Foreign Policy Watch: Indo-Pacific and QUAD

Foreign Policy Watch: Indo-Pacific and QUAD

India stays out of ‘Trade Pillar’ of IPEF


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF)

Mains level: Read the attached story

India stayed out of the joint declaration on the trade pillar of the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) ministerial meet in Los Angeles, with Union Commerce Minister citing concerns over possible discrimination against developing economies.

Why did India opt out of the trade pillar?

  • One of the reasons for staying out of the trade pillar was that the contours of the framework had not emerged yet.
  • This is particularly about the kind of commitment each country would have to make on “environment, labour, digital trade and public procurement”.
  • India’s decision also mirrors the decision to walk out after seven years of negotiations from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

What is IPEF?

  • It is a US-led framework for participating countries to solidify their relationships and engage in crucial economic and trade matters that concern the region, such as building resilient supply chains battered by the pandemic.
  • It is not a free trade agreement. No market access or tariff reductions have been outlined, although experts say it can pave the way to trade deals.

Members of IPEF

  • The member nations include Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • It includes seven out of 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), all four Quad countries, and New Zealand.
  • Together, these countries account for 40 per cent of the global GDP.

Four pillars of IPEF

  1. Trade that will include digital economy and emerging technology, labor commitments, the environment, trade facilitation, transparency and good regulatory practices, and corporate accountability, standards on cross-border data flow and data localisations;
  2. Supply chain resilience to develop “a first-of-its-kind supply chain agreement” that would anticipate and prevent disruptions;
  3. Clean energy and decarbonization that will include agreements on “high-ambition commitments” such as renewable energy targets, carbon removal purchasing commitments, energy efficiency standards, and new measures to combat methane emissions; and
  4. Tax and anti-corruption, with commitments to enact and enforce “effective tax, anti-money laundering, anti-bribery schemes in line with [American] values”.

How do members participate?  

  • Countries are free to join (or not join) initiatives under any of the stipulated pillars but are expected to adhere to all commitments once they enrol.
  • Negotiations are meant to determine and list the provisions under each pillar and open the floor for countries to choose their ‘commitments’.
  • The framework would be open to other countries willing to join in the future provided they are willing to adhere to the stipulated goals and other necessary obligations.

Reasons for the creation of IPEF

  • US regaining lost credibility: IPEF is also seen as a means by which the US is trying to regain credibility in the region after Trump pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP).
  • Rising Chinese influence: Since then, there has been concern over the absence of a credible US economic and trade strategy to counter China’s economic influence in the region.
  • Competing RCEP: It is also in the 14-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, of which the US is not a member (India withdrew from RCEP).
  • “Pivot to Asia” strategy: US has intensified its engagement with the wider Asia-Pacific region to advance its economic and geopolitical interests.

India’s perception of IPEF

  • PM Modi described the grouping as born from a collective desire to make the Indo-Pacific region an engine of global economic growth.
  • India has called for common and creative solutions to tackle economic challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

What does it have to do with China?  

  • The US strategists believe the US lacks an economic and trade strategy to counter China’s increasing economic influence in the region since 2017.
  • US companies are looking to move away from manufacturing in China.
  • IPEF would therefore offer an advantage to participating countries, allowing them to bring those businesses into their territory.
  • However, it officially excluded Taiwan despite its willingness and economic merit to join.
  • This exhibits Washington’s geopolitical caution.

Reactions from the opponents

  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the initiative as an attempt to further economic decoupling from China.
  • He argued that the initiative, and the US Indo-Pacific strategy as a whole, created divisions and incited confrontation. It is destined to be ultimately be a failure.
  • Taiwan was excluded in order to appease key “fence-sitter” countries such as Indonesia whose governments feared angering China.

Issues with IPEF framework

  • IPEF would neither constitute a ‘free trade agreement,’ nor a forum to discuss tariff reductions or increasing market access.
  • Unlike a traditional trade agreement, the US administration will not need congressional approval to act under the IPEF. Hence its legal status is questionable.
  • This also raises doubts among potential participants about their reluctance to offer significant concessions under the agreement.
  • The volatility of US domestic politics has raised concerns about IPEF’s durability.
  • Unlike traditional FTAs, the IPEF does not subscribe to the single undertaking principle, where all items on the agenda are negotiated simultaneously.

Given the divisive nature of American politics, it is unclear whether the IPEF will survive past the Biden administration.

