Quad takeaways to boost India’s capabilities

Quad’s agenda is ambitious and modern. There are working groups dealing with vaccines, critical technology and climate issues. The new focal points are infrastructure, cyber security, space & education. These will challenge the BRI capabilities of China. Inversely, there is an emphasis on building resilient 5G technology segments. Protection of critical infrastructure from cyber attacks is clearly aimed at China.

Quad takeaways to boost India’s capabilities

Committed: Quad’s development agenda will boost the potential of member-states. AP

Gurjit Singh

Former Ambassador

The first in-person Quad summit hosted by US President Joe Biden on September 24 brought a firm focus to the evolving partnership. It was the second summit this year. The intent of the partners to forge a partnership which could be a defining one for the second quarter of the 21st century is evident.

The Biden administration has shown fulsome commitment to Quad. India’s hesitancies are overcome; Australia, which was the original recalcitrant player, is now a determined partner. Japan’s steadfast commitment is such that PM Suga participated in the last week of his term.

The Quad summit was big in its intentions, proposals, and joint statement. The statement in March 2021 was barely five paragraphs long; the September statement is much longer. It is backed by a more detailed fact sheet of the envisaged partnerships. Quad has become more formalised, though not institutionalised. Its summit will be held annually as will its ministerial meetings. These will be at the level of foreign ministers. It is unlikely to graduate to a 2+2 arrangement, which the Quad partners all bilaterally have.

This is because Quad has clearly eschewed security cooperation as an objective. Maritime security, the Malabar exercise and other bilateral, trilateral and Quad-based security dialogue, will not diminish. They will deal with the complex regional security separately.

This emerged when Foreign Secretary Shringla briefed the media prior to PM Modi’s US visit. The Malabar exercise, which now involves all four Quad countries, and was held in August, is not a Quad activity. Security aspects were not part of Quad. The joint statement is clear about this.

The first big takeaway thus is that Quad is focusing on a partnership for a new order. The free and open Indo-Pacific will go well beyond security. A modern development partnership is envisaged.

Another factor is to reduce the anxieties in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly among the ASEAN countries. They are petrified at the prospect of a growing Quad-China contention in which they would be asked to take sides. The confused and disparate messaging from ASEAN countries regarding AUKUS reflects this anxiety.

By removing the security dimension from Quad and generously praising the ASEAN centrality and its Indo-Pacific outlook in the second paragraph of the joint statement, Quad aims to build partnerships with ASEAN, who are at the heart of the region. The battle for the hearts and minds of ASEAN countries, which China is winning, is clearly joined. A willingness to work with the EU on this is alluded to.

Another takeaway is the larger agenda of cooperation and futuristic development that Quad is undertaking. It aims to create a ring of prosperity and modern engagement in the Indo-Pacific. The countries of the region, particularly ASEAN, are informed that they could be beneficiaries of these initiatives, and need not depend solely on China.

Quad, which normally focuses on the Indo-Pacific, in its joint statement now devoted a paragraph on South Asia, focusing on Afghanistan. The red lines which will determine Afghanistan’s future after the US withdrawal are in UNSCR 2593 and Quad emphasises them. Quad is an important development partner of Afghanistan, and could contribute to its future. If the Taliban-led government follows the mandate to act responsibly and abjure internal and cross-border terrorism, Quad will assist them. Proscribing the use of Afghanistan as a political tool is significant, particularly for India, as the paragraph reflects the India-US formulation.

The concerns of Japan and Australia are covered with references to the situation in North Korea, Myanmar, the Pacific Islands and the small island development states. The challenge to the Chinese role in these areas by supporting regional initiatives, including that of ASEAN is notable. Quad as a stabilising force in the Indo-Pacific could emerge as an alternative, which could work within the East Asia Summit, where all four are members.

The enhanced agenda of Quad is ambitious and modern. There are working groups in place, dealing with vaccines, critical technology and climate issues. Now their agendas are elaborated for expansion. The roles of the Quad countries are better defined. The new focal points added are infrastructure, cyber security, space and education.

These will challenge the BRI capabilities of China. Inversely, there is an emphasis on building resilient 5G technology segments and opening it to the region with high standards. Protection of critical infrastructure from cyber attacks is clearly aimed at China. Thus, the takeaway is that the Quad countries will develop new technologies for health, climate and energy, including hydrogen, digital technologies and infrastructure and work together to protect them. A focus on science and technology is evident in the documents.

The 100 scholarships with 25 meritorious STEM researchers from each of the Quad countries to work in the US, is similar to India’s scheme for 1,000 ASEAN students to study at the IITs.

On the vaccine initiative, Japan commits $3.3 billion under the Covid-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan Programme for the region. This could support the expansion of manufacturing in India. Australia commits $500 million to support last-mile delivery and procurement of vaccines for underserved countries in the Indo-Pacific.

This vaccine initiative is evidently bearing fruit. The important lesson is that though procurement and implementation systems in the Quad countries are varied, they seem to have coalesced on the common production of a vaccine using the complementarities among them.

The emphasis on supply chains is also a takeaway. These are already being implemented for the vaccines, but would now specifically focus on semiconductors, critical technologies for the future and cyber security. They would entail supply side management of goods, technologies and services, which would likely be enumerated in the next few months.

For India, the biggest advantage is that it has a set of committed countries with which it shares values and strategic perspective. They are good options for India’s development and maritime security efforts. As each Quad member strengthens, it will improve the responsiveness of Quad. The development agenda brings options to India of the next generation science and technology where it can be an effective partner and build its own capabilities as it sets out to deal with the strategic challenge of China.

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