India has notched two notable diplomatic successes at the Tokyo Quad summit. It was speculated that India will come under pressure by the US on its carefully crafted position of neutrality on the Ukraine conflict. President Biden had referred some time ago to India’s position on Ukraine amongst the Quad members as being “shaky”. In the event, India could not be shaken from its well-considered position at Tokyo.
The Ministry of External Affairs has claimed publicly that our stance on Ukraine is well-appreciated and well-understood by our partners, but that has not precluded many voices in the West criticising India for fence-sitting when as a democracy it had the moral responsibility to condemn Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
It was apparent from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour of Europe that India would resist any pressure to go beyond the position it has adopted in the UN Security Council and other forums. Both Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida denounced Russia in their public statements. Modi did not allude to Ukraine or Russia in his public statement. Not referring to Ukraine in the Tokyo joint statement because the conflict is not in the geographical space of the Indo-Pacific would not have been politically possible for the US, given its massive international effort to mobilise support against Russia. The joint statement accommodates India’s position by merely referring to the “tragic conflict raging in Ukraine” and to the Quad leaders discussing “our respective responses to the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing tragic humanitarian crisis”, and assessing “its implications for the Indo-Pacific”. These implications obviously relate to China emulating Russia in invading Taiwan.
The second success is the paragraph on terrorism which reflects the core of India’s position, with its denunciation of terrorist proxies, call for denial of any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to launch or plan terror attacks, including cross-border attacks, condemnation of the Mumbai and Pathankot terrorist acts, reaffirmation of UNSC Resolution 2593 (2021), which demands that Afghan territory must never again be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or finance terrorist attacks. The importance of upholding international standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism by all countries, consistent with FATF recommendations, is also affirmed. Pakistan, with its new government, would derive no comfort from this text.
Quad and Indo-Pacific
On the Indo-Pacific, following no doubt the US-ASEAN summit in Washington, the “unwavering support for ASEAN unity and centrality and for the practical implementation of ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” is stressed up front in the text. The EU’s Joint Communication on the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific announced in September 2021 and increased European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region are welcomed. Without mentioning China by name (anywhere in the joint statement), strong opposition is expressed against the militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia (Japan and Philippines have faced these Chinese tactics), and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities (China has objected to India’s drilling in Vietnamese waters).
Concerns over Chinese expansionism in the Pacific have been sharpened by the security dimension of the accord signed recently between China and the Solomon Islands. Consequently, the joint statement stresses the Quad’s intention to individually and collectively strengthen economic, health, infrastructure, maritime security, climate change cooperation with Pacific island countries and support Pacific Islands Forum unity and Pacific regional security frameworks. India has, on its side, already had two summits of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation in 2014 and 2015.
Even though India and Japan aspire for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and both the US and Australia support India’s candidature, the joint statement merely speaks of shared priorities to reform the UN and multilateral institutions.
The joint statement recognises India’s contribution to the anti-COVID campaign by “celebrating” the donation by the Quad to Cambodia and Thailand of WHO-approved Made in India vaccines, and by welcoming the progress on the expansion of J&J vaccine production at the Biological E facility in India under the Quad Vaccine Partnership. However, the move by India and South Africa to seek TRIPS waiver for the production of anti-COVID vaccines and related therapeutics in developing countries to increase the access of affordable vaccines to their population finds no mention in the joint statement, even as cooperation to address both the COVID-19 response and preparedness against future health threats is mentioned.
Quad will “seek to extend” more than $50 billion of infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo-Pacific, over the next five years. The language is fluid and the target seems a little too ambitious. Concerns about the debt trap diplomacy of China has prompted the Quad to promote debt sustainability and transparency, including through the Quad Debt Management Resource Portal.
At Tokyo, the Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package (Q-CHAMP) was launched. This includes ongoing activities under the Quad Climate Working Group on green shipping and ports, clean hydrogen, clean energy supply chains and disaster risk reduction, including through the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), an Indian initiative.
The Quad partners will coordinate capacity building programmes in the Indo-Pacific region under the Quad Cybersecurity Partnership.
In the area of 5G and beyond 5G, Quad will advance interoperability and security through a new Memorandum of Cooperation on 5G Supplier Diversification and Open RAN. The Common Statement of Principles on Critical Technology Supply Chains, launched on the occasion of this Summit, advances Quad cooperation on semiconductors and other critical technologies. It remains to be seen how this contributes to India’s plans to develop a semiconductor manufacturing base in India.
The Quad will work together to create an Earth observation-based monitoring and sustainable development framework for sharing space-based civil Earth observation data, along with providing a Quad Satellite Data Portal that aggregates links to the Quad countries’ respective national satellite data resources.
The Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA), a new initiative designed to work with regional partners to respond to humanitarian and natural disasters and combat illegal fishing, will cooperate with Indo-Pacific nations and regional information fusion centres in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Modi in his public remarks acknowledged that the Quad, with its constructive agenda, had assumed an important place on the world stage, with its scope becoming broader and the format effective, strengthening further the image of the Quad as a ‘Force for Good’.
Modi had bilateral meetings in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart Kishida as well some top Japanese business leaders. That former Japanese Prime Ministers Yoshihide Suga, Shinzo Abe and Yoshiro Mori also called on him is a tribute to India and Modi personally. He also met the newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who signalled the continuation of the remarkable progress achieved in India-Australia ties under his predecessor Scott Morrison.
The most important bilateral meeting was no doubt with Biden, given the leadership role that the US is now reclaiming in world affairs. Both leaders committed themselves to deepen defence ties, expand partnership on global health, pandemic preparedness and critical and emerging technologies, addressing climate change, accelerating India’s just energy transition etc.
While Biden condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine, the consensus was on providing humanitarian assistance and on cooperation to manage disruptions caused by the war, in particular the rise in energy and food prices. The issue of India’s decision to restrict wheat exports has not figured in any read out of the discussions at Tokyo.
At Tokyo, India associated itself with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), with Modi promising to work with the other partners to build an inclusive and flexible framework based on trust, transparency and timeliness, and Biden welcoming India’s decision.
Some significant agreements were announced, including an Investment Incentive Agreement, which is important as India today has no investment treaty with any country. This agreement will provide a framework for the American Development Finance Corporation to expand investment in private sector projects in areas such as renewable energy, agriculture, health and SME financing.
The meeting was used as an occasion to announce India’s decision to join the Combined Military Forces-Bahrain as an associate member. CMF-B is tasked with monitoring the shipping lanes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal which are prone to piracy. India has been patrolling these seas independently since 2008.
A US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies spearheaded by the National Security Councils of the two countries has been launched. The US has announced it will join six of India’s Technology Innovation Hubs to support at least 25 joint research projects in 2022 in areas such as AI and data science. The US and India will launch a dialogue on AI this year. All in all, a fairly productive bilateral meeting in a third country.
China has, as expected, reacted adversely to the Quad summit. India’s commitment to the Quad is growing stronger. The US has signalled that the Ukraine conflict will not distract it from the Indo-Pacific challenges from China. The IPEF is an initiative by the US to return to the Indo-Pacific region economically after walking out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and non-membership of the China-centric Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The global economy is facing new challenges flowing from the Ukraine conflict; the US strategy to isolate and weaken Russia has consequences for Europe and India as well, and its success is uncertain. The consolidation of the Russia-China strategic axis is problematic for the West and India.
India is manoeuvring as well as it can, maintaining its lines of communication open with the US, Russia, EU and even China by chairing the SCO meetings and participating in those of BRICS, not to mention bilateral engagement at the military and diplomatic levels to contain the border confrontation.
Kanwal Sibal is former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.