Way forward

  • The IPEF’s launch in Tokyo was symbolic in nature; bringing the IPEF to fruition will involve significant domestic and international challenges.
  • Without ratification by Congress, the IPEF’s fortunes will remain in limbo.
  • Going forward, the US and the founding partners need to develop the process and criteria by which other countries from the region will be invited to join the negotiations on the IPEF.


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Foreign Policy Watch: Indo-Pacific and QUAD



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: QUAD

Mains level: Read the attached story

New Delhi will host an official-level meeting of the Quad grouping with the US, Japan and Australia next week, the first such “senior officers meeting” (SOM) to be held since the recent escalation of tensions over the Taiwan Strait.

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: A Backgrounder

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, India and Australia that is maintained by semi-regular summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries.

  • The US, Japan, India and Australia came together in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to assist the devastated countries.
  • Later, officials of the four countries met in 2007 “to look at issues of common interest.” During an India visit, then Japanese PM Shinzo Abe unveiled the idea of “the Confluence of the Two Seas” that gave birth to the concept of the Indo-Pacific.
  • A decade later officials of the four countries met in the Philippines in 2017 to talk about an aggressively rising China.
  • In 2019, the foreign ministers of the Quad countries met in Washington for the first time.
  • In November, the Quad nations came together to participate in a two-phase joint military exercise, Malabar 2020, in the Bay of Bengal and in the Arabian Sea.

Now it is increasingly viewed as ‘Asian NATO’.

Focus on Indo-Pacific: For the China-wary world

  • The latest meeting of Quad comes at a time when all four countries have either trade or security disputes with China.
  • Despite not explicitly mentioning China, Quad has been openly supporting a “free and fair” Indo-Pacific which is seen as a clear message to Beijing that it needs to curb its assertive behaviour.
  • The optics were hard to miss when India, the US, Japan and Australia joined their navies for the mega Malabar military exercise late last year, an activity which raised alarm in Beijing.
  • This posturing by the Quad nations sent a strong signal to China.

(1) US vs China

  • USA had followed a policy to contain China’s increasing influence in East Asia. Therefore, USA sees the coalition as an opportunity to regain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • The US has described China, along with Russia, as a strategic rival in its National Security Strategy, National Defence Strategy and the Pentagon’s report on Indo-Pacific Strategy.
  • Both are navigating intense disagreements over trade and human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and the western Xinjiang region, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

(2) Australia vs China

  • Australia is concerned about China’s growing interest in its land, infrastructure and politics, and influence on its universities.
  • Ties have been on a downward spiral since 2018 when Australia, accusing China of meddling in its domestic affairs, passed a new law against foreign interference and espionage.
  • It also barred Huawei from building the country’s 5G mobile network, among the first countries to do so, citing national security.
  •  The atmosphere worsened when  PM Scott Morrison’s government called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

(3) Japan vs. China

  • Tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute have recently increased.
  • China has relentlessly continued attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion in the sea area around the Senkaku Islands.
  • The more salient indicator is the number of Chinese patrols inside the territorial sea of the islands, which Japan sees as an explicit violation of its territorial sovereignty.

(4) India vs. Quad

  • India’s strained relations with China needs no explanation. The year long border dispute is the testimony.
  • The Quad summit is taking place in the backdrop of an ongoing military disengagement between India and China following their months-long border standoff in eastern Ladakh.
  • China is increasing its footprint in our neighborhood through its Belt and Road policy and political coercion following the debt trap are some of the increasing concerns other than economic imbalance.

Opportunities unveiled for India

India’s engagement with the Quad goes back to China’s expanding footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region over the last few years. India can reap some benefits as discussed below:

 (1) Checkmating the Chinese

  • The maritime sphere is wide open to India to undertake coalition building, rule sets, and other forms of strategic exploration than compared to land borders.
  • The maritime space is more important to China than engaging in land grab attempts in the Himalayas. A huge chunk of Chinese trade happens via the Indian oceanic routes that pass through maritime chokepoints.

(2) Channelizing geo-politics

  • There is a growing great power interest in the maritime sphere, especially with the arrival of the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’. For instance, many European countries have recently released their Indo-Pacific strategies.
  • The most recent was for France to send its warship in the international waters of the South China Sea.

(3) Maritime domain for India

  • Above is the backdrop against which one must see the progressive evolution of Exercise “Malabar”,
  • In the beginning, it was a bilateral event involving just the Indian and US navies. It became tri-lateral with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
  • And now it has transformed into a four-cornered naval drill that will also include Australia.

