The statements by the leaders of India, the United States, Japan, and Australia at the second in-person Quad summit on May 24 were quite interesting as the group’s focus seemed to extend to the Russia-Ukraine war.The Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. It also focuses on joint military exercises among the members.
Since its rehashed launch in 2017, it has been seen as a platform to counter China’s growing threat in the Indo-Pacific region. However, on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida sought to extend the platform’s ambit to cover Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
INDIA’S FOCUS ON INDO PACIFIC DEVELOPMENT
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who put forth the opening statement, on the other hand, did not mention Russia and focused on the Quad’s role in cementing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. He highlighted the group’s role during Covid in maintaining stability through cooperation.
AUSTRALIA REITERATES CLIMATE PLEDGE, DOESN’T MENTION CHINA THREAT
Interestingly, Australia, which has been quite vocal in condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine — including the imposition of sanctions — gave the topic a miss. This could be attributed to newly elected PM Anthony Albanese testing the waters before making any harsh statement against Russia or its President Vladimir Putin as his predecessor Scott Morrison. On Tuesday, he kept his initial statement limited to Australia’s commitment to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2050.
Australian PM Anthony Albanese also refrained from mentioning China in his initial statement at the Quad summit. Australia has reasons to worry as China is heavily investing in its navy and has strengthened ties with its neighbour, the Solomon Islands, with a recent security pact with the Solomon Islands.
According to a BBC report, a leaked draft of the agreement, verified by the Australian government, stated that Chinese warships would be permitted to dock at the islands. It also mentioned that Beijing could send security forces “to assist in maintaining social order”. In such a situation, Australia is being viewed as the ‘leader of the West’s interests in the region.
It’s not just Australia. China’s relationship with the Solomon Islands seems to have affected India’s ties with the tiny island nation as well. While the Solomon Islands confirmed the visit of China’s foreign minister Wang Yi later this week, Indian High Commissioner Inbasekar Sundaramurthi’s visit is being stalled for no apparent reason. The Sunday Guardian, quoting sources, reported that he has been repeatedly requesting to visit, but there seemed no reason for the government of the Solomon Islands for the delay. This comes amid visits by several other foreign dignitaries and officials.
While Albanese before the Quad summit said: “The relationship with China will remain a difficult one,” it will be interesting to see how he promotes Australia’s, and by extension, the West’s, cause concerning China’s military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.
JAPAN TAKES CAUTIOUS APPROACH ON RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR
Surprisingly, Japan was cautious in its approach at the Quad summit, with PM Kishida only saying: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine squarely challenges the principles which are enshrined in the UN Charter.” Japan is one of the nations that imposed sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine.
Both Japan and US called on China to slam Russia for its actions against Ukraine. A Japan-US joint statement after the bilateral meeting between Biden and Kishida ahead of the Quad meet read: “Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden called on China to stand with the international community and unequivocally condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. They discussed continuing actions by China that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including coercion by economic and other means.”
Noting China’s ongoing increase in its nuclear capabilities, the two leaders requested China to contribute to arrangements that reduce nuclear risks, increase transparency, and advance nuclear disarmament.”
BIDEN MINCES NO WORDS
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, President Joe Biden had said that the US would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan.
Biden at the Quad meet on Tuesday, however, minced no word as he slammed Russia. Calling the Russian aggression ‘a global issue, he said: “We are navigating a dark hour in our shared history – Russia’s war on Ukraine. It is a humanitarian catastrophe that is more than just a European issue, it’s a global issue. [Russian President] Putin is trying to obliterate Ukrainian culture. He’s not just hitting military targets – they are targeting every school, every church. The world has to deal with this.”
AWARE OF INDIA’S HISTORY: US ON INDIA’S STANCE ON RUSSIA
On India’s neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine war, a White House official said: “I think the President [Joe Biden] is very much of the view that the way to do this is to have candid and direct conversations of the kind that really can only happen when leaders meet and are able to see each other in person and speak their minds.”
“And I think that the President is aware that India has its own history, its own views, and that, you know having these kinds of conversations helps him understand the Indian perspective. This also allows him to put forth to India and Prime Minister Modi to understand his perspective and to look for areas of common ground,” the official said.
“There is a broad understanding of the fact that what is happening in Ukraine is a serious threat to the international order. The issue is how the countries are better able to work together to try and find common ground to address it,” the official added.
Speaking on the Quad leaders’ role, Biden said, “The US will be a strong, steady and enduring partner in the Indo-Pacific. We are Indo-Pacific powers. As long as Russia continues the war, we are going to be partners and lead a global response.”
It will be interesting to see how the Quad proceeds after the varied statements on Russia and the Indo-Pacific region on Tuesday amid China’s growing clout in the region. But the increased focus to strengthen the Quad, the partnership’s focus on maritime security, and US’s attempts to woo India are sure to make China nervous.