QUAD Summit: What it means for India and Way Forward

It is the result of China’s aggressive expansionist policy that has given some fuel to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), gathering Australia, Japan, Indian, and the USA in one place. China showing aggressiveness in the South China Sea (SCS), Ladakh and Hong Kong has made these four nations come together and take concrete decisions. The intentions of China and its future plans are crystal clear — invade Taiwan and capture the strategic connectivity project, seize the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), challenge the USA for supremacy, and impose a China-centric international order. So, the summit happened with an aim of establishing regional peace, regional cooperation architecture, stability, and prosperity. 

Though China is also pushing hard for vaccine diplomacy after the whole world blamed it for the origin of COVID-19, Japan has announced assistance for developing cold chains, refrigerators, and transportation for countries in need. Thus, Japan’s assistance and India’s popular vaccine distribution program are successfully countering China’s vaccine diplomacy. Talking about the stand of the USA, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has caricatured China as the “biggest geopolitical test of 21st century”. The Biden Administration is well aware of the threats posed by China to the USA and her allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

South China Sea

While the Biden Administration is handling China on the same lines as President Trump, India which started challenging China by banning digital apps and other economic restrictions will take time to talk to China until China adheres to agreements regarding LAC. This onus is on China to rebuild trust because every time Chinese companies show their willingness to invest in India, the border dispute will be linked with economic issues and trade. Another interesting factor comes into play that China has complained to the WTO regarding India’s step of banning apps. Thus, India should also exclude China’s telecom countries from participating in Indian projects.

Why is the United States getting closer to India? What interests are tied?

India-America Military Exercise

The bone of contention between the two countries is the joint training exercises which are unlikely to be expanded because of a larger underlying dichotomy between the U.S and Indian military organizations. India uses Russian-made aircraft and the U.S Air force would love to fly those in mock engagements, but India cannot take the risk of revealing and compromising the full capabilities of their aircraft. Therefore, the joint Air Forces are more of a “getting-to-know-you” and goodwill exercise for the pilots of both countries.

What India wants from the U.S

It was during the Cold War that both the nations were at odds, with hardly any strategic cooperation. The US’s pact with Pakistan in 1954 kept both the countries apart as India had adopted the idea of non-alignment. Continuous support of the US to Pakistan and the absence of economic and diplomatic issues led to a troubled relationship. Thus, until and unless the U.S adopts an unequivocal stance against Pakistan, the small issues between India and the US will always remain a hurdle. India also has apprehensions regarding the technology transfer too! While the U.S is the largest arms supplier for India, the question of technology transfer still remains on a case-by-case basis.

Strategic Cooperation between India and US

Cyber Attacks in India

According to a report by IBM’s ‘Cost of a Data Breach Report 2020’ report, Indian companies witnessed an average $2 Mn total cost of a data breach in 2020, this is an increase of 9.4% from 2019. According to Nasscom’s Data Security Council of India (DSCI) report 2019, India witnessed the second-highest number of cyber attacks in the world between 2016 and 2018. This comes at a time when digitization of the Indian economy is predicted to result in a $435 Bn opportunity by 2025. In the absence of a national cybersecurity policy, India truly needs some help from its partners, the US being one of them. 

Of particular interest in this respect, 2 months after the Framework Agreement was signed in August 2016, Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar visited the United States and toured the U.S. Cyber Command in Fort Meade, MD, an event that headlined in the public relations announcements of both countries at the time. 97 Such carefully choreographed bilateral visits are designed to send specific messages, and this one appeared to be: “cybersecurity cooperation is now something both countries are taking seriously”.

In addition, India needs to address the legal barriers that it erected to foreign investment in its civilian nuclear power sector. Under the terms of the existing legal regime, U.S. companies, for all practical purposes, cannot invest in this arena.

The South China Sea and the East China Sea are equally vital for the US, Australia, and Japan but for India, it’s all about the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea is a secondary theatre. So, India who is proud of its non-aligned status is now being pushed by the US (or the QUAD) to take an explicit anti-China stance. 

Thus, QUAD should offer an alternative to China’s economic diplomacy if it has to counter China in the Indo-Pacific. Since economic advantage matters much more than ideology, QUAD should ponder upon establishing a joint regional infrastructure scheme as an alternative to China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative(BRI). And surprisingly, just after the QUAD summit, there is an anticipation that China will step up the economic support for neighbors to counter the QUAD alliance. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum too, Xi talked about free trade pacts with more countries to hold the high banner of openness and cooperation.

India is important for other QUAD nations because only India has the power to counterbalance the aggressiveness of China. India’s location is at the confluence of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean along with a rising maritime presence in East Africa makes India a perfect nation to handle China both at front and center. While the pooling of more resources from the US, Japan, and Australia in India’s industry would be a new sphere of opportunity, India’s non-aligned approach in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with China and Russia can make the long-term strategic direction questionable. 

Thus, if the policy experts really want to encash the opportunities from other QUAD nations, India will have to respond to their geopolitical interests as well more enthusiastically. What matters, in the end, is the degree of convergence between the interests of the parties.

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