The Quad grouping of India, US, Japan and Australia is set to expand its agenda which will have more economic content in days to come, said eminent ex-US and Indian diplomats at an online conference.Days after the first in-person Quad summit held in Washington on September 24, there is a growing convergence among four major democracies that the Quad should develop positive and constructive agenda focused on improvement in the lives of people and their developmental aspirations. This is the predominant impression that emerged from the webinar organised by India Writes Network, India and the World magazine and, Centre for Global India Insights (CGII), a think tank focused on foreign affairs, on September 29.While the Quad will focus on forging a forward-looking agenda, US’ former Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster cautioned that in case Chinese aggression will continue, it will energise the Quad further and made a strong pitch to the US and India to join a mega-trade bloc to check Beijing’s economic domination of the region.“While the Quad is not focused explicitly on China, to the degree that the Chinese continue to be aggressive in their actions, you're going to see continued energy in the Quad,” said Juster. “There is absolutely no doubt that the Chinese behaviour has become more aggressive in the region, including on the northern border with India, but also in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, some claims in Bhutan and elsewhere. This aggression has energized the Quad, and in particular India's enthusiasm and participation in it,” said Juster. He was responding to a question on how far the Quad can bolster Quad countries’ capacity to deal with China.
Besides Juster, eminent speakers at the power-packed panel discussion included Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary of India, Teresita Schaffer, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Northeast and South Asia, Anil Wadhwa, Former Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, India; Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, China expert at Jawaharlal University (JNU) and Satoru Nagao, Fellow Hudson, Institute.Speakers agreed that while China will continue to be the subtext, the Quad will develop in an economic direction. “The Quad will make important contributions to the economics of the region and therefore to the security of the region,” said Teresita Schaffer, former US diplomat dealing with South Asia and the author of India at The Global High Table.“The areas they have picked out for special emphasis after the most recent summit - vaccines, infrastructure and critical technology supply chains -- are tremendously important,” said Ms Schaefer, who joined the online discussion from Washington DC.The webinar was moderated by Manish Chand, CEO & Director, Centre for Global Insights India (CGII) and IWN. Setting the context, Chand said that the webinar aimed at dismantling stereotypes about the Quad as primarily a China-containment grouping or a gang-up against China. Beijing has bitterly dismissed the Quad as an Asian Nato. “The last two Quad summits, virtual and physical, have tried to dismantle China-centric cliches by branding and positioning the Quad as a force for global good, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words,” said Chand.
Looking ahead, the Quad is set to grow from strength to strength as the Quad enjoys support of not only the leadership of the four quad countries, but also their strategic community and intellectual class.Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary and well-known writer on strategic affairs, underlined that the Quad will benefit India in many ways. “The rapidity with which the Quad agenda has been enlarged and deepened with full Indian participation signals that the Quad will continue to play an increasing role in India's strategic and economic thinking,” said Sibal.Speaking about Quad’s position in relation to other plurilateral arrangements in the region, specifically the newly formed AUKUS, Ambassador Anil Wadhwa said that the new grouping is “neither relevant, nor has any impact” for Quad. Describing the Quad as a “genuine democratic grouping of substance and salience, not military alliance,” he spoke about how the groups renewed focus on ASEAN centrality could help in “calming the anxieties of ASEAN further” which “wants to avoid having to choose between Quad and China.”Based on a careful reading of the joint statement released from the latest Quad summit, Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli highlighted how references to “regional security becoming complex” and “members being daunted by coercion” were indirect references to China. He highlighted how various capacity build up measures mentioned in the Quad joint statement — while obviously beneficial to India — has the potential to dwarf Chinese influence in the region.