The Quad stands, despite Biden’s comments

Alessandro Ponzetto | March 22nd, 2022

Yesterday, President Biden has singled out India stating that it was the only country acting ‘somewhat shaky’ against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

This is just the latest criticism levied against New Delhi for its conduct, which as we said previously dates even before the start of the war in Ukraine. However, there is so much more to India than this simplistic, and arguably erroneous, view.

While the Biden administration was, for all intents and purposes, wasting everybody’s time by acting as the CCP’s punch bag, there have been two notable events regarding the Quad which have gone mostly unnoticed, both involving India:

·         On March 19, there was a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Kishida and Indian President Modi;

·         On March 21, there was a video call between President Modi and Australian Prime Minister Morrison

Both these events give glimpses into how the Quad, and especially India, is moving forward, despite the arguably wrong priorities from the current US administration. We will start with the Joint Statement released after the meeting between Kishida and Modi, which can be seen here. We will however quote only the most meaningful parts, starting from the first article of the Joint Statement that sets the stage for the rest:

1. Reaffirming the Special Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan, the Prime Ministers concurred that the shared values and principles enunciated in the India-Japan Vision Statement issued in 2018 are particularly relevant in the present context, where global cooperation is required more than ever to address challenges that have become more acute. They highlighted their commitment to working in tandem towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous world, based on a rules-based order that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, and emphasized the need for all countries to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law without resorting to threat or use of force or any attempt to unilaterally change status quo. In this regard, they reaffirmed their common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, free from coercion. They shared the view that the economies of both countries in such a world would be powered by robust bilateral investment and trade flows through diversified, resilient, transparent, open, secure and predictable global supply chains that provide for economic security and prosperity of their peoples. Reaffirming that the two countries would continue to work together to realize these shared objectives, they resolved to further advance the India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership.

Some criticised India for not openly condemning Russia, which is wrong and short sighted. Ultimately, this article is designed in such a way to also cover what has been happening in Ukraine, although in this, the two countries have a differing opinion. Yesterday, the Russians halted peace talks with the Japanese, citing the sanctions.

With this said, the issue of the Northern Territories/Southern Kurils is still covered by this article, albeit it may have been a positive externality rather than the intended consequence. After all, the real target of this specific article is Beijing, hence the reference to the free and open Indo-Pacific, free from coercion.

Of course this goes beyond Beijing, or the peaceful resolution of disputes, as the two countries have also agreed on giving an economic twist to the Quad, as we will see later. Still, what matters most in the current environment is the geopolitical side, especially in light of Beijing’s criticism of ‘bloc-based division’.

When it comes to geopolitics, the key developments are the following:

·         Cooperation between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Indian Armed Forces, both on an operational and on a technological level (art 2)

·         Strong support to ASEAN and the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)” which upholds the principles such as the rule of law, openness, freedom, transparency and inclusiveness (art 4)

·         Freedom of navigation, per the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) (art 5). This is obviously in reference to China’s efforts, specifically in the South China Sea, which is mentioned. Quote: They emphasized the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint. They further called for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the early conclusion of a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, especially UNCLOS, without prejudice to the rights and interests of all nations including those not party to these negotiations.

This is especially significant due to the following news: according to the US Indo-Pacific commander, Admiral John C. Aquilino, the PLA has fully militarised at least three islands in the South China Sea, specifically in the Spratly Islands.

·         Other areas of concern (North Korea, art 6; Afghanistan, art 7; terrorism, art 8; Myanmar, art 9). Myanmar will become increasingly important, especially as the US formally determined that Myanmar’s army committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its violence against the Rohingya minority

·         Specific mention of the war in Ukraine, with a wording highlighting the delicate balance between all the various interests India has (art 10)

·         Mention of the UN Security Council (art 11), which will be quoted in full due to its implications:

Prime Minister Kishida congratulated India on its successful Presidency of the UN Security Council in August 2021 including Prime Minister Modi’s chairmanship of the UNSC at the High-Level Open Debate on “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Maritime Security”. Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s support for Japan’s candidature for a non-permanent seat at the UNSC for the term 2023-2024, to which Prime Minister Kishida expressed his appreciation. They concurred to continue to work closely on matters in the UNSC during the respective tenures of India and Japan. The Prime Ministers resolved to continue to work closely together for an early reform of the UNSC to reflect the contemporary realities of the 21st century. They expressed their determination to accelerate its process, including through the commencement of text-based negotiations in the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) with an overall objective to achieve concrete outcomes in a fixed timeframe. They reaffirmed their shared recognition that India and Japan are legitimate/deserving candidates for permanent membership in an expanded UNSC.

Having Japan and India support each other when it comes to this key organ of the UN should not come as a surprise, as they have common concerns and interests. Still, both are suggesting a monumental event: the complete reform of the UNSC, including the limiting the veto power, and its expansion. As of now, the details are scant but, if successful, it could radically change how the UN functions.

·         Concerns regarding nuclear proliferation (art 12).

When it comes to the economic side, the most important is article 16, which details several actions to boost the bilateral economic relationship:

·         A ¥5 trillion ($42 billion) of public and private investment for the next five years, to find projects of mutual interest

·         […] Work together towards reliable, resilient, efficient supply chains in the region and welcomed the progress in this regard in areas such as sharing of best practices. This is important, because it would provide a much needed economic side to the Quad, while at the same time improving the economic relations between key countries in the region

·         Renewal of their currency swap, worth $75 billion

·         Reworks of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA),  in order to enhance the bilateral trade

Following articles mention other areas where Tokyo and New Delhi improved ties, like digital technologies (art 17), rail infrastructure (art 18), and common projects in other countries such as Bangladesh and ASEAN (art 19).

On March 21, President Modi had a conversation with Australian Prime Minister Morrison, another member of the Quad. Citing the Indian Ministry of External Affairs:

Both the leaders expressed satisfaction at the progress made under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established during the 1st Virtual Summit in June 2020. Prime Minister Modi expressed his satisfaction at the enhanced scope of the relationship which now covers diverse areas such as trade and investments, defence and security, education and innovation, science and technology, critical minerals, water management, new and renewable energy technology, Covid-19 related research, etc.

What is interesting here is how the call went, specifically with regards to Ukraine. While Morrison cited the issue, he did not criticise Modi’s stance on Russia, while focusing on the effects of the war in the Indo-Pacific. This is arguably the best way to approach India, which sees both Russia and the Quad as valuable relationships.

When it comes to the other issues listed, there are once again deals being made to boost the relationship between New Delhi and Canberra, both defence-wise and economic-wise.

For the former, the crucial aspect is the maritime issue, and the deployment of Indian maritime patrol planes on Australian soil (plus an officer exchange program).

For the latter, there are several deals involving mining projects and the supply of Australian LNG to India and Bangladesh, which are critical for both countries involved. After all, Australia is still looking to reduce its exposure to China, especially after the de facto ban on several Australian imports enacted by Beijing. At the same time, India is looking to continue its growth and rival China as an economic hub, although current events may have hampered its prospects.

Ultimately, both meetings highlight the potential of the Quad, which started as an ad hoc solution to a very specific problem to now evolve into something else, in response to Beijing’s actions. Indeed, given the various improvements between Quad members, it is once again becoming something else, as the economic aspect will be able to stand regardless of what China and the CCP do.

The question is whether the current US administration will decide to change its course of action, especially when it comes to India. I rest in hope that, eventually, they will see the world for what it truly is rather than what they wished it to be.