Quad coordination crucial for tackling global issues like securing free and open Indo-Pacific: Experts

PTI Washington | Updated on September 18, 2021

Say the presumed agenda demonstrates that the relationship is evolving from one focused on bilateral irritants to global issues

The first-ever in-person Quad summit involving Australia, India, Japan and the US will be held at the White House next week. Their coordination is crucial for tackling various global issues, including securing a free and open Indo-Pacific, experts believe.

Asserting that America’s Indo-Pacific pivot is in full swing under the Joe Biden administration, they feel that the summit is a natural culmination of a process restarted in 2017.

In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence.

Also see: US' Indo-Pacific pivot in full swing under the Biden administration, say experts

President Biden will host the Quad Leaders’ summit on September 24 that will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Japanese Premier Yoshihide Suga, signalling Washington’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region in the face of China’s growing economic and military clout.

Deepen cooperation

They will discuss promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, address the climate crisis, deepen their ties, and advance practical cooperation on areas like combatting Covid-19. Talks about partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace would also be held.

Mukesh Aghi, President of US India Strategic and Partnership Forum, said, “The Quad Summit will leverage the economic potential of trade while strengthening supply chains and enhancing vaccine diplomacy to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change — the two greatest challenges of our time.”

The rapid pace with which the Quad has moved from idea to inception to inspiration is a testament to the shared vision and priorities of all four democracies, he added.

“Particularly within the group, we see India and the US emerge as strong partners, who realise that apart from advancing strategic interests, there is a need to mitigate regional threats and secure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Aghi said.

Elevation of partnership

According to Dhruva Jaishankar, the executive director of think-tank Observer Research Foundation America, this summit is a natural culmination of a process that was restarted in 2017, which witnessed a gradual elevation of a partnership among four like-minded and capable democratic powers in the Indo-Pacific.

“Now the challenge is to implement various joint action plans, starting with vaccine production and distribution but also extending to technological collaboration, climate change, maritime security, infrastructure financing, secure supply chains, and possibly even educational initiatives,” Jaishankar said.

Rick Rossow, the Wadhwani Chair in the US India Policy Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think-tank, said, “The pivot to Indo-Pacific is certainly in full swing under the Biden Administration. The Quad’s prominence has further increased, leading up to the first-ever in-person leaders’ summit in Washington on September 24.”

China’s rising military presence

The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China’s increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.

Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

In the East China Sea, China has territorial disputes with Japan.

Also see: China enters Taiwan air defence zone

The US has been periodically sending its naval and air patrols through the South China Sea, challenging China’s claims of sovereignty over the area and also asserting the freedom of navigation.

Noting that China’s steps to destabilise Asian security have accelerated during the Covid pandemic, Rossow said the need for like-minded nations to work to reinforce global norms is crucial.

“It will be fascinating to get hints as to how the new Australia-UK-US security partnership will interact with the Quad. I also hope the Quad leaders can expand existing working groups to include cooperation on regional infrastructure,” he said.

According to Rossow, for India, China’s advances in investing in strategic infrastructures, such as ports along the Indian Ocean are among the most pressing security threats.

“Cooperation among Quad members is crucial,” he stressed.

Global security

Anish Goel, a senior fellow at New America and former White House senior director for South Asia, said the White House is making good on its commitment to elevate the status of the Quad and the meeting comes at a critical time.

All four countries are currently facing numerous security crises, such as North Korea, Afghanistan, and China, that are threatening regional and even global stability, he said.

“Strong, coordinated leadership on these issues will help mitigate any potential calamities. Additionally, their joint leadership will be welcome on global issues such as Covid-19 and climate change which are also both at critical stages right now,” Goel said.

AUKUS alliance

The US, Britain and Australia on Wednesday announced the AUKUS alliance for the Indo-Pacific to take on the threats of the 21st century and allow for greater sharing of defence capabilities, including help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, in a bid to counter China’s growing power in the strategically vital region. Goel noted that while the attention has been on nuclear submarine technology cooperation, AUKUS is much more than a defence trading alliance, he said.

“It is another mechanism to help ensure global stability and security. With these back-to-back developments, these five countries, led by the United States, are making a strong case that robust, secure democracies can work together for the global good,” Goel said.

The bilateral summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Joe Biden is also an important opportunity to collaborate on regional issues that will have a big impact on both countries.

“The presumed agenda for the summit, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the Indo-Pacific region, demonstrates that the relationship is now evolving from one that focused on bilateral irritants to global issues.

“These are signs of a strong, mature partnership. Biden and Modi both have an interest in building on this foundation and hopefully, the summit will demonstrate that,” Goel said.

Published on September 18, 2021

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