Quad signs off on Indo-Pacific: Split on Russia, unity on China

At the fourth Quad summit — the second since the Russian invasion of Ukraine — there were divergences among the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and US on the war in Europe but unanimity in their response to China’s belligerence as they strongly opposed “any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo” in the Indo-Pacific.

Significantly, while Washington and Tokyo were vocal in their criticism of Moscow — both US President Joe Biden and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida named Russia in their public statements — India and Australia did not do so in their opening statements at the summit.

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Biden’s formulation was the sharpest. Prime Minister Modi listening, along with Kishida and newly elected Australian PM Anthony Albanese, Biden said: “As long as Russia continues this war, we’re going to continue to be partners and lead a global response…We’re navigating a dark hour in our shared history. The Russian brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe… innocent civilians have (been) in the streets, millions of refugees are internally displaced as well as exiled.”

“..This is more than just a European issue, it’s a global issue,” Biden underlined. “The fact is…if you turn on the television and you’ll see what Russia is doing now, it appears to me that Putin is just trying to extinguish a culture. He’s not even aiming at military targets anymore, he’s taking out every school, every church, every — every natural history museum as if to try to obliterate Ukrainian culture. And the world has to deal with it, and we are,” he said.

Australian PM Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden, Japan PM Fumio Kishida and PM Narendra Modi at Quad Summit in Tokyo, Japan. (Twitter/MEA)

Kishida warned the war in Ukraine cannot be a precedent. “A grave incident which has fundamentally shaken the rule-of-law-based international order we value has happened since we met last September,” he said. “Russian invasion into Ukraine squarely challenges the principles which are enshrined in the United Nations Charter. We should never, ever allow a similar incident to happen in the Indo-Pacific…it is extremely significant for us to get together and show to the international society the four countries’ solidarity and our firm commitment toward the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the Japanese PM said.


Papers over Ukraine

Beijing’s belligerence ensured all four countries are on the same page in calling for a free Indo-Pacific despite India’s divergence on Ukraine. The same template is evident in Indo-US ties as well, with new areas of cooperation despite these differences.

Silent on Russia, Modi said that Quad group has made an important place for itself on the global stage expanding its scope and influence. “At the Quad level, mutual cooperation is encouraging a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, which is a shared objective for all of us,” he said.

“The Quad is moving forward with a constructive agenda for the Indo-Pacific region. This will continue to strengthen the image of the Quad as a force for good,” Modi said, without naming China. He cited the Quad cooperation in vaccine delivery, climate action, supply chain resilience, disaster response, and economic cooperation.

This was also echoed by Albanian who avoided a reference to Russia. “The new Australian government’s priorities align with the Quad agenda…I acknowledge all that the Quad has achieved, standing together for a free, open, and resilient Indo-Pacific region and working together to tackle the biggest challenges of our time, including climate change and the security of our region,” he said.

This dicotomy among Quad leaders on two pressing challenges – Russian invasion of Ukraine and Chinese policy in the region and beyond – was reflected in the two paragraphs in the joint statement.

Similar nuancing had happened at the Quad leaders’ virtual summit in March this year, where criticism of Russia had not found a place in the joint statement — and instead of the common position on Indo-Pacific was articulated.

On Ukraine, the joint statement said, “We discussed our respective responses to the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing tragic humanitarian crisis, and assessed its implications for the Indo-Pacific. Quad Leaders reiterated our strong resolve to maintain the peace and stability in the region. We underscored unequivocally that the centerpiece of the international order is international law, including the UN Charter, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states. We also emphasize that all countries must seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.”

These are in sync with India’s position, which has been articulated several times in the past three months – today marked three months into the Russian invasion.

On China, the joint statement called out Beijing and strongly opposed any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions.

It said, “The Quad is committed to cooperation with partners in the region who share the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific….We will champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas. We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.” All these are clear references to Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific.

Calling the US an “Indo-Pacific power”, Biden said, “in a short time, we’ve shown the Quad isn’t just a passing fad. We mean business. We’re here to get things done for the region. And I’m proud of what we’re building together. And I look forward to our vital partnership flourishing and for many years to come.”

Also with an eye on China, Quad leaders Tuesday launched a major new initiative for the Indo-Pacific that allows partner countries to monitor the waters on their shores and help ensure peace and stability in the region: the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA ) will support and work in consultation with Indo-Pacific nations and regional information fusion centers in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands by providing technology and training.

As part of ongoing work related to critical and emerging technologies, the Ministry of External Affairs said the Quad’s “Common Statement of Principles on Critical Technology Supply Chains” was launched. This envisaged the four countries coordinating capacity-building programs for the Indo-Pacific to bolster the critical cyber security infrastructure of the region.

In their statement, the Quad leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific with an agreement that Australia will hold the next in-person summit in 2023.


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