The first ever Quad Leaders Summit did give a new signal to China. But the question is whether the Quad will force China to back off?
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
March 12, 2021 witnessed the first ever Quad Leaders Summit which was held virtually between US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The singular honour emerging from the summit was for India - recognition that India indeed is the COVID-19 pharmacy of the world. Opening the summit, President Biden said that the Quad would be a vital arena for cooperation and a free and open Indo-Pacific region was essential to all of their futures, adding, "The United States is committed to working with you and with all our allies in the region to achieve stability. This group is particularly important because it is dedicated to the practical solutions and concrete results."
In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Modi said, "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 makes the Quad a force for global good. We will work together, closer than ever before, for advancing our shared values and promoting a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Today's summit meeting shows that Quad has come of age. It will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region." A highlight of the summit was the acknowledgement of India as a ‘global pharmacy’ for COVID-19 vaccine. India will now be supplying the vaccine to the Indo-Pacific region, as was decided at the summit.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the summit, “With the four countries working together, I wish to firmly advance our cooperation to realise, a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to make a tangible contribution to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region, including overcoming COVID-19.” He said there was new dynamism in Quad because leaders of Quad countries were meeting for the first time. Few days before the summit, he had spoken to PM Modi on telephone to express serious concerns regarding China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Sea, China’s Coast Guard Law and the situation in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
While addressing the summit Australian Prime Minister Scot Morrison said, “We join together as leaders of nations to welcome, what I think will be a new dawn in the Indo-Pacific through our gathering.” The main focus of the summit was on a free and open Indo-Pacific as before, as also combating COVID-19, albeit the group discussed multiple issues including climate change, maritime security, navigation in the East and South China Seas, North Korea as well as the coup in Myanmar among other key regional issues.
A joint statement titled ‘The Spirit of the Quad’ issued at the end of the Quad Leaders Summit included commitment for free and open Indo-Pacific; strengthening cooperation on defining challenges of the time; advancing security, prosperity and counter threats in Indo-Pacific and beyond; freedom of navigation and over-flight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity; support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality; responding to COVID-19, climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyber space, critical technologies, counterterrorism, infrastructure investment, humanitarian-assistance, disaster-relief and in maritime domains; strengthen climate actions of all nations; cooperation in critical technologies of the future; prioritise role of international law in maritime domain; complete denuclearisation of North Korea and resolving issue of Japanese abductees; need to restore democracy in Myanmar; combine Quad nations’ medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery, and development capabilities, and establish working groups of vaccine experts, innovative technologies, and; Quad foreign ministers dialogue at least once annually and next Quad Leaders summit by end 2021.
The Quad Leaders summit decided to launch a mega vaccine initiative under which COVID-19 vaccines will be produced in India for the Indo-Pacific region countering Chinese vaccine influence, with financial assistance from the US and Japan while Australia will contribute in logistical aspects; pooling their financial resources, manufacturing capabilities and logistics to ramp up manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has announced it will work with Indian manufacturer Biological E. Limited to finance increased capacity to support the firm's effort to produce at least one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, focusing on the one-dose, US-developed Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot which has been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines will be backed financially by Japan as well as the US DFC, which provides funding for projects in developing countries. PM Modi tweeted: “United in our fight against COVID-19, we launched a landmark Quad partnership to ensure accessibility of safe COVID-19 vaccines. India's formidable vaccine production capacity will be expanded with support from Japan, US & Australia to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific region.” The other important decision taken at the summit was to form the following working groups is very significant: a vaccine expert working group; a critical and emerging technology working group, and; a climate working group for technology, capacity building and climate finance.
The first ever Quad Leaders Summit did give a new signal to China. But the question is whether the Quad will force China to back off? At this juncture there doesn’t appear any such possibility albeit even before the Quad Leaders Summit began, a write up China’s Global Times said that India has become a negative asset at forums like the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The article went on to say that India has been moving closer to the US “worsening India-China and India-Russia relations and affecting the development of BRICS and SCO, and that India wanted to use the financial platforms of BRICS and SCO such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, to win as much financial support as possible but adopting a non-cooperative attitude. The reference to SCO is deliberate, aimed at driving a wedge in India-Russia relations.
The cold fact is that rogue China is far from being awed by the Quad Leaders Summit. For China to be given the required message, the Quad will need to have a strategic charter; a concrete road map to counter China in all domains, not just maritime; converting the Quad foreign secretary-level dialogue to a 2+2 dialogue to include defence ministers of Quad nations; a Quad secretariat properly staffed, and; progression to Quad Plus integrating like-minded nations. All this is very much achievable provided Quad can muster the resolve. China is aware of its economic prowess; economic interdependence of Quad nations like India, Japan and even the US. The counter to that is that if China is balkanized (which is desirable) adversely affecting Chinese economy and the forced impact on Quad nations, why not swallow the bitter pill and work towards it. And, why not look for alternative economic groupings sans China or form one with Quad / Quad Plus as the nucleus?