For something: On the Quad

It remains a group of friends who share many things, but not a common enemy

Updated - February 14, 2022 12:42 am IST

Published - February 14, 2022 12:20 am IST

The Quad Ministerial meeting in Melbourne, meant to set the stage for a meeting by the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. later this year in Tokyo, ended with outcomes that showcased its “positive agenda” in the Indo-Pacific region. From plans to deliver more than a billion vaccine doses — India-made with U.S. funding and distributed through Japanese and Australian networks — and donate another 1.3 billion doses around the world; to prepare for an Indo-Pacific Clean Energy Supply Chain Forum to tackle climate change; to further a “Quad vision” for technology governances and safe and transparent 5G systems, and to launch humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, the Quad is, in the words of the joint statement issued, “more effective in delivering practical support to the region”. Despite being the only one of the Quad partners that deals with hostile land-neighbours, India was also able to insert a reference to fighting “cross-border” terrorism, and condemnation of the 26/11 attack and Pathankot attacks. The bonhomie between the Ministers shows a growing level of comfort with the principles behind the grouping of democratic countries, to support regional countries’ efforts to advance a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. That Quad members have thus far avoided institutionalising their grouping, and that they have not “militarised” it, is to their credit. In addition, despite Beijing’s sharp criticism of the grouping, Quad members chose not to name China directly as the joint statement spoke of ensuring a rules-based order and respect for sovereignty and building a region “free from coercion”.

However, while the grouping is strong on all these precepts, there are obvious differences in the practice of their vision for the Indo-Pacific region and the world in general. The situation in Myanmar was mentioned, but External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made it clear that while India supports a restoration of democracy, it does not support western “national” sanctions. The meeting took place in the shadow of the growing Russia-NATO tensions over Ukraine, but it seemed evident that Mr. Jaishankar did not share U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s assessment of an imminent “invasion”. New Delhi chose not to join the decision by the U.S., Japan and Australia to tell their citizens to evacuate immediately from Ukraine; nor was any mention of the situation allowed into the joint statement. Mr. Jaishankar’s strong tone the next day at a press conference (dominated by questions on Russia), on China’s amassing of troops at the border with India was also a subtle reminder to Quad partners that while they may have similar concerns and share many core values, they do not have an identical world view, and the Quad remains very much a grouping that is “for something, not against somebody”.

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