There is great doubt in New Delhi about the reliability of the Quad and the US regarding China. All it took for the first iteration of the Quad to fall apart was Chinese diplomatic pressure on the Australians in 2008. That the Quad, which was originally started in 2004 as a platform for humanitarian relief cooperation after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, rose again suggests the security challenges posed by China could no longer be ignored. And yet, like India, its members continue to dither, individually and collectively, on how to respond credibly to China’s provocations.
While its salami-slicing tactics in the South China Sea are too well known to require detailing, China has also targeted Australian and Japanese citizens recently (in cases similar to the “Two Michaels” arbitrary arrests that roiled the China-Canada relationship in 2018). The Quad has responded to the provocations and international law violations in a roundabout way. This approach does not address the immediate security challenge from China. Its troops attempted to encroach again into Indian territory in late 2022 and Chinese surveillance balloons were found intruding into US airspace in February 2023.
China’s confidence has at least partly to do with it seeing the Quad as pulling in different directions with a general inability to achieve big-ticket strategic goals. Meanwhile, the decision by the US to start AUKUS, an alternative hard-security-focused grouping focused on supplying nuclear submarine technology to Australia and technology sharing with the Australians and the British, suggests a degree of American frustration with the Quad's progress. That the US did so despite the damage that it would do to its relations with close ally France, which had a nuclear submarine deal with Canberra, was significant.
From the Indian perspective, it also suggests the Americans cannot stick with it – the last Quad summit scheduled for May 2023 in Sydney had to be cancelled because Biden begged off to attend to American domestic politics and the pressing matter of the US debt ceiling. The four leaders did still convene in a hastily organized, much reduced evening meeting on the sidelines of the G7 in Hiroshima, Japan.
Given its physical proximity to China and an active boundary dispute, India is naturally cautious about making big moves against its neighbor including through the Quad. Other members of the Quad can more afford to blow hot and cold on China. Indeed, while Biden has continued the sharp China stance of the previous administration of Donald Trump, some of the decoupling heat has come down with Washington's emphasis on the more polite term of “derisking” and the arrival on June 18 of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing on a visit that was postponed after the “spy balloon” brouhaha in January. During his stay, Blinken met his counterpart Qin Gang, foreign policy chief Wang Yi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.