Less than a month after the third meeting of the foreign ministers of Quad nations, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed that the leaders of the four countries will meet soon. This will be the first summit-level meeting of the Quad countries – India, US, Japan and Australia.
Even though no date has been indicated by any of the four countries just yet, it is clear that preparations for organising this gathering are underway. In response to a question whether US President Joe Biden had initiated this move and Australia has been invited, Morrison said, “This is one of the first things President Biden and I discussed when we spoke some weeks ago… the Quad is very central, I think, to our ongoing arrangements. The President and indeed, the Secretary of State, have made clear that their re-engagement in multilateral organisations, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, is key to building stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific. We share that view. We encourage that view. And we strongly welcome that view. And so I am looking forward to that first gathering of the Quad leaders.”
The summit meeting would be a big leap forward for the four countries. The idea of the Quad first came about in 2007 but it was only a decade later that it really took off. In November 2017, on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit and East Asia Summit in Manila, diplomats of the four countries revived the idea of a quadrilateral. Even then, India continued to remain hesitant and take baby steps till 2019 when it agreed on a foreign minister-level meeting in New York.
This was because China had reacted sharply to the idea and the Chinese foreign ministry had warned that the Quad should not target a third party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the Shangri La dialogue in June 2018 and addressed the issue. He said, “India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country.”
However, last year at the height of the tension with China at the LAC, it was India that had sought the second ministerial meeting. The foreign ministers of the four countries met in Tokyo in October 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic raged on. Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew down to attend the Quad meeting just weeks before the US Presidential election. He was also the most outspoken about the Quad taking on China or as the Trump administration said, the Communist Party of China. Pompeo said, “As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption and coercion.”
Meanwhile, even as the details of the summit-level meeting are being worked out, senior government sources have confirmed to News18.com that US Defence Secretary’s visit to India is cleared in principle for later this month. Llyod Austin’s will be the first in-person visit by a Biden administration official to India. The timing of the visit is significant as the Quad nations build on the partnership to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
Even though Quad is far from being formalised currently, it has gained momentum. The Australian PM clarified that even as the four leaders meet, “it’s not going to be a big bureaucracy with a big secretariat and those sorts of things”. This comes even as US has been keen on formalising the alliance.
There are countries like South Korea that have expressed the desire to be made part of an expanded Quad. The UK’s integrated review of foreign, defence, security and development policy is likely to have an Indo-Pacific tilt as well. When the question of UK’s interest in an expanded Quad was put, UK High Commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, said that the institutional arrangement depends on the Quad (members) whether they want to expand it or not. He, however, added that UK is in touch with all four Quad nations and their interest is largely on closer cooperation in the field of technology, especially 5G.
The Indo-Pacific has emerged as the current region of geopolitics with the China’s territorial and maritime ambitions on display. It is under these circumstances that Quad might be a potential counter to China but not till interests of the four nations are aligned and that could be a tall order.