GP Insights # 483, 14 March 2021
On 12 March, US President Joe Biden hosted the first virtual summit of the QUAD, which was attended by the Prime Ministers of India, Japan and Australia. The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to promote free and open Indo-Pacific, pledged to respond to the impact of COVID-19, and address shared challenges including climate change, technology, and disaster relief.
During the summit, President Biden said: “We’re renewing our commitment to ensure that our region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values, and free from coercion.” The US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during a press briefing said: “The four leaders did discuss the challenge posed by China, and they made clear that none of them has any illusions about China. But today was not fundamentally about China. Much of the focus was on pressing global crises, including the climate crisis and COVID-19.”
On the same day, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said: “We hope relevant countries will follow the principles of openness, inclusiveness and win-win results, refrain from forming closed and exclusive ‘cliques’ and act in a way that is conducive to regional peace, stability and prosperity.”
On 13 March, the Washington Post published an opinion by the four QUAD leaders; according to it, "we have agreed to partner to address the challenges presented by new technologies and collaborate to set the norms and standards that govern the innovations of the future. It is clear that climate change is both a strategic priority and an urgent global challenge, including for the Indo-Pacific region. That’s why we will work together and with others to strengthen the Paris agreement and enhance the climate actions of all nations. And with an unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our people, we are determined to end the covid-19 pandemic because no country will be safe so long as the pandemic continues."
What is the background?
First, Biden’s approach towards the Indo-Pacific. Biden has continued Trump’s policy on the Indo-Pacific to contain China in the region. On 3 March, the Biden administration released the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. It stresses building deeper connections with the Indo-Pacific region through a robust presence in the region. Convening the QUAD summit reiterates Biden’s strong position on Indo-Pacific.
Second, the widening scope of QUAD. On 20 March 2020, a QUAD Plus meeting was conducted that included Vietnam, South Korea, and New Zealand apart from the QUAD countries to discuss the COVID-19 spread. QUAD has been broadening its scope by partnering with countries over shared interests. Moreover, there is a widening of areas of cooperation. Vaccine diplomacy and climate change widen the scope for cooperation among the QUAD countries.
Third, worsening relations with China. The hardening of ties with China is a common challenge that the QUAD countries are facing. India is in a boundary dispute with China over LAC in the Galwan Valley. Australia is in a trade dispute with China on exports. Japan is in a dispute with China in the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands. Deteriorating relations have encouraged the countries to actively engage in QUAD.
What does it mean?
First, the reiteration of the significance of QUAD and Indo-Pacific. Biden's rigorous but nuanced approach will have greater implications for the Indo-Pacific region.
Second, widening areas of cooperation will increase the scope for other countries in the region to establish a partnership with QUAD countries and work towards promoting free and open Indo-Pacific, contain Chinese aggression, and work on areas of shared regional and global concern.