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US House passes Quad bill to intensify cooperation

Feb 17, 2024 06:12 AM IST

The text of the legislation begins with stating that it is the sense of the US Congress that the US “should continue to strengthen joint cooperation” between the Quad’s four members

Washington The US House of Representatives has passed the Strengthening the Quad Act, with an overwhelming majority, on Thursday. The legislation seeks an intensification of cooperation between India, US, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, calls for the formation of a Quad Intra-Parliamentary Working Group, and asks the US Secretary of State to submit, within 180 days, a status update on Quad’s activities and a strategy for bolstering cooperation to the Congress.

The passage of the legislation, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Democrat Gregory Meeks, is one step in a process that requires the Senate to pass the act and the President to sign it before it becomes a law (AP)
The passage of the legislation, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Democrat Gregory Meeks, is one step in a process that requires the Senate to pass the act and the President to sign it before it becomes a law (AP)

To be sure, the passage of the legislation, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Democrat Gregory Meeks, is one step in a process that requires the Senate to pass the act and the President to sign it before it becomes a law. But the symbolism of the step lies in the bipartisan support that Quad continues to enjoy in an otherwise fractured polity on Capitol Hill. While 379 House Representatives voted for the legislation, only 39 members opposed it.

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The text of the legislation begins with stating that it is the sense of the US Congress that the US “should continue to strengthen joint cooperation” between the Quad’s four members, to enhance and implement a shared vision to meet “regional challenges” and promote a free, open, inclusive, resilient and healthy Indo-Pacific that is characterised by “respect for democratic norms, rule of law and market driven economic growth and is free from undue influence and coercion”. While not explicitly stated, the four governments have often used these principles and language to send a signal to China.

The sense of the Congress is also that the US should expand dialogue and cooperation, through Quad, with a range of partners, to support “peace and prosperity, the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and democratic resilience in the Indo-Pacific”. Given the shared concerns on all these issues where China is seen as the revisionist and disruptive power, this once again appears to be a signal from the US legislature of its commitment to counter China.

The legislation’s introductory section also looks back at the first Quad leaders’ level summit in March 2021. It suggests that development finance agencies of Quad members, along with multilateral development banks, should finance development and infrastructure projects in the region, a process that has already begun. It also calls for regular leaders’ level summit at a time when the timing of the summit for 2024 remains uncertain given the hectic political calendar in both India and the US.

The legislation then calls for the formation of a Quad intra parliamentary working group to “sustain and deepen engagement” between top officials of Quad countries and cites US-Mexico, US-Canada, US-UK intra parliamentary groups as models. If operationalised, this step will inaugurate a degree of bipartisan political exchanges between legislators of all four countries and enhance the political ownership of Quad in these countries.

On this element, the legislation has asked the US Secretary of State to initiate talks with partner countries within 60 days of the passage of the Act with the aim of arriving at a written agreement to establish the parliamentary group. The US representation in the group won’t exceed 24 members, with half from the House and half from the Senate and the aim would be to meet once a year.

It also asks the Secretary of State to submit a strategy within 180 days. This, the legislation demands, should include a description of how US “intends to demonstrate democratic leadership in the Indo-Pacific”. It asks for a summary of current and past Quad initiatives across the US government to promote broad based and inclusive economic growth and advance “technology cooperation, energy innovation, climate mitigation and adaptation, physical and digital infrastructure development, education, disaster management, resilient supply chains including in critical minerals and global health security”. Quad leaders have announced these issues as priorities in their joint statements after summits over the past three years.

The legislation also asks the Secretary of State to include a summary of proposals agreed to by Quad leaders on “security cooperation, intelligence sharing, economic partnerships, and multilateral coordination”. While the Quad has focused on offering an affirmative vision to the region, the grouping has also embarked on an ambitious initiative on maritime domain awareness across the region and its work on technologies has a major security dimension. The reference to multilateral coordination draws from a similar understanding between Quad foreign ministers in Delhi in 2023.

The Congress also wants to know from the administration the “diplomatic and bureaucratic barriers and obstacles” to implementing and expanding existing streams of Quad cooperation and how the legislature can help in addressing these obstacles, provide new authority, and offer resources. This is significant because American export control and licensing regimes have often inhibited deepening of strategic cooperation with both allies and partners.

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