New friends: first Quad summit
It is a matter of perspective. While the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, correctly surmised that the first summit of the members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was a “force of global good”, China, tellingly, denounced the engagement as an attempt by nations, presumably India, the United States of America, Australia and Japan, to form cliques. Beijing’s allegation against Quad members of ganging up is bound to sound rich given that Quad’s genesis lies in the unprecedented show of aggression by China, especially in the Indo-Pacific stretch. Little wonder then that the summit’s joint statement, even though it did not name China, pointedly referred to reservations with coercion in the region. While the lengthening shadow of China may be a common worry within the Quad, the alliance, refreshingly, has chosen not to be limited in its focus. This was evident from the fact that one of the first plans — the Quad Vaccine Partnership — discussed during the summit concerned the pooling of financial resources, manufacturing capacities and logistics to expedite the reach of Covid-19 vaccines across the Indo-Pacific. This would undoubtedly earn the goodwill of nations in this stretch and, possibly, draw other multilateral blocs towards the Quad. If this were to happen, not only would it signal a welcome shift against insularity and protectionism but the emerging solidarities in the Indo-Pacific — the new theatre of conflict — would also act as a much-needed counterweight against a predatory China.
One way of weakening the Quad would be to drive a wedge among the members. China, apparently, is attempting this already: the Global Times, it enjoys the patronage of the Chinese State, is of the view that India’s Quad membership implies that it has become a ‘negative asset’ in such other fora like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. New Delhi must not lose sleep over this. What India needs to do is achieve harmony between its traditional foreign policy pivots — non-alignment, for instance — and a supple strategic vision that takes into account the changing global reality. This is a fine balance but it must be attained. Only that will enable New Delhi to chart the unpredictable, troubled waters of international diplomacy without being cornered for its proximity to any particular country or platform. The Quad is both an opportunity and also a test for Indian diplomacy. Imagination, instead of ideological prerogatives, must be its guide.