Opinion

The litmus test for Quad’s success

Rajesh Mehta/Sandesh Dholakia | Updated on October 07, 2021

From India’s standpoint, the initiatives on technical assistance, supply chain and sustainability hold promise

The first-ever in-person Quad summit involving Biden, Modi, Morrison and Suga at the White House is believed to be a defining moment, more so for India on multiple fronts — geo-politics, diplomacy, military, etc. However, it’s the economic partnership among the four nations which will actually decide where Quad will stand a few years down the line.

Apart from an alliance to act as a counter force to China’s rising might in the Indo-Pacific region, the September summit has envisaged cooperation in some of key areas like vaccination, critical technology, education, infrastructure, sustainability, and space.

India — the manufacturing hub of vaccines — stands in the limelight as it has promised to resume vaccine exports from October onwards. Through $3.3 billion in the Covid-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan programme, Japan will continue to help regional countries to procure vaccines. Additionally, through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, it will work with India to invest approximately $100 million in key healthcare areas related to Covid, including vaccine and treatment drugs. As a humanitarian step almost every country in the world, bilaterally or multilaterally, has tried to address the vaccine issue and hence it cannot serve as a defining pillar for Quad.

Excessive reliance on imports and unavailability of streamlined semiconductor supply chains have been creating havoc in the Indian business landscape. Maruti Suzuki, for instance, is expected to cut its production by 40 per cent because of semiconductor shortage.

The Quad’s initiative to develop end-to-end self-reliant supply chains is a major relief for India. Steps were also taken to develop advanced biotechnologies, including synthetic biology, genome sequencing, and bio-manufacturing.

Undersea cables

Ninety-five per cent of global data passes through undersea cables. China has further ramped up efforts to lay these cables; the country already owns almost a quarter of the world’s undersea cables. With cyber-security threats in India increasing — for instance, the massive power grid failure in Maharashtra, the roots of which have been traced to China — it can unequivocally be concluded that whosoever owns data today will be king tomorrow.

The US and Japan account for almost 70 per cent of the global undersea cable construction and with Australia’s specialisation in developing regulatory frameworks, India is rapidly emerging as the landing point for such cables.

A World Bank study finds that every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration boosts GDP growth by 1.38 per cent in developing countries. Being the only developing nation in the alliance, India is in a position to leverage the expertise of its partners for fostering domestic growth.

Quad partners will jointly facilitate enabling environments for 5G diversification, including efforts related to testing and test facilities.

In the September meet, Quad also launched a fellowship programme to enable exceptional American, Japanese, Australian and Indian students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to study in the US.

The fellowship will sponsor 100 students a year — 25 from each country. The founding sponsors of the fellowship programme include Accenture, Blackstone, Boeing, Google, Mastercard, and Western Digital.

The Quad partners have also started dialogues to exchange Earth observation satellite data, analyses on climate-change risks and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources. Sharing these data will help the countries to better adapt to climate change and build capacity in other Indo-Pacific states that are at grave climate risk, in coordination with the Quad Climate Working group.

Multiple steps like development of green sea ports, clean hydrogen partnership and decarbonising supply chains have also been taken on the sustainability front. Not only is India a major beneficiary through its exposure to such areas, but it will also get the much needed technical assistance for getting the work executed on ground.

Just after the conclusion of the Quad summit, China formally bid to become a part of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — the successor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — the trade pact negotiated and promoted by the Obama administration in large part to counter China’s growing economic dominance in Asia.

Quad’s vision for Indo-Pacific, especially from India’s point of view, is quite optimistic but a lot relies on what the US actually does. Recent events like establishment of AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US for the Indo-Pacific region) when Quad is already in existence puts a big question mark on US’s true intentions. A threat to the emerging US-India relationship looms large as potential sanctions might come against India for procuring Russian military equipment under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). If that happens, Quad could fall like a house of cards.

Rajesh is a consultant and columnist, and Sandesh is the founder and CEO of Case Ace

Published on October 07, 2021

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