Since its re-emergence in 2017, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad has gained a positive momentum. The grouping has been convening discussions to tackle emerging security challenges in critical areas such as cybersecurity. Such brewing concern centered towards cyberspace is warranted. The four states have been primary targets
of cyberattacks perpetuated by state and non-state actors for political and economic gains. Attribution remains a daunting challenge yet given the growing records of Chinese-linked Advanced Persistent Groups
or APTs, China is considered an active player in conducting cyber operations, either through its Ministry of State Security
and/or its proxies. The severity of mounting concerns towards cyber threats is highly reflected within the US-led security cooperation be it at the bilateral or trilateral
level with Japan and Australia. Conversely, US and India
also renewed cyber cooperation in 2018, a step-up to the initial Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two countries in 2011.
Collective efforts towards cybersecurity at the latest ministerial meeting among the US, Australia, India, and Japan figured prominently which exemplifies the Quad’s renewed traction. However, amid its perceived comeback, optimism towards the Quad’s redux must be met with pragmatism. The pre-text of the Quad’s revival, set in the backdrop of escalating great power competition, casts a shadow of doubt over its legitimacy. Now more than ever, the prevailing narrative towards the Quad as a countervailing force against China is palpable. And despite, its stress on ‘shared democratic values’
to preserving the international rules-based order involving like-minded partners, it would be too unrealistic not to highlight Washington’s mercurial approach towards multilateral cooperation in the last three years. Thus, provoking a warranted reaction — so what’s new?
In spite of its hibernation, horizontal cooperation has flourished in the bilateral links amongst three of the Quad members — Japan, India, and Australia — in recent years. Such horizontal cooperation permitted greater convergence in strategic alignment towards evolving transnational issues, particularly in the realm of cybersecurity. In an era where burden-sharing is the new norm and a looming vacuum in great power leadership is imminent, horizontal cooperation affords states who share specific strategic interests to achieve positive-sum outcomes.
While the Quad was in slumber, a results-oriented and high-level cyber dialogue has gained momentum in the bilateral agenda of Japan, India, and Australia in the last three years. This sets the tempo on how the Quad can be realised for the longer-term, offering a functional and pragmatic type of cooperation beyond the normative claims of ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific.
The primary mechanism that underpins Japan, India, and Australia’s functional cooperation in cybersecurity revolve around their respective bilateral cyber dialogue. Since their first cyber policy dialogue
in 2012, Japan and India had made concrete progress. In the last three cyber policy dialogue, the participation of high-level cabinet officials has expanded. From overarching issues relating to national security, cybercrime, and information security and protection, the cyber dialogue has morphed to formal institutionalisation. It has laid out definitive actions that reflect the changing threats in cyberspace while accentuating the need for acceptable norms and applicability of international law in such a contested terrain.
From the second
to the third cyber dialogue
in 2017 and 2018 respectively, the areas of discussion has extended to include information-sharing on cyber attacks, protecting intellectual property, formulating policy measures on the supply chain, and capacity building initiatives. Recently, the cyber policy dialogue also opened a new horizon for India and Japan to explore cooperation in space, with the initial focus on the environmental impact of space debris. At the G20 summit, Japanese Prime Minister Abe
suggested the idea for the two countries to close the gap in the use and operation of space systems within the Free and Indo-pacific framework. Japan aims to explore interoperability in satellite positioning and navigation.
Similar to the India-Japan context, the developments within the India-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue is also moving full-steam ahead. However, the latter has a more nuanced discussion, especially its emphasis on the implications of emerging and critical technologies
. In a joint statement released following their third cyber dialogue, India and Australia recognise the role of ‘security being built in by design’ to realize the potential of the Internet of Things or IoT and the development of Smart Cities. A critical statement that somehow alludes to the alleged advice of Australia to India to ban Huawe
i in building its 5G networks. It was reported that India has consulted a high-level delegation from Australia
to weigh the national security risks of the Chinese-technology.
Now in its fourth year, the Japan-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue underscored a steadfast commitment towards supply chain and IoT security. Compared to India, the Japan-Australia dialogue has a more regional dimension focusing on ASEAN. Aside from the wide-ranging issues on threat information-sharing, deterring and responding to cyber-attacks, and developing common norms and applying international law, there is an immense commitment to implementing capacity building initiatives and confidence-building measures in the region.
Since launching in 2018, the ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre
in Bangkok has been strengthening cooperation to establishing computer incident response teams (CERT); mitigating cybercrime and raising awareness on international norms in cyberspace. While the ASEAN-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue
seeks to build a Cyber Points of Contact Directory. The confidence-building measure shall appoint a specific point of contact from each ASEAN member state. It shall endeavor to reduce risks of inadvertent escalation, which could arise from misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
Canvassing the recent developments in the cyber dialogue among Japan, India, Australia, a major unifying theme emerges: the cyber threat landscape has now blurred the physical and digital realm. The threat vectors are emanating from all directions, which require more innovative and agile approaches. It must be pointed out that each state has its own respective bilateral cyber dialogue with the US, but horizontal cooperation between Japan, India, and Australia has demonstrated that cross-pollination in security partnerships is unfolding. The motivations driving such movement could be varied, yet the strategic confluence to achieve common goals and objectives through shared interests outweigh any potential differences.
It shall remain to be proven if the Quad’s revival is set for a limited time only or for the long haul. Amid its cycle of rise, fall, and rebirth, a by-product of the informal dialogue has emerged strategically or serendipitously: a functional collaboration in the realm of cyber. With India, Australia, and Japan’s horizontal cooperation in cybersecurity, the stage is set for more realistic and functional cooperation beyond the value-laden and normative statements. The challenge is to harmonize such positive developments into the quadrilateral arrangement to breathe life to the principle of inclusivity borne out of practical outcomes rather than the trite slogan of like-mindedness or shared values.
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