The virtual summit that brought together leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad , last week, contained both broad substance and deep symbolism. Countering any perception that the Quad is merely a “talk-shop”, the outcomes announced by U.S. President Biden and Prime Ministers Modi, Morrison and Suga include a vaccine initiative and joint working groups to cooperate on critical technology as well as climate change. The vaccine initiative comes with an ambitious deadline: a billion vaccines by the end of 2022, made in India with U.S. technology, Japanese funding and Australian distribution networks to reach as many Indo-Pacific countries as possible. The four Quad countries will ensure emissions reduction based on the Paris accord as well as cooperate on technology supply chains, 5G networks, and biotechnology. Mr. Biden, who hosted the summit, managed some powerful atmospherics, by coordinating a joint statement — and a first — called “The Spirit of the Quad”, and a joint article by the four leaders that committed to an open Indo-Pacific “free from coercion”. The leaders are expected to meet later this year, at the G-7 summit. For Mr. Biden, the early push for the Quad engagement is part of his promise that “America is back” in terms of global leadership, reaffirming regional alliances, and taking on the growing challenge from China. For similar reasons, and due to maritime tensions with China, trade and telecommunication issues, Australia and Japan are keen on taking the Quad partnership to deeper levels of cooperation. For India, the new terms of the Quad will mean more strategic support after a tense year at the LAC, as also a boost for its pharmaceutical prowess, opportunities for technology partnerships, and more avenues for regional cooperation on development projects and financing infrastructure, especially in South Asia, where China has taken the lead.
It would be a mistake, however, to portray the Quad summit as a “throwing down of the gauntlet” to China. The new U.S. government is still exploring its own relationship with China; its first engagement with Beijing’s top diplomats is in Alaska, on Thursday. For Japan and Australia, China remains the biggest trading partner, a relationship that will only grow once the 15-nation RCEP kicks in. India, given its own ties with China, sensitivities over ongoing LAC disengagement talks, and its other multilateral commitments at the BRICS and SCO groupings, also displayed caution in the Quad engagement, keeping the conversation focused on what Mr. Modi called making the Quad a “force for global good” rather than pushing plans for a militaristic coalition. In that sense, the Quad’s new “summit avatar” has given India yet another string to its bow, broadening India’s interests on its geopolitical horizons even further.