Longview: What to Make of the First Quad Summit?

In a historic first Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) virtual summit on March 12, leaders of the US, India, Japan, and Australia emphasized their commitment to work closely together and “strive” for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, supports rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity. Moreover, in a joint statement, entitled, “The Spirit of the Quad,” it read out that the Quad “looks forward to the future” and “it seeks to uphold peace and prosperity and strengthen democratic resilience, based on universal values.”

The joint statement suggested that the region’s four major powers will not sit back and watch China challenge the very foundation of the established rules-based order

The joint statement suggested that the region’s four major powers will not sit back and watch China challenge the very foundation of the established rules-based order. Accordingly, the first two paragraphs of the statement emphasized this. The first paragraph stated that, “We have convened to reaffirm our commitment to quadrilateral cooperation between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. We bring diverse perspectives and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific. We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.” The second underscored that, “Together, we commit to promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity.”

The four leaders also discussed a wide variety of regional security issues that included the denuclearisation of North Korea, the military coup in Myanmar, the India-China border issue, and the South China Sea and the East China Sea stability. Moreover, the virtual summit also highlighted the multi-dimensional capabilities of the Quad to shape and secure the Indo-Pacific region. The objectives of the Quad are seen to remain flexible and functional. This means that the multilateral arrangement is steadfast in going beyond traditional security issues and encompassing other areas such as the economic and health impacts of Covid-19, climate change, issues in cybersecurity, critical technologies, counterterrorism, infrastructure development, humanitarian assistance, and disaster risk reduction. Moreover, Quad members have shown their commitment to work with important partners such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other key European countries.

Concerning the continuous crippling effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the four countries have emphasized the development of a Quad vaccine expert working group. US President Biden described this effort as “an ambitious new joint partnership that is going to boost vaccine manufacturing … to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific.” Addressing a press conference after the summit, Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla said that India will now be manufacturing and distributing the US vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region. This comes at a time when China and India are locked in a competition labeled as vaccine diplomacy.

Based on the four leaders’ discussions, it can be expected that vaccines developed in the US will be manufactured in India, financed by Japan and the US, and supported by Australia through logistics mechanisms for the Indo-Pacific, including island states. This effort by the four-country arrangement to significantly boost India’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities happens to intersect with the situation where the Biden Administration and leaders of other wealthy countries are faced with calls from France and other international health advocacy groups to donate a certain percentage of the vaccines to poor countries. Along with the vaccine expert working group, the joint statement also mentioned establishing a climate working group and a critical and emerging technology working group. Going beyond the joint statement premises, another key focus for the Quad members should be a shift towards rare earth. Rare earths comprise of 17 minerals that are arduous to obtain in most parts of the world. These rare earths are used in cars, airplanes, and, most importantly, defense equipment. China has, over time, been able to acquire a global monopoly of rare earths. At a certain point in time, China produced up to 90 percent of the rare earths the world needs; however, it has come down to 60 percent. Looking at it statistically, in 2018, China had 36.7 percent of the world’s rare earth deposits, Brazil has 22 percent, Vietnam 18 percent, Russia 10 percent and India had 5.8 percent. The rest of the world (including the US and Japan) had 10.9 per cent of rare earths. Moreover, with countries like the US relying heavily on China for their rare earth needs, it is about time for Quad members to realize the strategic relevance of pooling efforts to balance China’s rare earths domination.

Furthermore, to add a cherry on top of the successful virtual summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga penned a joint opinion piece in The Washington Post asserting that all countries should be able to make their own political choices, free from coercion. To conclude the piece, the four leaders wrote that, “We know we can provide for the safety and prosperity of our people at home by confronting global crises together, with purpose and resolve. We summon from tragedy the strength and resilience to unify and overcome. And we recommit ourselves, once again, to an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, secure and prosperous.”

The Editor: Don McLain Gill

Don McLain Gill is an international affairs researcher and author based in the Philippines. He is a Fellow at the International Development and Security Cooperation (IDSC) and is currently completing his master’s in International Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He has written extensively on issues of regional geopolitics and Indian foreign policy.

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