Quad’s Moment in the Sun: What to expect in Tokyo

China and Russia will be the twin elephants in the room when the leaders of  the US, India, Japan and Australia gather in the Japanese capital on May 24 for their second in-person summit.  The fourth Quad summit will be taking place at a conflicted moment in world politics when the international order is being assailed and challenged from South China Sea to South Pacific islands and from Ukraine to  Myanmar, making uncertainty the only certainty in the world today.

For the four-nation grouping, it will be a time for stock-taking as well as looking ahead as they pool in their collective strength to shape a rules-based international order, “undaunted by coercion,” and unveil a new paradigm of how democracies can deliver global public good more effectively. The summit is expected to culminate in a concrete roadmap that will help cement a free, open and inclusive world order, configured by collective global aspirations for peace and stability.

In the recent years, Quad’s progress has been nothing short of dramatic. The grouping nearly died over a decade ago in the face of Chinese pressure tactics, but its quiet resurrection in 2017 in Manila with a meeting of senior officials of the four countries set in process a chain of events which has led to the Quad’s current moment under the sun. In a short-span of over a year, this quartet of liberal democracies, spanning three continents, has scripted a transformative agenda built around vaccines, supply chains, cyber security and emerging technologies. By building on the outcomes of the last three summits —two virtual and one in-person (Washington) — the Tokyo meeting of the leaders is expected to deepen the economic and geopolitical content of the grouping.

On the geopolitical front, the Ukraine crisis will be a contentious issue, especially in view of India’s assertion of its strategic autonomy vis-à-vis its special relations with Russia. There will be renewed pressure on PM Modi to take a more forthright stand and end ambivalence on this contentious issue which has given fodder to some critics to paint India as an outlier in the grouping. But those looking to sow divisions will be disappointed as the Quad comes to terms with New Delhi’s predicament and will continue to retain its solidarity on core issues. At the Quad summit, PM Modi is expected to argue that India can’t afford to alienate Russia as it remains not only dependent on its decades-old strategic partner,  but also needs Moscow’s diplomatic support in the UN on sensitive issue such as Kashmir. The subtext of PM Modi’s argument will be that that India needs to sustain its relationship with Russia to prevent deepening of the China-Russia axis, which pose a threat to the West as well.

Moving beyond the Ukraine shadow, one can expect larger coherence and convergence on a wide array of geopolitical and cross-cutting issues, including the flux in Afghanistan, Chinese unilateralism, subversion of territorial status quo in the Indo-Pacific and in the Himalayas, and promoting global health security and vaccine equity.

New Economic Framework

The major takeaway of the Quad Summit in Tokyo will be the formal launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) by US President Joe Biden, with the other Quad countries, including India, set to join negotiations for fleshing out landmark initiative that promises to spur regional economic integration and open new pathways of shared prosperity. In order to make the framework flexible and inclusive, the US has provided the pick-and-choose option to potential participants and pitched for a bigger role for India in fructifying this initiative. Under this flexible model, a participating country need not perforce join all the pillars of the framework, which includes fair and resilient trade (including digital, labour, environmental and other standards); supply chain resilience; infrastructure, decarbonisation and clean energy; and tax and anti-corruption.

Given this pragmatic and flexible approach, India is more amenable to joining it. India has some lingering issues about the trade pillar, but is positive about the other pillars, especially, the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative. India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has called the IPEF a “fantastic thought”, and said that the US had shared the framework with the country. The US is keen to have India on board and regards the emerging country as a “vital partner” in accelerating its economic engagement in the region.

Information Warfare

Looking ahead, the information warfare unleashed by China to portray the Quad in a negative light will be countered vigorously by the four countries. In a first, the joint statement that emerged from the Melbourne meeting of the foreign ministers of the four countries identified “countering disinformation” as a major focus area for the grouping. Fashioning a multi-pronged strategy to thwart negative propaganda could be an important outcome of the Tokyo summit.  Over the last three years, China’s spin doctors have not missed a chance to attack the Quad as a gang-up against China. This misinformation campaign is orchestrated to undermine the Quad in the region, especially among ASEAN countries who are not ready to risk Beijing’s hostility by openly declaring support for the Quad. The Quad, on its part, has made it a point to underline the centrality of ASEAN to an inclusive Indo-Pacific region at every meeting and in every joint statement. In the run-up to the Tokyo Summit and beyond, one can expect this information war to intensify, which should prod the quartet to enhance their coordination in disseminating correct information and shaping a positive public perception of the Quad.

Walk the Talk

The fast-tracking of initiatives announced at the first in-person Quad Summit in September 2021 will form the core agenda of the Tokyo Summit. The 2021 summit in Washington DC unveiled a new democratic paradigm of addressing global challenges. By matching substance with hype that preceded it, the Summit forged pragmatic and result-oriented cooperation pivoted around countering pandemic through vaccines, combating climate change and setting standards on development of emerging technologies

The Tokyo summit will review progress in signature initiatives such as operationalisation of the Quad Vaccine Initiative under the broader rubric of Indo-Pacific Health Security, Quad Infrastructure Initiative, along with resilient supply chains for semiconductors and clean energy, and setting principles on development of critical and emerging technologies.

In view of the deepening Ukraine crisis and repeated assaults on freedom of navigation, the Tokyo summit is also expected to focus on deepening intra-Quad cooperation in the arena of security. Security cooperation did not figure prominently in the agenda of previous Quad summits, but the Tokyo summit could take the lead to unveil new plans in crucial areas such as maritime domain awareness, space situational capabilities, intelligence sharing, ship repairs, cross servicing and replenishment at sea.

Looking ahead, Quad is set to grow from strength to strength as the grouping enjoys the support of not only the leadership of the four countries, but also their strategic community and intellectual class. To retain its relevance in the conflicted global landscape, the grouping also has to do more in countering traditional and non-traditional security threats faced by the world. Sustaining a rules-based order against unilateralism and hegemonic ambitions will continue to remain the core mission of Quad.

In days to come, the born-again grouping is set to entrench its credentials as a key plank of a mutating world order and a guardian of the rules-based Indo-Pacific region. The collective efforts of the four countries to forge an environment for a secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, that pivots around people-centric initiatives, is set to propel Quad onto a higher trajectory and make it indispensable to an emerging world order.

(Manish Chand is CEO-Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, India and The World magazine and 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.