September 26, 2021 4:28:33 am
In a clear signal to Beijing and its growing belligerence in the Indo-Pacific region, leaders of the Quad grouping said Saturday that they “recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond”.
The reference to “undaunted by coercion” is the most direct articulation against China from the leaders of four “like-minded democracies” who met for the first-ever in-person Quad summit at the White House.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japan’s outgoing PM Yoshihide Suga met for about two hours and pledged to ensure a “free and open” Indo-Pacific which is also “inclusive and resilient” at a time when China’s assertiveness is growing in the region.
Options for region
The Quad initiatives are to counter China’s assertion, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. To provide an alternative to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Quad has decided on an infrastructure coordination group.
And for the first time, the Quad leaders discussed Afghanistan and agreed to deepen their cooperation in South Asia — an important development since Beijing has been expanding its strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood.
Their joint statement said: “In South Asia, we will closely coordinate our diplomatic, economic, and human-rights policies towards Afghanistan and will deepen our counter-terrorism and humanitarian cooperation in the months ahead in accordance with UNSCR 2593.”
“We denounce the use of terrorist proxies and emphasised the importance of denying any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to launch or plan terror attacks, including cross-border attacks,” they said, in a thinly-veiled reference to Pakistan.
“We stand together in support of Afghan nationals, and call on the Taliban to provide safe passage to any person wishing to leave Afghanistan, and to ensure that the human rights of all Afghans, including women, children, and minorities are respected,” the joint statement said.
The Quad leaders also signed on a new statement called the “Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use” — one of the important principles stated: “Technology should not be misused or abused for malicious activities such as authoritarian surveillance and oppression, for terrorist purposes, or to disseminate disinformation.”
This is aimed at countries like China, but assumes significance given the debate in India over the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware for surveillance.
Building on the virtual summit in March this year, the Quad leaders agreed to cooperate in a range of fields — vaccines, infrastructure, semiconductor supply chain, cyber security, satellite data, and develop expertise in STEM. And, in each of these fields, Beijing has been perceived to be aggressively pushing its agenda, and the Quad, with its soft power, is seeking to provide alternatives to the world.
- The Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group: “A senior Quad infrastructure coordination group will meet regularly to share assessments of regional infrastructure needs and coordinate respective approaches to deliver transparent, high-standards infrastructure. The group will also coordinate technical assistance and capacity-building efforts, including with regional partners, to ensure efforts are mutually reinforcing and complementary in meeting the significant infrastructure demand in the Indo-Pacific.
This is a direct alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- Vaccines: As Quad countries, “we have pledged to donate more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses globally, in addition to the doses we have financed through Covax. To date we have collectively delivered nearly 79 million safe and effective vaccine doses to the Indo-Pacific region. Our Vaccine Partnership remains on track to expand manufacturing at Biological E Ltd this fall, so that it can produce at least 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022.”
One of the key takeaways of the first Quad leaders’ summit in March was the formation of the Quad Vaccine Initiative, a vaccine supply chain to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines for India, the US, Japan and Australia. The Biological E Limited was chosen for producing a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
- Semiconductor Supply Chain Initiative: “Quad partners will launch a joint initiative to map capacity, identify vulnerabilities, and bolster supply-chain security for semiconductors and their vital components. This initiative will help ensure Quad partners support a diverse and competitive market that produces the secure critical technologies essential for digital economies globally.”
- Quad Senior Cyber Group: “Leader-level experts will meet regularly to advance work between government and industry on driving continuous improvements in areas including adoption and implementation of shared cyber standards; development of secure software; building workforce and talent; and promoting the scalability and cybersecurity of secure and trustworthy digital infrastructure.”
- Satellite data sharing: “Our four countries will start discussions to exchange Earth observation satellite data and analysis on climate-change risks and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources. Sharing this data will help Quad countries to better adapt to climate change and to build capacity in other Indo-Pacific states that are at grave climate risk, in coordination with the Quad Climate Working group.”
- The Quad Fellowship: “The Fellowship will sponsor 100 students per year — 25 from each Quad country — to pursue masters and doctoral degrees at leading STEM graduate universities in the United States. It will serve as one of the world’s leading graduate fellowships; but uniquely, the Quad Fellowship will focus on STEM and bring together the top minds of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.”
The leaders agreed that they and their Foreign Ministers will meet annually and senior officials will meet regularly.
Addressing the summit, Biden said this is a grouping of “democratic partners who share a worldview and have a common vision for the future” and “coming together to take on key challenges of our age, from Covid to climate to emerging technologies”.
He said: “Our vaccine initiative is on track to produce an additional 1 billion doses of vaccine in India to boost global supply.”
Modi said Quad has decided to “move forward with positive thinking and a positive approach”, and “play the role of a force for global good”.
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