Quad validates PM’s India-first approach, writes S Jaishankar
The objective of Quad, in the words of PM Modi, is to do global good. The need for that to be a collaborative effort is self-evident. That India should be part of this makes sense given its growth, confidence, and worldview
As the Narendra Modi government completes eight years in office, one of its major diplomatic accomplishments has been the firm establishment of Quad. Its second in-person summit just took place in Tokyo. In some ways, Quad is a tale of a grouping foretold, since it brings together key relationships that developed once the Cold War ended. But the strategic vision and diplomatic skills that made it happen should be given due credit.
Quad as a platform and the Indo-Pacific as an arena reflect the era of globalisation. They underline that the Indian and Pacific oceans can no longer be compartmentalised, as they were after 1945. These are truly contemporary concepts that reflect the rise of Asia, the repositioning of big powers, their changed capabilities and approaches, the nature of supply chains and the criticality of technology and connectivity. From an Indian perspective, it is also a statement of its growing interests beyond the Indian Ocean. What began as a solution for an economic crisis in 1992 has developed into a strategic correction.
Some critics of Quad have deliberately sought to evoke the imagery of the Cold War. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely because the Cold War ended that India’s partnerships with the United States, Japan and Australia could realise their real potential. And for the same reason, put behind a “zones of influence”-thinking that was so prevalent. Interestingly, these improvements started almost two decades ago when the dominant logic was economic engagement rather than political contestation. But taking it forward in a changing era demanded both confidence and application from Indian diplomacy. That Quad succeeded in 2017, as contrasted to its abortive start in 2007, says as much about leadership as the state of the world. Where India is concerned, much of that has been the overcoming of the hesitations of history. Equally, it has meant not giving other countries a veto on our choices. Quad is not only about developing bilateral ties or groupings in the national interest. There is also a larger vision of shaping the region and the world, which impels its evolution.
Quad members are all democratic polities, market economies and pluralistic societies. Apart from that natural understanding, similarity in the structural aspects of their relationships helps to foster the platform. In each case, there are regular meetings at the summit level, designated formally as annual, in the case of Australia and Japan. All of them have a 2+2 defence and foreign ministers’ interaction with each other. Again, all four countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-led forums, including the East Asia Summit, the Asean Regional Forum, and the defence ministers’ meeting. They also strongly subscribe to the centrality of Asean insofar as the Indo-Pacific is concerned. Between them, they are involved in multiple trilateral combinations with other partners. That all of them offer mutual logistics support and work on white shipping enables better maritime security coordination. Their shared commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 as the constitution of the seas is significant.
The working of Quad takes into account the consequences of globalisation, requirements of the global commons, and the implications of converging interests in the face of the changing geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific. The Malabar Naval Exercise is often cited as its prominent activity. But this uni-dimensional projection does injustice to a group that makes a serious contribution to global welfare. It is, therefore, vital to have informed visibility of the entire Quad landscape.
As the Tokyo Summit revealed, the agenda of the grouping has grown rapidly. Quad collaborates on critical and emerging technologies, encourages a diverse and open telecom ecosystem, and discusses a semiconductor value chain. It promotes green shipping practices and corridors, supports cooperation on green hydrogen, and generates awareness of disaster resilience. Its collective efforts on sustainable infrastructure and transparent connectivity are notable.
Given the pandemic, it is natural for Quad to advance a vaccine partnership. A STEM Fellowship underlines the educational connection between its members, as a data satellite portal does the space one. The collaboration on humanitarian assistance and disaster response is its latest initiative, appropriate given the shared history of the 2004 tsunami. Counter-terrorism and cyber security are also prominent in their expanding scope.
The Tokyo Summit is the most productive to date, underlining both the distance that Quad has travelled and its potential for future growth. It saw a commitment by Quad members to extend over $50 billion of infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo-Pacific over the next five years. A Quad debt management resource portal is expected to strengthen capacities to cope with that challenge. The launching of the Q-CHAMP (Quad climate change and adaption mitigation package) is a significant development in respect of climate action. The decision to observe a Quad Cyber Security Day is designed to enhance awareness about digital concerns. An understanding on 5G supplier diversification and Open-RAN will contribute to secure telecommunications in the region.
Two notable initiatives on the sidelines of the Summit demonstrate how Quad has contributed to greater regional cooperation. The launching of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is expected to advance common interests in trade, supply chains, infrastructure, and finance. The Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness will bring together regional information fusion centres to address challenges like natural disasters and illegal fishing.
The objective of Quad, in the words of Prime Minister Modi, is to do global good. The need for that to be a collaborative effort is self-evident. It is equally natural that nations with significant capacities and shared interests would step forward in response to the need of the day. That India should be part of this makes sense given its growth, confidence, and worldview. Quad expresses the approach of the Modi government to put India’s interests at the centre of its thinking, even while embracing the world as a family. The Tokyo Summit is the most recent validation of this approach.
S Jaishankar is external affairs ministerThe views expressed are personal