In May 2007, officials from the United States, India, Japan and Australia met to discuss the lessons learned from their humanitarian cooperation following the Boxing Day tsunami. Maybe they also shared a few words about the changing regional balance of power. But they can’t have said much: the Quad talks consisted of four mid-level officials meeting briefly on the sidelines of an ASEAN Regional Forum conference in Manila. It should have been no big deal. Instead, Beijing saw a phantom menace, and soon went into diplomatic hyperdrive.
One reason was the timing of the Manila dialogue, just a few months before a multi-nation naval exercise. India and America had long held modest annual naval drills, called Malabar. These expanded in ambition as US–India ties strengthened, so that in 2007 Malabar was held twice and with special guests. First, Indian, American and Japanese forces combined in the Pacific. Then a second round brought in warships from Australia and Singapore, the five navies converging in the Bay of Bengal.