April 21, 2021 10:32:04 pm
The Japan-US Summit on April 16 was President Joe Biden’s first formal diplomatic venture. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan was the first guest — he is scheduled to visit India next. Despite the US’s engagements in other parts of the world, including Russia, Europe, Afghanistan, it is China and the Indo-Pacific that is likely to preoccupy them the most.
Japanese prime ministers seek to build a rapport with new US Presidents right from the beginning of their tenure. Relations between the seasoned Shinzo Abe and the unpredictable Donald Trump were tense. PM Suga faces an election in six months and it was necessary for him to build an early rapport with Biden. The summit achieved more than what Suga, perhaps, had expected.
Suga was not accompanied by any ministers, nor his wife, given the pandemic conditions. On the US side, the leading lights of the administration were in attendance at the delegation-level meeting. Initially, Biden and Suga had a short meeting over hamburgers. Two rounds of discussions followed besides a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. As the summit wound up, Biden was heard saying: “Yoshi, you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of me in the future.”
The Japanese PM received support in as many areas as he desired. It was clear that the two countries would contest China, not needlessly confront it, and cooperate when required. The red lines were drawn around Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands. Chinese activity in the East China and South China Seas was staked out. Biden committed himself to the Indo-Pacific, again, as he had done at the Quad Summit. Suga was more specific. While mentioning Indo-Pacific, he included ASEAN, Australia and India, but not ROK as important linchpins. Commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific was restated.
For Japan, North Korea was an important concern where it received support. Biden backed the holding of the Tokyo Olympics, which was in some doubt. Suga was reassured that the US support to Japan under the defence treaty would continue and appropriate adjustments would be made to the current deployment of US forces in Japan to smoothen the wrinkles.
Both emphasised multilateralism and the rule of law while exercising joint leadership to build a resilient global community as part of the new “Japan-U.S. Joint Leaders statement: Global Partnership for a New Era”. Japan and the US are clearly the core of the Quad and are refocusing attention on what they do and ought to do together with nuanced changes in partnership. For instance, for the preparatory 2+2 meeting, US secretaries travelled to Tokyo for the first time in seven years. Japan will continue to bolster its defence capacity, buying more US equipment and assume a greater regional role, while the US is more outspoken about its alliance responsibilities. In this, the provocations of China and its disregard for rules were called out. Concerns regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang were brought out clearly.
In the joint statement, they set out a new Competitive and Resilience (CoRe) partnership, which was alluded to at the Quad Summit and now given bilateral teeth. This could benefit other partners. India has much to seek through by associating with these new initiatives.
A wider public health partnership for future pandemics including strengthening the WHO is envisaged. Joint investment in innovative technologies including 5G, semiconductors, AI and quantum computing was discussed and the two countries committed $4.5 billion to the Beyond 5G initiative. This will enhance global ICT standards. Importantly for India, a Global Digital Connectivity Partnership to include third-country partners for secure connectivity and cybersecurity is being created. The protection of critical technologies and sensitive supply chains could aid a rare earth and EV battery initiative.
The Quad Vaccine Initiative with manufacturing in India remains a core health security effort. The new partnership will provide health security financing, regional response capacity, and triggers for rapid response. Collaboration between medical research institutions and resilient medical supply chains are envisaged, in which India should seek to be a partner, to improve preparedness for future crises.
Suga will join Biden’s aggressive climate agenda. He will participate in the Climate Leaders summit on April 22, where they will engage, not confront China. Suga said: “We agreed on the necessity for each of us to engage in frank dialogue with China. For the climate agenda, they agreed to ‘support innovation, development, and deployment of such clean-energy technologies as renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, grid modernisation, energy storage including batteries and long-duration storage technologies, smart grid, hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation and storage/carbon recycling, industrial decarbonisation and advanced nuclear power.” These could be manufactured in India as part of a Quad collaboration.
The transition of Quad from a security dialogue to multifaceted cooperation will derive further strength from the US-Japan Summit and its wide agenda. India will do well to join this initiative either through triangular efforts with Japan and the US or as part of the Quad. Important opportunities through complementarities are emerging for India to grasp.
The writer, a former Indian ambassador to Indonesia, is India’s ambassador to Germany
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