think tank in New Delhi. “This is meant to check for ‘illegal fishing’ but it’s really a means for the Quad to move forward [their] he told CNBC.

Not everyone agrees that militarization will be the end result.

“The initiative is really not as military as it is,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. law enforcement.

“It will help small island states and coastal developing nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans monitor and enforce the law in their waters. By helping to deliver public goods like this , the Quartet does more to compete with China than against – China measures,” he told CNBC.

“The fact that most of the illegal fishing and militia activities are conducted by China will make the outcome of this initiative very embarrassing for Beijing, but unless it regulates better than its own fishing fleets and militias there really isn’t going to be any measure that can do it,” added Poling.

In a recent report, China’s state-backed Global Times publication said that although the initiative did not mention the country name, it was clearly aimed at China. The paper notes: “This mechanism has made China the heart of the country by exaggerating the country’s ‘threat’ and no matter how they set their sights on containing China, the there will be very few countries in the region fooled.

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