The Virtual Quad Summit, which took place on 12 March 2021, can be considered as significant and a milestone event as far as the evolution of Quad as a strategic regional grouping is concerned. It is necessary to throw light on some of the major developments, in fact, what can be called as the structural factors, which took place prior to the recent Quad Summit to understand its geopolitical significance. They are :a) this Summit is taking place in the post-Pandemic global order where the core issue is how to address the health crisis and assisting each other like joint “vaccine development” and creating a “supply chain of vaccines” to contain the pandemic; b) Growing concern over the hegemonic design of China in global politics (especially after the post-Pandemic era) is a cause of concern to the international community, the same can be visible in the in the Indo-Pacific region also; c) Emergence of India as an major supplier of covid vaccines to the global community; and d)A shared commitment to the Indo-Pacific order as a catalyst for securitisation of this region by the member countries of Quad.
Some of the above trajectories are providing the necessary impetus to the virtual Quad summit, which took place on 12 March 2021. One may add here that often questions are emanating from various quarters regarding the effectiveness of this grouping. However, what is important to note here is that this grouping is not only focusing on security issues in the Indo-Pacific order as generally perceived but also emphasising on the securitisation aspect as evident from the recent Quad Summit. This can be evident from the Quad’s focus on supplying vaccines, issues relating to climate change so also “digital securitisation”. In this regard, there was a growing concern over the “disruptive” role of China in accentuating the digital threats, which also includes hacking. Recent newspaper reports add that China has involved itself in the hacking the software of Indian Covid manufacturing units .Targeting these two Covid Vaccine manufacturing units by China is an indication that it is relentlessly engaging itself in “ disrupting” the world supply chain of the Covid Vaccines. The third aspect, which Quad is emphasising on mutual assistance to each other in terms of technology along with financial assistance.
One important aspect needs focus is the notion of “democratic coalition” and “free and open Indo-Pacific”. In fact, the foreign ministers’ meeting of Quad countries, which took place in Tokyo in October 2020, has also focused on some of these aspects, which can be considered as catalytic for the recent Quad Summit.
However, on 12 March 2021, writing for the Foreign Policy magazine, Colm Quinn underlines the fact that the Quad should expand its scope to make it more relevant. Quinn talks about, “climate change”, “technological transfer”. “Maritime security” to make the Indo-Pacific more relevant in the global geopolitical order. Evan Feigenbaum and James Schwemlein in an interesting piece titled “ How Biden Can Make the Quad Endure” highlight that “ To lead, the Quad countries must demonstrate in deed, not just word, that they are making major contributions to solving the larger economic, transnational, and environmental challenges that preoccupy nearly everyone else in the Indo-Pacific.”
One may recall here that the “3rd India-Australia-Japan-USA Quad Ministerial Meeting” which took place on 18 February 2021 had also attempted to give new dynamics to the functional aspects of the Quad. As the Ministerial meeting highlighted the “ongoing efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, including vaccination programmes. They expressed their commitment to cooperate in addressing this challenge, enhancing access to affordable vaccines, medicines and medical equipment.” The Ministerial meeting has also appreciated “India’s efforts at providing vaccines to 74 countries”.
The significance of the first Quad Summit, which took place in a virtual mode, can be highlighted in the background of the above discussion. The Quad Summit outlines what this multilateral grouping intends to achieve in the future. In fact, “the Spirit” dispelled the misconceived notions associated with this grouping mostly enunciated by a few of its critics who tried portray it as a mere “military alliance” of Indo-Pacific aimed at “containing China”.
The “Quad Spirit” has outlined that “our joint efforts toward this positive vision arose out of an international tragedy, the tsunami of 2004. Today, the global devastation wrought by COVID-19, the threat of climate change, and security challenges facing the region summon us with renewed purpose” What one can infer from the above Summit Declaration is that the Quad is diversifying its goals often considered as non-military in nature necessary to ensure sustainable security.
One important component, which got much attention in the Quad Summit, are the normative issues like democracy, rule of law along emphasising multipolarity. In fact, some of these above-mentioned themes are major bone of contention between Quad member countries and China. As the Quad Summit Declaration states “We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity”. This is in fact a direct hint at Chinese overture towards its neighbouring countries. It may be underlined here that over the years, China is engaging in a series of conflicts both in the South China Sea and East China Sea. This is also propelling armed conflict in the region. In fact, just before the Quad Summit Japan called, the Chinese aggression as “ against international law ”.It is in this background one has to see the role of Quad as a bulwark against the Chinese imperial tendency in Indo-Pacific region. As the Summit Declaration stated, “We will continue to prioritize the role of international law in the maritime domain, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and facilitate collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China”
One prominent issue, which has gained much attention in the Quad Summit, is concerning climate issues. This is more so as Washington re-joined the Paris Climate Negotiation after Biden took over as the President of the US. It may be recalled here that this move by Quad in generating a consensus over climate issues is a major milestone towards addressing the negative consequences of climate issues. At the same time, the Quad Summit has also made efforts towards achieving “climate justice” by initiating “climate actions globally on mitigation, adaptation, resilience, technology, capacity-building, and climate finance”. However, one moot point of divergence between India and the US during the Paris climate Convention was “differential responsivities” which need to be addressed by Quad.
The Quad Summit’s significance lies in institutionalising the Summit as the Quad Declaration highlighted regular meeting among policy makers and high officials. This move to a great extent will address complex issues which Quad counties are facing from time to time and will help them to evolve a common repose to the threats. Another issue that need to be maintained here that since many European countries are also interested to join this grouping as discussed above this may provide a new kind of strategic balance to the global geopolitics in the longer-run.
The Quad is also providing a new kind of opportunity for India to navigate its strategic diplomacy both at the regional and global level. By forging a partnership with the US’ Australia and Japan, India could provide geopolitical stability to the Indo-Pacific region. At the same time, India being an Indian Ocean power could also promote its own geoeconomic interests in the Indo-Pacific region more effectively. Quad will help India to play a greater role in the multilateral institutions like at the U.N.
It may be underlined that India at a bilateral level is maintaining its relations with the U.S, Japan and Australia at a more robust form. India’s relations with these countries are in multifaceted spheres ranging from strategic to economic one. In fact, prior to the Quad Summit, India has unveiled its strategic doctrine in the form of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR doctrine) in the Indian Ocean Region way back in 2015. In fact, there is a greater synergy in the goals of SAGAR and Quad. This was reflected in the speech of Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at the Quad Summit when he stated, “we are united by our democratic values, and our commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.“
In conclusion, it can be stated that the success of this groupingwill certainly add a new dimension to the regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. It may be added here that this is not for the first time that these countries are engaging themselves in the Indo-Pacific region; on the other hand, they also engage themselves in many such other regional groupings. However, the uniqueness of Quad lies in bringing these four countries on a common platform at the same time giving a security perspective rooted in the geopolitical logic of the Indo-Pacific.
Author: Dr. Nalin Kumar Mohapatra. The author is Assistant Professor, CRCAS, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org