(4) Check on China’s India Ocean Ambitions

  • The Quad has a valuable role to play as a check on China’s Indian Ocean ambitions.
  • India must develop ingrained habits of interoperable cooperation with its Quad partners.
  • This interoperable cooperation could pre-emptively dissuade China from mounting a naval challenge in its backyard.

(5) Eccentricity in South Asia

  • With India, located right at the centre of the Indo-Pacific geopolitical imagination can realize the vision of a ‘broader Asia’ that can extend its influence away from geographical boundaries.
  • Further, India with Quad countries can check the imperialist policies of China in the Indian Ocean region and ensure Security and growth for all in the region.

Issues with Quad

(1) Structural problems

  • The Quad has a core structural problem as its objective pivots around the U.S.
  • The Quad riles China as a hostile grouping, but hardly serves the security interests of its members.
  • Despite rhetoric relating to the promotion of a ‘rules-based’ world order, the Quad neither shares a strategic vision nor is it animated by a shared agenda.

 (2) Nature of alliance

  • Alliances involve written commitments to come to the defence of the other against a third party.
  • Despite the potential for cooperation, the Quad remains a mechanism without a defined strategic mission.

(3) Economic alliance not feasible

  • Quad is neither a military alliance nor an economic partnership.
  • Its intention to counter China in the rare-earth sector is logical given the dominant role the country plays in supplying more than half of the world’s such key materials.
  • But, for a country like India, the lack of relevant technologies and talent pool could obstruct its progress in building up a supply chain from scratch.

 (4) Overt emphasis on Maritime domain

  • The entire focus on the Indo-Pacific makes the Quad a maritime, rather than a land-based grouping, raising questions whether the cooperation extends to the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian regions.
  • India’s core concerns with China are primarily undemarcated borders and trade deficit.

 (5) Lack of existence of Indo-Pacific system

  • There has never been Indo-Pacific system ever since the rise of the port-based kingdoms of Indochina in the first half of the second millennium.
  • There were two Asian systems — an Indian Ocean system and an East Asian system — with intricate sub-regional balances.
  • The effort by a U.S. to artificially manufacture to combine the Indo and the Pacific into a unitary system is unlikely to succeed.

(6) Indian borders can go more vulnerable

  • A lesson for India is China’s long-held and strategic interest in parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It is wrongly argued that it is Pakistan that is the issue in J&K.
  • China undoubtedly is as big an issue but has quietly hidden behind Pakistan’s cover.

Challenges: China will retaliate

(1) China’s assertiveness

  • China claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region of South China Sea, which gives it the right to manufacture islands.
  • However, the International Court of Arbitration rejected the claim in 2016.
  • Since then, the incidences of Chinese transgression has only increased making China more assertive for its interest.

(2) Preying small nations

  • The ASEAN countries have a well-knit relationship with China. So are other SAARC countries have fallen prey to Chinese debt traps.
  • The Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a recent example of China’s increasing influence over ASEAN nations to which Australia is even a forerunner.

(3) Chinese monopoly

  • Considering the economic might of China and the dependence of Quad nations like Japan and Australia on China, the Quad nations cannot afford to have strained relations with it in the long run.
  • India too, is still very heavily dependent on Chinese exports.

Way Forward

  • Need for a clearer vision: It is important for members of the Quad not to be reactive. It is also important to exhibit openness, and ensure that all talk of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ is more than just a mere slogan.
  • Consensus for a common objective: The Quad nations need to better explain the Indo-Pacific Vision in an overarching framework with the objective of advancing everyone’s economic and security interests.
  • Setting an agenda: This will reassure the littoral States that the Quad will be a factor for regional benefit, and a far cry from Chinese allegations that it is some sort of a military alliance. Future meetings can be an opportunity to define the idea and chart a future path.
  • Expanding Quad: India has many other partners in the Indo-Pacific; therefore India should pitch for countries like Indonesia, Singapore to be invited to join in the future. There is also a vital need to economically expand the Quad.



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Foreign Policy Watch: Indo-Pacific and QUAD

China’s growing footprint in the Pacific Islands


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: PIC

Mains level: Indo-Pacific

Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister of China, is currently on an eight-day visit to ten Pacific Island Countries (PICs) after the MoU failed to gain consensus among the PICs.

What are the PICs?

  • The Pacific Island Countries are a cluster of 14 states which are located largely in the tropical zone of the Pacific Ocean between Asia, Australia and the Americas.
  • They include Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
  • The islands are divided on the basis of physical and human geography into three distinct parts — Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.

