Post-Quad, the opportunities for India in the region
The present moment offers a significant opportunity to ramp up its trade and economic engagements
The second in-person Quad Leaders Summit in Tokyo ended with a detailed joint statement. Russia’s war in Ukraine, on which Quad members have divergent positions, is mentioned fleetingly, and described as a “tragic conflict raging in Ukraine”.
Both United States (US) President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Fumio Kishida made up for it by using strong language against Russia in their remarks. Kishida cautioned against ever allowing a “similar incident to happen in the Indo-Pacific”, a clear insinuation about China’s aggressive posturing in the East China Sea, and elsewhere in the Taiwan Strait.
While he dwelt at length on the climate crisis, the new Australian PM, surprisingly, did not mention Ukraine in his opening remarks, even though Australia is an alliance partner of the US. PM Modi made a brief and crisp statement that, understandably, steered clear of any reference to the Ukraine war.
Afghanistan, to which a full paragraph was devoted last year, does not find mention, except in passing, in the reaffirmation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2593 (2021), which demands that Afghan territory must not be used against any country or to harbour terrorists. There is no mention of the Taliban, though one would have expected Quad to call upon the Taliban, as in 2021, to ensure that the human rights of all Afghans, including women, children, and minorities are respected.
On the other hand, the statement, like the previous one, expresses deep concern at the crisis in Myanmar, the humanitarian suffering, and the need for a swift restoration of democracy. Clearly, Afghanistan is much lower down on Quad’s priorities, or more specifically, US priorities, in the aftermath of its unilateral exit from Afghanistan.
It is interesting to note that the leaders agreed to reiterate “condemnation of terrorist attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks”. Such a formulation draws upon the joint statement of the 4th Quad foreign ministers meeting held in Melbourne in February this year. It is a huge gain for India, which has long been a target of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
The language used by the foreign ministers in Melbourne figures in successive India-Japan bilateral summit joint statements since 2015. Such language also appears in the India-US joint statements since 2018. It is part of the joint statement of the inaugural India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue held in September last year. Unsurprisingly, the Quad has accommodated India’s concerns on terrorism, just as it has incorporated Japan’s concerns at North Korea’s destabilising missile tests, which pose a threat to the US mainland as well.
Infrastructure and connectivity find appropriate mention in the joint statement, including Quad’s commitment to extend more than $50 billion of infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo-Pacific over the next five years. Apart from meeting the region's developmental requirements, this is no doubt driven by the need to offer viable alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and predatory developmental finance.
The priority attached to the climate crisis and clean energy is reflected in the “Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package (Q-CHAMP)” with mitigation and adaptation as its two themes. Another notable feature is the “Quad Satellite Data Portal”, which will aggregate links to the national satellite data resources of Quad members. Together with the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA), these platforms will permit Quad to work with regional partners to respond to humanitarian and natural disasters, and combat illegal fishing in a consultative manner.
All in all, Quad leaders have good reason to be satisfied with the outcomes in Tokyo. Not only have they firmly dispelled the notion that the Quad was failing on account of the distraction caused by the war in Ukraine or the emergence of AUKUS, but have also reaffirmed their commitment to jointly meet developmental needs in the Indo-Pacific. This is both timely and relevant. For too long the US, an Indo-Pacific power with nearly $1 trillion by way of investments in the region, has viewed the region primarily through a security lens.
Meanwhile, China has systematically built strong trade and investment partnerships and created dependencies throughout the region to further its strategic interests. Together with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), the initiatives taken at the Quad summit now offer the region better alternatives to fulfil its developmental goals.
IPEF will boost outreach in the Quad Plus format. Its launch can be considered a success, given that seven of the 10 Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries participated, in addition to the four Quad countries, South Korea, and New Zealand. It provides a new platform for regional economic cooperation based on internationally accepted and transparent benchmarks.
For India, which is neither part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) nor the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the present moment offers a significant opportunity to ramp up its trade and economic engagements in the region.
Sujan Chinoy, a former Ambassador to Japan, has served in all Quad countries, and China; he is currently DG of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed are personal