Updated: Mar 6
Image Courtesy: The Diplomat
Article Courtesy: raksha-anirveda
US President Joe Biden hosted the first in-person summit of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the Quad) in Washington on September 24, 2021, which was attended by Prime Ministers of India, Australia, and Japan. The meeting took far-reaching decisions pertaining to Covid-19, including financial assistance and increasing production and access to vaccines and drugs useful in containing the pandemic. The meeting also decided to initiate the Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group to provide quality infrastructure to the world.
The four-nation grouping discussed ambitious plans to counter climate change and announced initiatives such as the construction of a green-shipping network to lower carbon emissions. The meeting decided to constitute a new working group that would share satellite data to help save earth and water. A Quad fellowship was also launched to enhance people-to-people contact.
In view of rising cyber threats, the members agreed to set up a Quad Senior Cyber Group comprising leading cyber experts to sort out problems relating to cyber security.
The members agreed to watch the developments in Pakistan as it played an important role in Afghanistan. The joint statement of Quad leaders mentioned that: “In South Asia, we will closely coordinate our diplomatic, economic, and human-rights policies towards Afghanistan and will deepen our counter-terrorism and humanitarian cooperation in the months ahead in accordance with UNSCR 2593. We reaffirm that Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or to finance terrorist acts, and reiterate the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan."
Prime Minister Modi mentioned the “Quad vaccine initiative” and talked about the need for a common international travel protocol, especially on Covid-19 vaccinations. India proposed to export 8 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine by October 2022.
The Quad leaders without naming China stated that the Indo-Pacific Region must be free and open. The joint statement cited that: “We will continue to champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas. We affirm our support to small island states, especially those in the Pacific, to enhance their economic and environmental resilience."
The joint statement also claimed that “Our commitment to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific is firm, and our vision for this partnership remains ambitious and far-reaching. With steadfast cooperation, we rise to meet this moment together."
The Quad alliance seeks to contain a belligerent China, which in the recent past has become excessively aggressive, threatening its neighbours, and seeking full rights in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The Quad member states have already participated in a joint naval exercise, while the US is also planning to invite Air Force officers of all Quad members for a joint exercise. All the Quad members have close trade and financial relations with China hence its name was not mentioned in the Joint Statement.
In view of China’s belligerent approach, all the countries insisted that the “Indo-Pacific” must remain a “free and open Indo Pacific” (FOIP) and the Quad emerged as a quiet solution to the problem. Although the Quad has projected several goals, the underlying idea is to counter China. The Quad emphasises on a region that is free and adheres to democratic values. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambition is to dominate the world by implementing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Several developing countries will become a victim of the BRI if they fail to repay the loan of Chinese corporations. Chinese companies have stringent terms and conditions for giving loans. Sri Lanka was forced to give up its Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease as it failed to repay the loan. Analysts predict that Pakistan would be the next victim as it would also default on the loan taken from China.
China is vehemently opposed to the Quad and the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman has alleged that it is ganging up to suppress China’s progress. On September 30, at the virtual meeting to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Sun Weidong, the Chinese Ambassador in India, stated: “We should adhere to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, respect the core interests and major concerns of each other, uphold strategic autonomy, and refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs or engaging in any ‘alliance’ or ‘quasi alliance’ targeting the other.” China is gradually realising the power of the Quad and its capability to counter Beijing both on the economic as well as military fronts – hence its condemnation of the Quad.
Observers feel that in order to keep up the heat on China, the Quad nations should enhance cooperation in all fields and should continue with regular meetings at all levels. The Quad should also try to enlarge the cooperation with like-minded countries in Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Americas. However, the Quad’s membership should not be expanded much, else it would become a loose and ineffective alliance. The grouping can muster support from other similar alliances like the AUKUS (Australia, UK & US).
Although several analysts doubt the effectiveness of the Quad, the alliance is working silently and enhancing the confidence among its members. For instance, Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) not only has close links with the US but is also increasing its collaboration. The US, Japan, and Australia have changed the route of their submarine cables and now it is closer to Taiwan. During the March 2021 Quad meeting, it was decided that Covid-19 vaccines for the US would be funded by Japan and manufactured in India.
For the US, the importance of Quad is considerably enhanced after the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. Also, analysts feel, the US wants to impede the progress of China as it has become a threat to its superpower status.
The Quad is extremely important for India as new opportunities would emerge and it should try and take advantage of such openings. Not just the Quad members but other countries as well want to shift their manufacturing factories from China, and India should try to attract as much business as feasible. This can give a big impetus to its ‘Make in India’ programme.
The danger of an expansionist China can also be mitigated through the Quad, which is an alliance of countries that believe in democratic principles and are determined to keep the strategic Indo-Pacific region free from Chinese interference. The Quad provides a platform to India to challenge China, which has already occupied large chunks of contested border areas in the Himalayan region and lays claim to much more. China has already developed huge infrastructure on its side of the LAC and now objects when India tries to construct roads and bridges at the border for connectivity and troop movement.
China has been encircling India, as it considers the latter as its potential rival in Asia and the world. Hence New Delhi also needs to safeguard its interests and that is where the Quad countries can play a positive role. The defence cooperation between Quad members, including joint exercises, sharing of strategic information, joint patrols, and technology exchange, are all steps in that direction. India, which has been battling cross-border terrorism for long, stands to gain from the Quad countries’ cooperation in combating terrorism.
Nonetheless, India has to tread carefully as the Quad members have deep economic relations with China and it will not be easy for them to strain their ties with Beijing beyond a point. Hence India must develop its own capacity and capabilities to face China.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’. He can be contacted at email@example.com)