The Quad has come a long way since its revival in 2017. Its leading faces have changed as well in the last five years, with one exception— Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India; and with that India’s style of engagement with the Quad is also seeing a transition marked by girded realism.
As former US President Donald Trump, former Japanese Prime Minister and chief architect of the Quad Shinzo Abe, and former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison go missing from the dais — a new set of world leaders have inherited the Quad in the last sixteen months.
The world has also changed in the last five years — the Covid-19 pandemic, a new US leadership, a Taliban-led Afghanistan, Russia’s war on Ukraine and rising global inflation — collectively slowed down the Quad’s initial zeal to pull the rug from under China’s feet.
However, if in recent months the question revolved around the possibility of Quad’s agenda being derailed, the meeting in Tokyo this week has given the much-needed impetus to the same and restored hope in the Quad’s potential in the coming years.
Most notable in this Tokyo summit was the Quad’s infrastructural push of $50 billion which signals a joint effort by the four nations in countering China’s Belt and Road initiative in the Indo-Pacific.
In the backdrop of the Sri Lankan crisis, a Quad Debt Management Resource Portal has been unveiled to counter China’s debt-trap diplomacy. The announcement of a ‘US-led’ IndoPacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and an initiative against Chinese maritime militia also significantly bolster the Quad’s standing.
The rapport between President Biden and PM Modi also reflected an uptick as President Biden acknowledged the Indian government’s success in delivering, especially in its tackling of the Covid outbreak and its remarkable vaccination programme. The bone of contention arising from Russia’s war on Ukraine and India’s stern refusal to pick sides also fell flat as fellow Quad leaders saw it wise to not repeatedly annoy India and put a pause to the argument.
While Russia was explicitly mentioned in the public statements of President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida, the joint statement stopped shy of naming Russia with notably no change in India’s position, driving home India’s longheld view that the Quad’s agenda should not be diluted.
On China, however, the message was sharp. The joint statement said, “The Quad is committed to cooperation with partners in the region who share the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
This shows that Quad will champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas.
In reference to China’s belligerence in the seas, it also said that the Quad strongly opposes “any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.”
In what can be considered a mark of India’s continued diplomatic success, its Quad peers also condemned terrorist activites in India including 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks. “We reaffirm that in our fight against global terrorism, we will take concerted action against all terrorist groups, including those individuals and entities designated pursuant to the UNSC Resolution 1267(1999),” said the joint statement highlighting the resolution under which Pakistanbased terror groups Laskar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad are listed.
The Quad also announced a maritime initiative called Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness aimed at addressing “dark-shipping” and protecting fisheries— a sweep at China, which has been using armed vessels to snatch fishing grounds in and around the East and South China Seas at the expense of smaller nations.
This initiative, paired with the IndoPacific Economic Framework (IPEF), reflects the Quad’s commitment towards ASEAN and alleviates some of ASEAN’s apprehensions of being sidelined in the region.
The IPEF, while not being a traditional free trade deal, allows the Quad, especially India and the US which are not part of the RCEP or the CPTPP, to showcase an economic agenda, not just one of security, to get ASEAN nations on board.
With 13 member states, the group accounts for 40% of the world’s GDP. It would be a long shot, however, to suggest that it could serve as a counter to the China-led RCEP. The IPEF does not involve negotiating tariffs or widening market access, and is more of a middle path for the US owing to domestic and political compulsions.
It remains to be seen whether the unconventional grouping can reap success in restructuring supply chains and is not just a bleak attempt by the US to rescue its waning global leadership.
In Australia, the change of guard was followed by slight anxiety about the new government’s China policy. Back in 2008, Albanese was a minister in Kevin Rudd’s Government, which backed out of the Quad and cosied up to China.
His party, including his minister of foreign affairs have been expected to go soft on China, as opposed to Morrison’s hawkish posturing. Just two days into the job, however, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese rushed to Tokyo in a sign of continuity in Australian foreign policy.
This is all the more relieving as China’s recent gain in the Solomon Islands, particularly a military pact, requires a joint effort from the Quad to keep Pacific islands out of Beijing’s reach.
All in all, for India, the Quad has changed considerably but has not lost its potential. Instead, it continues to grow and enhance its regional impact. Chinese and Russian jets hovering near Japan’s airspace just as the Quad leaders were meeting bears testament to this. Clearly, China is cashing in on its favours to Russia as its Quad headache persists.
As Joe Biden said, the Quad is not just a passing fad, it means business.
A win-win outcome at bilaterals
The Quad summit in Tokyo not only proved that India remains central to its members’ shared perspective on Indo-Pacific, but also provided Prime Minister Modi an opportunity to expand India’s deepening relations with the US, Japan and Australia during bilateral talks.
In his one-to-one meeting with US President Joe Bidden—their second in less than a little over a month— the two countries announced a technology cooperation initiative and an investment initiative with the US development agency.
Biden, expressing an idea he has articulated for years, said he would work for the US-India relationship to be “among the closest” in the world. Modi called the India-US partnership a “partnership of trust”.
The agreement on investment would allow the US International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) to expand investment support in India for SMEs, healthcare, renewable energy and infrastructure, among other areas.
The initiative on Crucial Emerging Technologies would enable the two National Security Councils to cooperate on critical and emerging technologies.
The Indian readout listed examples such as quantum computing, Artificial intelligence (AI), 5G/6G, biotech, semiconductors, and space.
The US, in its readout, said that it would join six of India’s Technology Innovation Hubs to support at least 25 joint research projects this year in areas including, AI, data, health, climate and agriculture.
PM Modi also met with Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for separate bilaterals In his conversation with Kishida, who had visited India in March 2022, the Indian Prime Minister reaffirmed cooperation in a number of areas, including the MumbaiAhmedabad bullet train project being funded by Japan, for which a third loan tranche is expected soon.
Modi and Kishida also spoke about fulfilling a promise to ensure five trillion Yen in public and private investment from Japan to India in the next five years.
In talks with the Australian PM, who was only sworn in on May 23 after winning the general elections over the weekend, Modi invited Albanese to India. “Both leaders reviewed the multi-faceted cooperation under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, including in trade & investment, defence manufacturing, renewable energy including green hydrogen, education, science and technology, agricultural research, sports and people-to-people ties,” an MEA statement on the meeting said.
Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF)
US President Joe Biden launched a new trade deal ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF)’ with 12 other Indo-Pacific nations, including India, which together account for 40% of the world’s GDP, to enhance trade, economic and investment opportunities in the region. IPEF has been designed to focus on four key pillars:
Connected Economy – to set standards on cross-border data flows, data localization, addressing issues for ensuring a thriving digital economy in the region
Resilient Economy – to establish mechanism to better anticipate and prevent disruptions in supply chains to create a more resilient economy
Clean Economy – to accelerate efforts in the areas of clean energy and decarbonisation to tackle the climate crisis, and infrastrucutre Fair Economy – to enact and enforce effective tax, anti-money laundering, and anti-bribery regimes to promote a fair economy
IPEF is not a free trade agreement. It is a framework that is inclusive and flexible. Countries have the liberty to join any of the above modules without all of them being binding. Prime Minister Modi called the IPEF “a declaration of a collective desire to make the Indo-Pacific region an engine of global economic growth”
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