By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, February 25: QUAD, which is an association of the US, Japan, Australia and India, offers a developmental cum security model for democracies in the Indo-Pacific region, says India’s Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar.  

Addressing the inaugural session of the “Quad Think Tank Forum” in New Delhi on February 24, Jaishankar said that QUAD is meant to sustain democracies through developmental schemes in a challenging security environment. 

Significantly he did not even once mention China, though QUAD is widely seen as a West-led alliance to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.   

According to Jaishankar, the origins of QUAD go back to the international response to the Tsunami of December 2004. The idea of a QUAD was put forward by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2006. But it was only in 2017, after a full decade, that the idea was resurrected with a meeting at the Foreign Secretaries level. It was upgraded in 2019 to the Ministerial level. In 2021 the four countries upgraded it to the Summit level.

Changes in India 

Changes in India during this period were a key factor in the development of QUAD, Jaishankar pointed out. 

“Once the initiative was nurtured in the initial stages and it took root, it has been truly remarkable to see how prolifically and rapidly, the QUAD has flowered. I believe that, much of that arises from the remarkable changes in India’s bilateral relationships with its QUAD partners.”

“With the US, we put behind ideological hesitations of history. With Japan, we gave a longstanding goodwill much more practical shape. And with Australia, we actually made a real beginning in seriousness. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot played a role in giving our relationship that very serious form, which is to me one of the foundations for QUAD,” Jaishankar said.

What is the reason for QUAD’s existence? The answer is very simple, said Jaishankar.

“It is there for global good and it is there for the global commons. It is facilitated by the emergence of the Indo-Pacific. And it is propelled by a change in the global order that requires more, not less, collaboration among the like-minded.”

What he left unsaid was that the “like minded” were democracies like the US, Japan, Australia and India.

Five Messages from QUAD 

Jaishankar said that QUAD has five messages:(1)  it reflects the growth of a multi-polar order. (2) it is a post-alliance and post-cold war thinking. (3) it is against spheres of influence. (4) it expresses the democratizing of the global space and the emergence of a collaborative, not unilateral, approach. (5) it is a statement that in this day and age, others cannot have a veto on our choices.

Why is the “Indo-Pacific” a distinct category? According to Jaishankar, the post-1945 division of what till then was perceived to be a cohesive theatre, resulted in our contemplating the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as two separate entities. This separation was an outcome of American strategic priorities in 1945, he explained. Ironically, it is America’s repositioning today that is helping to rectify it,  he said.

Explaining why Quad has grown so rapidly, Jaishankar said that all four member governments have behaved differently from how they normally do. 

“Quad is an overhead light, creative, flexible, nimble, responsive and an open-minded enterprise.”

Achievements of QUAD

On the achievements of QUAD, Jaishankarsaid that QUAD focusses on addressing the region’s most pressing needs and challenges, such as maritime security, infrastructure & connectivity, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, critical technologies, communications, space cooperation, cyber security, counter-terrorism, Fellowships, and climate action, to name a few. 

“The really notable aspect of this is that at every meeting, we have actually taken agreed domains forward and have come up with new ones for cooperation. As my Australian colleague just reminded us, the QUAD has also come up with its vision as well as with its principles” 

“In critical technologies, QUAD seeks to build resilient supply chains in telecom, cyber security, semiconductors and AI. An Open Radio Access Network (RAN) is underway in Palau in the Pacific, as part of these efforts. We are also promoting cyber awareness and capacity building in the Indo-Pacific, which could be, and which is, vulnerable to cyber threats,” Jaishankar said.

1800 Infrastructure Fellowships

The QUAD countries have together announced more than 1800 ‘Infrastructure Fellowships’ for policy makers and technical experts to familiarise them with infrastructure projects and their implementation. 

“By pooling together our technical expertise, we are actually enhancing the ability of the Indo-Pacific countries to select smart and reliable options. We have also commenced discussions about deploying digital public infrastructure to deliver public goods in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. 

STEM Fellowships

A unique QUAD initiative has been the “STEM (Science, Technlogy, Engineering and Maths) Fellowship program”, under which about a 100 scholars from the four countries have enrolled in courses in US universities. 

“I am very happy to share with you all that the second cycle of Quad STEM Fellowships has been extended to ASEAN member countries as well,” Jaishankar added.

More Stakeholders

Another priority in recent years has been to broaden the number of stakeholders involved in collaborating with QUAD. 

“While QUAD has been driven by respective governments, if we are to make our work impactful and ensure really tangible outcomes, we need to work closely with the industry, with R&D and innovation ecosystems, and with the academia,” Jaishankar said.

The private sector-led QUAD Investor Network was launched recently with the objective of facilitating business collaborations in critical technologies, renewable energy, climate mitigation, healthcare and other domains. These partnerships are critical for developing commercially viable and trusted alternatives which would build and diversify current supply chains, the Indian Foreign Minister said.

MDAI and Economic Framework

QUAD has given birth to some larger collaborations that serve the same objectives of global good. One is the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative(MDAI), under which data is being supplied for countering illicit maritime activities and responding to climate-related and humanitarian events. 

The other is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which seeks to offer alternative economic engagement mechanisms. 

“This is making steady progress and addressing issues like supply chains, clean economies, sustainability, digital economies amongst others. India and 13 other countries are negotiating the text of agreements under IPEF,” Jaishanka said. 

“It is heartening to see, in recent years, that many countries have actually issued outlooks, policies and strategies that are aimed at the Indo-Pacific and I mention -Australia, Indonesia, France, Japan, Netherlands, EU, Bangladesh among them. Although each of these policies have a different approach and nuance and are suited for their particular national circumstances, they all have a single message which is that they attach importance to their engagement with the Indo-Pacific, and underline their desire to uphold maritime security and freedom of navigation.” 

“We have also seen this translate to enhanced outreach and engagement with countries of the region, to provide more assistance and improve capabilities of the Indo-Pacific countries. In addition, many like-minded partners have visibly increased their presence in the Indo-Pacific, through more diplomatic missions, trade, investments, and sometimes visits of their naval assets,” Jaishankar noted. 

The “Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative” was launched by India in 2019. The QUAD partners and a number of others have joined in leading or co-leading the eight pillars of this initiative.

Centrality of ASEAN 

Jaishankar corrected the impression that QUAD has diluted the centrality of ASEAN in the region. 

“I think anybody who doubts ASEAN centrality, when they look at the map of the Indo-Pacific, clearly missed their geography classes at school. And not just the geography class, I think they have probably passed up on all that has been happening in terms of the East Asia Summit process and how that today,is actually a very unique and I would say irreplaceable architecture for this part of the world. QUAD here to stay, to grow and to contribute,” he asserted.