While future historians would be in a better position to evaluate the real importance of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), at present it appears to be the most important development of the 21st Century. Perhaps this would be given the same importance as is given to Yalta, Potsdam or San Francisco Conferences which paved the way for future actions by powers to deal with the emerging challenges. An analysis of the assertions made by the leaders, decisions of the Quad, the Joint Statement, and in the joint opinion piece by the four leaders published in the Washington Post on the 13th March aimed at conveying the message to all residents of the globe about objectives of the Quad, reveals its true significance.
PM Modi aptly remarked: “Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region”. He further added: ““We are united by our democratic values and our commitment to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Our agenda today — covering areas like vaccines, climate change, and emerging technologies — make the Quad a force for global good.” Similar statements were also made by the other three leaders. The Joint Statement pointed out the “shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific” and their commitment to “strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.” These clearly indicate the objectives of the Quad as also the commitment of the four leaders.
The South China Sea and East China Sea problems emanating from the Chinese belligerence and aggressiveness were given importance. The joint Statement read that they “continue to prioritize the role of international law in the maritime domain, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and facilitate collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas.” This suggests that the Quad would push for the implementation of the PCA Ruling in the UNSC. Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia have already approached the UNSC, and the Philippines has indicated its decision to support it. With India and Vietnam as the non-Permanent Members, the likelihood of this issue getting the required support there.
That the ASEAN is central for the free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific has been stressed in the Joint Statement. It extended “strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality as well as the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”. This would ensure the support of ASEAN, which is critical for the success of the Quad.
The leaders made it clear that the efforts for the promotion of a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats would not be limited to the Indo-Pacific: it would go beyond the region. This suggests that other areas would also be covered.
A significant decision taken by the Quad is to deal with the current challenges of the pandemic and the economic problems arising from the spread of the disease, and climate change. The use of technology for achieving the objectives of the Quad was stressed. Three expert groups have been constituted for these three subjects.
The Quad took the decision for a massive vaccine initiative that will use the strengths of all the four countries to produce a billion doses of Covid vaccines that would be used for the good of the Indo-Pacific countries. India is expected to produce by 2022 one billion doses with the financial assistance from US and Japan and Australia to provide the last mile connectivity. The initiative will use vaccines developed in the US — the Johnson & Johnson one to begin with — and those manufactured in India. This is indeed a great decision for the prevention of the pandemic.
India has supplied vaccines to 71 countries so far including Cambodia, which has very close links with China. Pakistan is also getting vaccines from India. While 80.75 lakh doses have been sent as gift, free of charge, 165.24 lakh doses have been delivered as part of Covax mechanism under the aegis of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. An estimated 339.67 lakh doses have been sent as part of commercial deals. This speaks volumes of the India’s credibility and capability of Vaccine Maitri diplomacy.
The Quad’s decision to harness technology for the benefit of all is equally significant. This includes cyber space and critical technologies. They pledged investment in quality infrastructure. These technologies would of great importance in the fields of counterterrorism, humanitarian-assistance, disaster-relief, and maritime security. The leaders decided to cooperate on the critical technologies of the future to ensure that innovation would be consistent with a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific. This has been stressed in their joint piece: “We have agreed to partner to address the challenges presented by new technologies and collaborate to set the norms and standards that govern the innovations of the future.” Biden Administration has been placing considerable emphasis on technology and some experts have concluded that while Trump used trade to counter China, Biden would be using technology for that purpose.
The climate change remains a global priority and the leaders decided to strengthen the climate actions of all nations, including to keep a Paris-aligned temperature limit within reach. In the joint piece, they indicated that ‘climate change is both a strategic priority and an urgent global challenge’. In this sphere, they may seek cooperation of China.
The Quad is committed for the complete denuclearization of North Korea in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions. On this issue too there are possibilities of Quad seeking help of China, though any effective support from China is unlikely given that it is involved in proliferation activities.
China’s reaction on this development is on expected lines. Its anger was reflected in the Editorial of the Global Times, the CCP mouthpiece. It stated that India was becoming a “negative asset” for BRICS and SCO: “India has become a negative asset of these groupings. China in February said it is backing India to host the 2021 BRICS summit. It seems India has failed to understand China’s goodwill. India takes all support from China for granted. It is, in fact, carrying out a kind of strategic blackmail against China.” This reveals the Chinese discomfort and pain over India getting global importance.
China should now be prepared to see India’s ‘peaceful rise’ in accordance with its policy of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All Regions) based on the positive vision of India’s ancient philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which regards the world as one family. China can also join the efforts, if it sheds the approach based on expansionism and coercion propelled by hegemonic ambitions.
In essence, the clear message of the Quad to China is to stop coercion and accept international law and norms for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. If the activities continue, the Quad will take appropriate steps to counter such moves. Thus, much would depend how China reacts in times to come. The actualisation of Quad appears to be a turning point in the narrative of the world order.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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