Quad bonds against 2Cs: Coercion and China

US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrive for their meeting during the Quad Leaders Summit at Kantei in Tokyo on May 24, 2022. 

TOKYO: On a radiant afternoon in Tokyo, the leaders of the four Quad countries scripted a new chapter in their journey, marked by   solidarity, creativity and action-oriented cooperation to secure the rules-based world order against “coercion, provocative and  unilateral actions” that change the status quo and violate sovereignty of other nations.

The rapport and connect among the leaders of the four liberal democracies at the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office was almost instantaneous at the second in-person Quad summit here, despite the two of them participating in their first Quad summit. What was remarkable was that the four of them they spoke in a similar language about shared interests, including freedom, rule of law, democratic values and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The discussions among Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on May 24 were marked by “warmth and a positive approach,” India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told the visiting Indian media in the Japanese capital. The leaders decided to advance “action-oriented cooperation among Quad partners and countries of the Indo-Pacific for peace and security of the region,” said Mr Kwatra.

Force for Good

In a span of around 16 months, a new idiom and vocabulary of Quad has emerged, which will bring the four countries closer in days to come. In their opening remarks, all the four leaders underscored  their shared commitment to the constructive agenda of the Quad for shaping a free and open Indo-Pacific.  PM Modi branded the four-nation grouping as a “Force for Good,” which has been reflected in the Quad joint statement after the leaders’ meeting on May 24. “Just over one year ago, Leaders met for the first time. Today in Tokyo, we convene for our fourth meeting, and our second in person, to demonstrate, at a time of profound global challenge, that the Quad is a force for good, committed to bringing tangible benefits to the region,” said the joint statement. “In our first year of cooperation, we established the Quad’s dedication to a positive and practical agenda; in our second year, we are committed to deliver on this promise, making the region more resilient for the 21st century,” said the statement.

Ukraine Diplomacy

The Ukraine issue figured prominently in discussions, but India’s resolute stand not to allow any explicit criticism of Russia prevailed, with the Quad leaders focusing on peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. Japan’s PM Kishida and President Biden took a strong stand on Ukraine, but PM Modi decided to keep quiet on it. “Since we last met in person in September, an incident that overturns the rules-based international order has happened: the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Mr Kishida said in introductory remarks. “It is a blatant challenge to the principles set in the United Nations charter. We must not allow the same thing to happen in the Indo-Pacific.” Mr Biden called the Ukraine war “more than just a European issue.” “It’s a global issue,” he said. The major takeaway from the Tokyo summit was that India’s stand on the Ukraine issue, underpinned by its principle of strategic autonomy, will not adversely impact the broader and constructive agenda of the Quad that pivots around vaccines, global health security, cyber security, resilient infrastructure and critical and emerging technologies.

Taking on China, Quad-style

Chinese assertiveness and attempts to subvert the status quo dominated the discussions among the four Quad leaders. Like before, there was no explicit mention of China in the Quad joint statement, but Beijing was the subtext of the intra-Quad discussions. “We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” said the joint statement.

Intra-Quad cooperation to maintain freedom  of navigation in the East and South China Seas figured prominently in discussions. “We will champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas,” said the joint statement.

Many key initiatives that emerged from the Tokyo summit were animated by the collective strategy to constrain China’s rules-bending behaviour. These included, among others, the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) and the establishment of the “Quad Partnership on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the Indo-Pacific”.

IPMDA is designed to work with regional partners to respond to humanitarian and natural disasters, and combat illegal fishing. IPMDA will support and work in consultation with Indo-Pacific nations and regional information fusion centers in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands by providing technology and training to support enhanced, shared maritime domain awareness to promote stability and prosperity in our seas and oceans. “IPMDA embodies what the Quad stands for: catalyzing our joint efforts towards concrete results that help to make the region more stable and prosperous,” said the joint statement.

In a step planned as an alternative to China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Quad leaders decided to extend more than 50 billion USD of infrastructure assistance and investment in the Indo-Pacific, over the next five years. The Quad infrastructure partnership will be animated by promoting debt sustainability and transparency in close collaboration with finance authorities of relevant countries, including through the “Quad Debt Management Resource Portal,” which consists of multiple bilateral and multilateral capacity building assistance.

The Quad’s  model of infrastructure development will be demand-driven and meets specific needs of countries in the region, said Foreign Secretary Kwatra in a veiled critique of China’s BRI which is accused of pushing many recipient countries such as Sri Lanka into a dept trap.

From Space to 5G

In initiatives that will buttress the Quad’s reputation as a force for good, the leaders decided to collaborate closely in the area of 5G and beyond 5G,  and focus on harnessing critical and emerging technologies to enhance the prosperity and security of the region. Space cooperation got a boost with as the Quad countries decided to work together to create an Earth observation-based monitoring and sustainable development framework.

Looking ahead, the May 24 Quad summit in Tokyo has  raised the stature of the four-nation grouping as a guardian of the rules-based order and a formidable resistance against coercion and intimidation that seeks to subvert the rules-based international order. The grouping, which nearly died over a decade ago, has experienced a miraculous rebirth to emerge as a robust pillar of an emerging world order.

The summit has also burnished India’s credentials as a major emerging power which can hold its own in a conflicted international order and partner with like-minded countries to create better lives and future for nearly two billion people living in the four Quad countries. At the summit, the other three Quad leaders  lavished praise on PM Modi’s deft and successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world’s second most populous country.

(Manish Chand is CEO-Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, and India and The World magazine. He is Director, Centre for Global Insights India, a think tank focused on global affairs.)


Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.