Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi could not have been more mistaken when he dismissed the Quad in 2018 as a ‘headline-grabbing idea that would dissipate like sea foam’. The first overseas trip by US Defence Secretary Austin Lloyd will be to Asia and not the NATO headquarters. US President Joe Biden has prioritised a Quad summit over confabulations with European leaders. The foundation was laid with a Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting initiated by the month-and-a-half-old US administration. The US President is being roasted for not being fast enough on Iran and Yemen, but he was not found wanting as far as the Quad is concerned. This is in sync with the Biden administration’s first memorandum on the subject that prioritises China as the ‘number one challenge’.
The renewed commitment by the Quad during Covid has been remarkable. The India-Russia summit was called off last year ostensibly due to the pandemic, but US Secretaries of State and Defence travelled to Delhi to keep the momentum going. The Quad Foreign Ministers, too, had touched base in Tokyo while the pandemic raged. Together, each country has its unique collection of strategic challenges emanating from China. What is common so far is their fear of China’s aggressive territorial grabs and the gradual but inevitable militarisation of the Belt and Road Initiative. But China’s ongoing National People’s Congress has thrown up new imperatives that India can ignore at its peril.
Beijing is making big bets on emerging technologies and the Biden administration has recognised the formalisation of China’s ambitions by resolving to escalate the battle against ‘techno-autocracies’. Despite lending its military shoulder to the US-Japan-Australia troika in the South China Sea, India has found little comfort from Washington and Tokyo in its strategic journey to acquire or develop cutting-edge technologies. Now that China has also resolved to pour funds into Tibet to build an important passageway opening to South Asia, maritime security cannot be the Quad’s only calling card. The forthcoming Quad summit should set the stage for partnership not just in physical but in all aspects of security, including technological.