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EXPLAINED: Is 'New Quad' Of India, US, UAE, Israel Aimed At Addressing The Dragon At The Table?

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar attended the virtual meeting of the "new Quad" from Israel, where he is on an official visit

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar attended the virtual meeting of the "new Quad" from Israel, where he is on an official visit

India, Israel, UAE and US have held a foreign minister-level meet on enhancing economic cooperation as part of an arrangement that is being termed a "new Quad"

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar joined his counterparts from the US, UAE and Israel in a virtual meet on October 18 that has been described as marking the emergence of a “new Quad" with its focus on West Asia. The four foreign ministers talked about “expanding economic and political cooperation" through engagement in the fields of trade, climate change, energy cooperation, and maritime security, but experts say that there may be a strong Chinese context to the discussions as the US makes urgent moves to counter Beijing’s moves in the Indo-Pacific.

What Did They Talk About?

The virtual meeting between the foreign ministers of the four countries came less than a week after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed met in Washington to mark one year of the signing of the path-breaking Abraham Accords, which paved the way for normalisation of ties between Israel and Arab countries.

A statement by US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the four foreign ministers “discussed expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security". Also on the agenda was “people to people ties in technology and science".

Is There A China Angle?

Experts and commentators have noted that the new grouping that the discussions between the foreign ministers of these four countries points to has a strong imprint of the US’ outlook on containing and combating China’s growing clout in Asia. Especially when it comes to West Asia, China’s recent partnerships with some of Washington’s closest allies in the region would have set alarm bells ringing in US foreign policy circles.

The urgency the US is seized of is evident in how it has moved swiftly post its retreat from Afghanistan to pursue multiple partnerships, from the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — where Australia, India and Japan are the other members — to the AUKUS formation with Australia and the UK. Among the core objectives of both groupings is maritime security and an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, a clear reference to China and its assertive moves in the region.

A piece published by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) notes how the Chinese state-owned Shanghai International Port Group has built a USD 1.7 billion container terminal in Israel’s Haifa that “sits close to a port used by US and Israeli naval vessels and raises fears of Chinese surveillance on their movements". It added that Ashdod, the other major Israeli port on the Mediterranean, is also being upgraded by China, adding to “worries that state-owned Chinese companies are muscling into sensitive infrastructure projects in a strategic ally".

The UAE, too, has seen warming ties with Beijing, which were bolstered during the Covid-19 pandemic with Chinese vaccine diplomacy — the first vaccines UAE got came from China — while the China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) has signed a 35-year concession agreement to develop a new container terminal in Khalifa Port. But it is the Gulf state’s opting of Huawei tech for its 5G telecom networks that would pose a bigger worry for the US, which is in talks to sell its advanced F-35 fighter jets to the Emirates. The ORF piece notes that “it may not be coincidental that in recent months, both Etisalat and du — UAE’s telecom duopoly — have signed agreements to obtain sections of their 5G hardware from Ericsson and Nokia.

What’s In It For India?

India shares close ties with the three initial Abraham Accord partners of Israel, UAE and the US. Incidentally, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar attended the virtual summit while in Israel, where he is on an official visit that his Israeli counterpart Lapid said “is a harbinger of events to be held next year to mark the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations between India and Israel".

An Israeli foreign ministry statement said that the duo talked about renewing the negotiations on a free trade area agreement between the countries this November “with the aim of finalizing it by mid-2022" and also “agreed on mutual recognition of vaccination certificates as well as expanding cooperation in the fields of water and agriculture, which in recent years have become a key anchor in relations between the two countries".

India has also seen increasingly close ties in recent years with UAE, which is home to the largest population of Indian expats, in the fields of commerce and trade, defence and law enforcement cooperation. Diplomatic ties between the two countries go back to 1972 and, according to the Washington-based Middle East Institute (MEI), “recent progress in the development of India-UAE relations stems also from broadly compatible geopolitical outlooks and shared security concerns", especially given the recognition that “the security of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean are indivisible".

Thus, there are several intersections that the partners in the new dialogue can explore and build on to unleash synergies across multiple sectors.

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first published:October 20, 2021, 17:17 IST