There are clear indications that the Quad grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States is widening the definition of security to counter over dependence on China centric supply chains. But will this alliance live up to the hype, asks India Inc Founder and CEO Manoj Ladwa.
The first Quad summit has taken baby steps towards realigning the grouping from an exclusively security-focused club of four to a more broad-based bloc with a strong economic core. This could transform what is essentially a military dialogue platform into a coalition of like-minded democracies that could offer countries in the Indo-Pacific alternatives to China in a variety of fields – like supply chains, access to technologies, support on climate change and green energy, in addition to a security umbrella – if the need arises.
The shared goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific is, thus, being more broadly defined than has been the case so far.
As a first step in that direction, the virtual Quad summit, its first meeting at the level of Heads of Governments/ States, decided to make India the manufacturing hub for a billion doses of a Covid-19 vaccine developed in the US. These will be shipped to countries across the Indo-Pacific by Australia. The US and Japan will pick up a major portion of the tab.
This could provide a multilateral framework to counter China's vaccine diplomacy, which, in any case, is faltering in the face of the Modi government's formidable global outreach with Made in Indiavaccines.
Then, this summit was US President Joe Biden’s second major international engagement after the Munich Security Conference last month and has put to rest any speculation that the new US administration would significantly ease some of the pressure Trump had applied on China.
I can see parallels with the Y2K problem that rocked the banking and financial services sector in the closing years of the last century. The then fledgling Indian IT sector helped resolve this problem for the world and catapulted itself to the global big stage in the knowledge sector. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, taking up more sophisticated and complicated assignments; in less than a decade, this transformed India into the world’s back office.
The Covid-19 pandemic and India’s emergence as the world’s vaccine making hub could have a similar demonstration effect on India’s manufacturing sector. A country that can supply vaccines to the world can also be its factory for most other products.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already unveiled his vision of positioning India as an alternative global manufacturing hub. As the Quad takes a more well-rounded view of the security threats it faces in the region, India can leverage on the convergence between Modi’s Make in India initiative and the new vaccine manufacturing programme to attract many more foreign companies to set up shop in India.
This can, over time, emerge as a key factor in securing the economic freedom of the region. The present overdependence on China-centric supply chains poses a key security risk. India is already well-positioned to attract some of the investments seeking alternative destinations. So, it must redouble efforts to help mitigate this key strategic threat to the economic autonomy of countries in this region by encouraging Quad members to define security more broadly to bring economic security within its ambit.
Meanwhile, even as India and China negotiate an end to the protracted military stand-off along their border, Beijing has allegedly launched a series of cyberattacks on Indian power, port and vaccine making infrastructure, with the intent of slowing India down and to steal valuable IPRRs
Then, it has unveiled plans to build a large dam on the Brahmaputra river near the Arunachal Pradesh border, which could seriously undermine India's (and Bangladesh's) water security.
More than any other Indian Prime Minister, Modi has shown the vision and has had the gumption to make decisive breaks with ideological positions driven by concerns that are no longer valid.
The three other members of the Quad have supported India’s bold stand on standing up to and looking an international bully in the eye. New Delhi has, in the past, been diffident about calling out China from global forums and making common cause with the West on strategic and security-related matters out of concern that such an alignment could affect its strategic autonomy.
It may now have to shed some of its historical hesitation about multilateral partnerships and invest more fully in the Quad. That can create a virtuous cycle in which the bloc’s nascent military security umbrella opens wider to bring economic security in the Indo-Pacific within its ambit.But the big question is: Can the Quad live up to the expectations that have built up around it?