Connecting Regions of Asia.

Quad’s Importance Amid Flux

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Two meetings of the leaders of a plurilateral grouping within seven months is an exceptional development in world affairs, especially when it involves the US and its three Quad partners — Australia, Japan and India. Why the leaders are meeting again on September 24 and what they hope to achieve are matters of mounting public interest. This first in-person summit is especially significant — set against the backdrop of the Indo-Pacific region grappling with the repercussions of Afghanistan, the growing aggressiveness of China and the formation of AUKUS, a brand-new trilateral security partnership.

The leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Framework will be hosted by US President Joseph Biden in Washington. It may be of greater substance than the inaugural virtual summit of March 12, because the context of the two summits is significantly different. In March, the Biden administration had just begun its innings; it was struggling to define its China and Indo-Pacific policies, and expectations from the Quad were low.

A substantive joint statement, reinforced by a smart op-ed by the four leaders in The Washington Post, drew global attention. Now, three weeks after the chaotic and mismanaged withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, that country’s future and regional security issues are bound to dominate the discussions. The onus is on the US to convince its partners that the Afghan experience has strengthened, not weakened, its resolve to defend its — and their — interests in the Indo-Pacific.

The AUKUS — the Australia-UK-US partnership — too will need some serious explaining, particularly to Japan and India, which worry about the emergence of an inner circle (US and Australia) within the Quad, which is now connected to the UK, a non-Quad partner. There are even reports that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be visiting Washington around the time of the Quad summit.

Indian experts are divided over the impact of AUKUS on the Quad. Some argue that it reduces the Quad’s salience, while others maintain that the Quad is strengthened by the new trilateral. However, a sober evaluation suggests that AUKUS will have both positive and negative implications for the Quad; these will become evident after the forthcoming summit.

Another consequential development is the September 16 release of the European Union’s Indo-Pacific strategy. A shorter version presented in April has now been given a comprehensive form. It paints the EU and the Indo-Pacific as deeply connected in diverse realms ranging from trade and investment to security and defence. The EU’s determination to scale up and diversify cooperation with democratic and like-minded nations could be a boost to the Quad, provided the Europeans are ready to stand up to China’s assertive behaviour, violations of international law and norms and increasing use of coercion.

Courtesy – indianexpress.com

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