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With China Back on USA's Radar, the Quad is on Track With Renewed Vigour

By: Shubhangi Sharma

Last Updated: May 25, 2022, 14:28 IST

The Quad has come a long way since its revival in 2017 (Image: AP)

The Quad has come a long way since its revival in 2017 (Image: AP)

If in recent months the Quad question revolved around the possibility of being derailed, the meeting in Tokyo this week has given a much-needed impetus to the Quad’s potential

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 while PM Modi brings an element of continuity.

The world has also changed in the last five years— the Covid 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 Quad question revolved around the possibility of being derailed, the meeting in Tokyo this week has given a much-needed impetus to its agenda 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 presence 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" 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 democracy’s success in delivering, especially in its tackling of the Covid outbreak and its remarkable vaccination programme.

Sticking to the core agenda


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 see 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 long-held 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….We 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 militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.”

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In what can be considered a mark of India’s continued diplomatic success, its Quad peers also condemned terrorist attacks 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 Pakistan-based terror groups Laskar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad are listed.

Another chance with ASEAN

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 Indo-Pacific 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.

Albanese’s grand entrance

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 cozied 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 gains in the Solomon Islands, particularly a military pact, require 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.

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first published:May 25, 2022, 08:52 IST
last updated:May 25, 2022, 14:28 IST