Geo-economics of PICs

  • The islands are very small in land area, and are spread wide across the vast equatorial swathe of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Even being the smallest and least populated states, they have some of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the world.
  • Large EEZs translate into huge economic potential due to the possibility of utilising the wealth of fisheries, energy, minerals and other marine resources present in such zones.
  • Hence, they prefer to be identified as Big Ocean States, rather than Small Island States.
  • In fact, Kiribati and FSM, both PICs, having EEZs larger than that of India.

Strategic significance

  • PICs have played an important role in major power rivalry as springboards for power projection and laboratories for developing and demonstrating strategic capabilities.
  • The major powers of the colonial era competed with each other to gain control over these strategic territories.
  • The Pacific islands also acted as one of the major theatres of conflict during the Second World War — between imperial Japan and the US.
  • Due to the remoteness of these islands from major population centres of the world, some of the major nuclear weapon test sites of the US, UK and France were located here.
  • In addition, the 14 PICs account for as many number of votes in the United Nations, and act as a potential vote bank for major powers to mobilise international opinion.

China’s vested interests in PIC

  • China does not have any particular historical linkages to the PICs unlike the Western powers.
  • Therefore, its interest in the PICs is of relatively recent origin, and is linked to China’s rise in the past few decades.
  • The PICs lie in the natural line of expansion of China’s maritime interest and naval power.
  • They are located beyond China’s ‘First Island Chain’, which represents the country’s first threshold of maritime expansion.
  • The PICs are located geostrategically in what is referred to by China as its ‘Far Seas’.
  • Their control will make Chinese Blue Water Navy capable, an essential prerequisite, for becoming a superpower in maritime domain.

For the Taiwan narrative

  • China is preparing for what seems like an inevitable military invasion of Taiwan, sooner or later.
  • In this context, it becomes important to break Western domination of island chains of the Pacific.
  • This could otherwise impede reunification.
  • Wooing the PICs away from the West and Taiwan will therefore make the goal of Taiwan’s reunification easier for China.
  • Currently, only four PICs have recognised Taiwan. They are Tuvalu, Palau, Marshall Islands and Nauru.

What are the implications of China’s latest move?

  • China has increasingly started talking about security cooperation in addition to its economic diplomacy towards the PICs.
  • In April 2022, China signed a controversial security deal with the Solomon Islands, which raised regional concerns.
  • The PICs as a collective did not agree to China’s extensive and ambitious proposals, and therefore China failed to get a consensus on the deal.

Why did the PICs refuted China?

  • PICs perceived that they could have negative implications for the sovereignty and unity of PICs and may drag them into major power conflicts in the future.
  • Some have argued that China has acted too boldly and has therefore met with such a debacle.
  • China might have also miscalculated the regional reaction, perhaps led by a monolithic understanding of the PICs after seeing Solomon Islands’ positive response earlier this year.

A caution for the world

  • China can always come back with improvised plan (rather bigger lollipop) which is more acceptable and use it to further pursue its final objectives incrementally.
  • Moreover, this debacle does not stop China from pursuing bilateral deals of similar nature.


  • The intensification of China’s diplomacy in PICs have made the powers who have traditionally controlled the regional dynamics like the US and Australia more cautious.
  • The US has started revisiting its diplomatic priority for the region ever since the China-Solomon Islands deal.
  • The role played by the US in mobilising opposition against China’s proposed deal could not be ruled out.


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Foreign Policy Watch: Indo-Pacific and QUAD

Pacific Nations reject China Security Pact


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Pacific Nations in news

Mains level: Chinese counter to Western Indo-Pacific strategy

China has suffered a big diplomatic humiliation in the pacific. 10 island nations in the region rejected China’s proposed security pact.

Why in news?

  • Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has returned empty-handed in a highly decorated visit to the Pacific Nations.
  • The secret deal that was to be brokered got leaked in public media, caused huge embarrassment to the Chinese.

Conspicuous features of the Pact

  • China has had offered to radically ramp up its activities in the South Pacific, directly challenging the influence of the US and its allies in the strategically vital region.
  • The failed deal saw Beijing to:
  1. Train Pacific island police,
  2. Become involved in cybersecurity,
  3. Expand political ties,
  4. Conduct sensitive marine mapping and
  5. Gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water
  • As an enticement, Beijing is offering millions of dollars in financial aid, the prospect of a potentially lucrative China-Pacific islands free trade agreement and access to China’s vast market.

Why Pacific Nations rejected this lollipop?

  • The offer is perceived was “disingenuous” and would “ensure Chinese influence in government” and “economic control” of key industries.
  • The nations also cited a lack of regional consensus.

Pls make observations about Pacific Island Nations:


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