Quad leaders push for ‘free’ Indo-Pacific, climate change & Countering COVID-19

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admin November 9, 2021
Updated 2021/11/09 at 11:12 AM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States, where he will also address the United Nations General Assembly, is highlighted by his attendance at the first-ever in-person summit of the four leaders of the Quadrilateral Framework (Quad) in the Indo-Pacific on Friday in Washington.

In March, US Vice President Joe Biden held a virtual Quad summit with Mr. Modi, Scott Morrison, and Yoshihide Suga, the Australian and Japanese equivalents. And he has been eager to have a physical meeting as soon as possible, dismissing Tokyo’s reluctance to send Mr. Suga, who has announced his resignation.

Experts believe this demonstrates the US’ desire to demonstrate its “America is back” plan with an aggressive Indo-Pacific policy, even as it faces criticism for the way in which it exited Afghanistan. There has also been some surprise over the emergence last week of the new trilateral, the Australia-United Kingdom-United States AUKUS Indo-Pacific grouping, which has the potential to overshadow the Quad’s geo-strategic aspects, with questions raised about whether the Quad will become “Quad-lite,” dealing primarily with global social issues such as climate change, COVID-19 vaccines, and supply chain resilience, while the US alluded to the Quad’s geo-strategy.

Above all, the Quad Summit is intended to portray the four nations as members of a stronger coalition of “democratic polities, market economies, and pluralistic cultures,” as the grouping was referred to in a recent address by the External Affairs Minister.

While the first iteration of the Quad grouping, formed in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2005-2009, focused on friendly maritime exercises and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief), its reprise in 2017 has focused much more on the threat to the Indo-Pacific maritime sphere, primarily from unilateral actions by China on the South China Sea and other disputes. The leaders pledged to support a “free, open rules-based system, anchored in international law, to enhance security and prosperity and fight threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond” in a joint statement released in March, dubbed the “Spirit of the Quad.” Given the recent rise in tensions between China and each of the Quad nations, as well as the United States’ rising rhetoric on Taiwan, there is likely to be harsh words on this issue.

Connectivity and infrastructure projects: The 2017 Quad meetings of officials came after the Belt and Road Initiative, and the grouping was seen as an economic challenge to China, as Quad statements promised joint connectivity projects and transparent infrastructure funding for countries in the region that were at risk of becoming “debt-trapped.” The Trump administration also unveiled the “Blue Dot Network” (BDN), a system for grading project sustainability. However, given that joint projects such as the India-Japan MoU for the East Container Terminal in Colombo port were scrapped by Sri Lanka, disagreements between Australia and Japan over India’s participation in the Asian economic trade agreement RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), and the change in US government, BDN plans are moving more slowly.

Countering COVID-19: At the March summit, the Quad countries announced plans for a “vaccine initiative,” which included the production in India of a billion Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines with US funding and technology, and distribution in the Indo-Pacific countries that needed it the most by the end of 2022 by Australia and Japan. This was primarily a charitable initiative, conceived when all four Quad nations seemed to be confident in their ability to manage the pandemic crisis in their own countries. While the initiative’s objectives are still on track, the second and third waves in India, the United States, and Australia have shifted the emphasis somewhat, and India’s refusal to sign indemnification waivers for US-made vaccines has caused some friction with manufacturers like J&J. In April, the Modi administration was forced to suspend its commercial and donation (vaccine Maitri) vaccine export programmes, which it has yet to reinstate. The Quad Summit this week will be keenly monitored for potential support of the India-South Africa proposal for patent exemptions for COVID-19 medicines and vaccines at the World Trade Organization.

Critical technologies and resilient supply chains: The Quad also established a working group on critical and emerging technologies to “promote collaboration on international standards and creative future technologies.” This will include discussions on achieving consensus on the types of 5G networks the Quad countries will promote, data security and free flow, and rebuilding supply chains that were shattered by the Coronavirus pandemic, as countries withheld critical material needed by others due to shortages within their own borders. The outcomes of the working group meetings will be presented at the summit, though it is unclear how much India, which dropped out of the Japan-led “Osaka track” on data flows due to disagreements with the US over the ban on Mastercard and other international banking organisations for violating local data storage rules, will sign on.

Climate change is another of the “working group” silos established in March that the leaders will address. John Kerry, the United States’ special envoy for climate change, has been on a whirlwind trip across the globe, including India, in an attempt to boost different nations’ climate aspirations. Before the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 26, in Glasgow in November, the United States will be looking for some promises to come out of the Quad meet. The leaders are expected to discuss specific goals for inclusion in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), such as NetZero carbon emission plans, deadlines to phase out coal use in thermal power plants, and renewable energy goals, such as India’s plans to build 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. It’s also unclear if the US would join the International Solar Alliance (ISA), which was founded by India and France and approved by Japan and Australia at the summit.

 

Source: The Hindu

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