With the publication of a jointly authored opinion piece in The Washington Post on Saturday, the leaders of the Quad countries — the US, India, Australia and Japan — have attempted to demonstrate that they are literally on the same page. The writeup not only emphasises the takeaways from the first-ever summit of the grouping, held virtually on Friday, but also highlights the four nations’ pledge to ‘recommit themselves to an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, secure and prosperous’. There is no mention of China anywhere, but the quartet’s assertion that it is striving to ensure that ‘all countries are able to make their own political choices, free from coercion’ makes it easy to guess that the message is intended for Beijing’s ears.
On the Quad agenda is a major initiative to help end Covid-19 that has ravaged the US and India in particular. There is unanimity among the four leaders that overcoming the pandemic is the key to economic growth and stability. The plan envisages expanding and accelerating the production of safe, accessible and effective vaccines in India. A central role for New Delhi on this count is a shot in the arm for its Covid diplomacy, which has admirably withstood the Chinese challenge.
The Biden administration’s outreach to strengthen India-America ties is another development that seems to have displeased China, which has been insisting on delinking the border dispute from bilateral exchanges. Later this week, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin will visit India to hold discussions with his counterpart Rajnath Singh on operationalising major defence partnerships between the two nations, including the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement that was signed days before the 2020 US presidential elections. It will be the first trip by a top official of the Biden administration to this country. The Ladakh disengagement might have signalled a thaw, but India will remain wary of China as long as sustainable peace eludes the LAC. In the meantime, New Delhi should make the most of its growing friendship with Washington to further its strategic and economic interests and also keep Beijing on the back foot.