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.
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.
This is a direct alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
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.
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”.