Focus on vaccines, Indo-pacific at historic Quad Summit today
The first Quad leaders’ summit on Friday will create a framework to allow the four-nation grouping to take the lead in post-Covid-19 recovery efforts, especially access to vaccines, and the creation of resilient supply chains for materials such as rare earth metals.
The maiden summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, convened by US President Joe Biden less than two months after he assumed office, reflects the urgency attached by the US to coalesce the loose group to bolster cooperation on key challenges across the region and to counter a belligerent China.
Among the key initiatives expected to be on the agenda when Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga gather virtually at 7pm on Friday is a “Vaccine Initiative” and a procurement and supply chain for rare earth metals.
India perceives the summit as key to building on crucial partnerships to address challenges in the Indo-Pacific and securing the maritime domain, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity. The summit is also an opportunity for evolution as the Quad didn’t traditionally have defined areas of cooperation and only discussed principles and shared strategic approaches.
The Vaccine Initiative is being seen as the “most significant deliverable” from the summit as greater access to doses, especially for small and developing nations across the Indo-Pacific, will foster a quick global economic recovery, the people said.
“Vaccines will be developed in the US, manufactured in India, financed by Japan and the US, and supported by Australia. The Vaccine Initiative will allow new manufacturing capacity to be added in India for exports to the Indo-Pacific. It will not impinge on India’s existing manufacturing capacities,” said one of the people cited above.
The Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced, while successful vaccines developed in the US include those from Pfizer and BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
This pooling of capacities by Quad members will help boost global vaccine delivery, meet the demand-supply gap, especially within the Indo-Pacific, and add momentum to efforts to contain the pandemic.
India’s role in the Vaccine Initiative will reinforce its credentials as a trusted and reliable manufacturer and supplier of medicines and expand the “Vaccine Maitri” initiative that has supplied 58.3 million doses to 69 countries so far. “It will strengthen India’s standing as the pharmacy of the world and a critical node in global health supply chains,” the person cited above said.
HT had reported on Thursday on options being considered by the Quad members to ramp up vaccine production and delivery, which will also help in the vaccine race with China.
The people said the Quad’s model for collective humanitarian action through supply of Covid-19 vaccines can also serve as a template for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, which the grouping defines as its main objective.
The four countries are also expected to build a rare earth metals procurement chain to counter China’s dominance in supplying these critical elements to makers of everything from smartphones to high-performance motors and batteries for electric vehicles, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported.
China produced almost 60% of the world’s rare earths in 2020 and the Quad members intend to counter China’s grip on supplies by funding new production technologies and development projects, and leading the way in drafting international rules, the report said.
More than 90% of India’s imports of rare earths, worth $3.4 million in 2016, come from China.
The genesis of the Quad was a “core group” formed by the four countries in 2004 for a joint response to the Indian Ocean tsunami. After the US and Australia sidelined the grouping because of sensitivities linked to their relations with China, the grouping faded away from the centre stage around 2007.
As the Indo-Pacific became a key strategic region, the Quad was revived, largely because of Japan’s efforts, in 2017 as a dialogue at the level of senior officials. India was represented by a joint secretary from the foreign ministry. In September 2019, the grouping was elevated to the level of foreign ministers as India became more comfortable with it and there was greater convergence among members on concerns related to China.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said the summit would largely focus on five objectives. “China will be the unstated part of the agenda, and the other key elements will be the Covid-19 crisis, maritime security, techno-economic cooperation and climate change,” he said.
“The Quad per se must increase its constituents and it must take action so that others believe it is a powerful but benign grouping in the Indo-Pacific. Though the current initiative is US-led, we must gauge the comfort level of the other three members, especially India – whether there is elbow room for it to make contributions and have a sense of ownership,” Bhatia added.