A mixed bag from Washington

A mixed bag from Washington

Now, we know. The Quad, in Modi’s words, is to be a “force for global good"

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House. Credit: PTI File Photo

Some clarity has emerged over the role of the India-US-Japan-Australia Quad following the first in-person summit of the leaders of the four nations as well as the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday. When Biden recently announced the new Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) military alliance in the Indo-Pacific, which involves the UK and US sharing nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia to build it up as a counterweight to Chinese naval power in the region, it raised questions over the relevance and future of the Quad, and of India’s role in it.

Now, we know. The Quad, in Modi’s words, is to be a “force for global good.” This involves India stepping up the supply of Covid vaccines to other countries in the Indo-Pacific and under the UN COVAX initiative, while the US steps up the supply of raw materials to India to produce the vaccines. The Quad’s vaccine diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region, an important item on its cooperative agenda, is thus set to take off now.

Also read: India, US fail to make headway in resolving trade concerns during Modi's visit

Quad members also agreed to cooperate on climate change, supply chain issues, coordinate diplomacy over Afghanistan, and to work together on global infrastructure development as an answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India’s doubts over a push to turn the Quad into a hard military alliance have been allayed with the meetings in Washington. Countering China will remain the goal, but the Quad will seek to do so through soft power, an area where India has considerable resources and experience.

Prime Minister Modi’s bilateral meetings with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did not seem to go quite as well, though. Not only was the backslapping, bonhomie and hugging that marked Modi’s meetings with Donald Trump missing, Modi seemed visibly ill at ease in his meetings with the current US leaders. Both Biden and Harris stressed the need for New Delhi and Washington to act to “protect democracy” at home. Harris, in particular, underscored the importance of “strengthening democracies at home” in order to be able to “defend democratic principles and institutions…around the world.” This is unlikely to have gone down well with Modi, whose illiberal governance has raised eyebrows in many countries.

If Modi’s visit to the US provides India satisfaction and relief on the way the Quad is shaping up, the same clearly cannot be said for the health of India-US bilateral relations. In the past, for instance, it was the US that pushed India on expanding trade. This time, it was Modi doing the trade pitch, while the American leaders seemed almost uninterested. New Delhi must act to ensure the robustness of the US-India partnership.

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