Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

A giant leap forward for the Quad


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- First Quad summit and its significance

The first-ever Quad summit is an important milestone in the geopolitics of the region. The article highlights its significance.

Significance of the first Quad summit

  • The maiden Quadrilateral Security Dialogue summit of the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. on March 12 was a defining moment in Asian geopolitics.
  • That it was a meeting at the highest political level, occasioned a productive dialogue, and concluded with a substantive joint statement is indicative of its immediate significance.
  • If it leads to tangible action and visible cooperation, it will impact the whole region.

Brief background of the Quad

  • The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 triggered cooperation among the navies and governments of the Quad powers.
  • They sought to forge diplomatic cooperation on regional issues in 2006-08.
  • But gave up mainly because China objected to it and the hostility to China was not yet a potent enough glue.
  • This began to change in 2017 when Beijing’s behaviour turned hostile, climaxing in multiple challenges in 2020.
  • This time, U.S. President Joe Biden moved swiftly to host a virtual summit, drawing immediate response from the other three leaders.

5 highlights of the summit

  • A more sophisticated approach is being invented, with enhanced emphasis by the U.S. on carrying its allies and strategic partners together.
  •  The summit’s outcome, therefore, merits close attention for at least five reasons.

1) Compromise over vision of Indo-Pacific

  • Past debates over diverse, even differing, visions of the Indo-Pacific are over.
  • The joint statement struck a neat compromise:
  • To please the U.S. and Japan, it refers to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, but in the very next sentence it offers an elaboration – “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion” – that amply satisfy India and Australia.

2) Alignment of approach towards China

  • The summit leaders have secured an adequate alignment of their approaches towards China.
  • Senior officials gave sufficient hints on this score, reinforced by phrases such as “security challenges” and “the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas” in the joint statement.
  • Instead of unidimensional antagonism, the Quad members have preferred a smart blend of competition, cooperation and confrontation.

3) Quad’s commitment development and well being of the region

  • The Quad has placed a premium on winning the battle for the hearts and minds of people in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • This explains the special initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every person in need in the region from the western Pacific to eastern Africa.

4) Working groups

  • The establishment of three working groups on vaccine partnership; climate change; and critical and emerging technologies and their new standards, innovation and supply chains is a welcome step.
  • All this should get the four national establishments into serious policy coordination and action mode, creating new capacities.
  • The careful choice of themes reflects a deep understanding of the long-term challenge posed by China and has global implications.

5) Quad working together in future

  • The March 12 summit will not be a one-off.
  • The leaders have agreed to meet in-person later this year, possibly at an international event within the region.
  • Foreign ministers will gather at least once a year; other relevant officials, more often.
  • Thus, will grow the habits of the Quad working together for a common vision and with agreed modalities for cooperation.

How ASEAN and China will react

  • The summit has been watched closely by the ASEAN capitals. A few of them may express cautious welcome.
  • Beijing seems rattled but resigned to the Quad’s new momentum.
  • The Chinese see it in negative terms, targeting New Delhi in particular.

Consider the question “With the first-ever summit, the Quad is moving towards a strong coalition. In light of this, examine the challenges India faces as it deepes its engagement in the grouping.” 


The summit and ‘The Spirit of the Quad’ – the inspired title of the joint statement – represented a giant leap forward. Now is the time to back political commitment with a strong mix of resolve, energy, stamina and the fresh ideas of stakeholders and experts outside of government to fulfil the promise of the Quad.

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