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Alaska summit outcomes (US-China relations)

  • 20 March, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Alaska summit outcomes (US-China relations)

Quad in focus

  • ‘America is back: The message was broadly a three-pronged one: that under the new U.S. President, “America is back” in terms of:
    • its desire to play a leading role in other regions,
    • that it views China as its primary challenger for that leadership, and
    • that the Quad partnership is ready to mount a counter-challenge, albeit in “soft-power” terms at present.
  • Quad members’ issues with China: The Quad partners had raised their issues with China, including [China’s] coercion of Australia, their harassment around the Senkaku Islands, and their aggression on the border with India.
  • Focus on Indo-Pacific region:  For both Japan and Australia, which are military allies of the U.S., and completely aligned on Indo-Pacific policy, the outcomes of the summit, both in terms of the “3C’s” working groups (established on COVID-19 vaccines, Climate Change and Critical Technology), and in terms of this messaging to the “4th C” (China) are very welcome.

Vaccine diplomacy

  • The vaccine initiative, for example, is a major boost for India’s pharmaceutical prowess, which has already been proven during the current pandemic.
  • India is not only the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines (by a number of doses produced and sold globally), it has already exported 58 million doses to nearly 71 countries worldwide as commercial shipments, grants and those funded by the Gavi COVAX initiative.
  • Manufacturing a billion doses for South East Asia (under the Quad), over and above its current international commitments, as well domestic goals to vaccinate 300 million people as originally planned by September (900 million adults in total, i.e. 1.8 billion doses) will require a major ramp up in capacity and funding, and will bear testimony to the power of Quad cooperation, if realised.
  • However, the effort could have been made much easier had India’s Quad partners also announced dropping their opposition to India’s plea at the World Trade Organization, which it filed along with South Africa in October 2020, seeking a waiver from certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.
    • It is surprising that the summit did not seek to bridge differences over this issue (it has seen eight fractious rounds of talks in Geneva, with the next round expected in June 2021) when the leaders discussed how to increase India’s production capabilities.

Climate change

  • On climate change, India has welcomed the return of the U.S. to the Paris accord.
  • Restarting the U.S.’s funding of the global Green Climate Fund.
  • India still awaits a large part of the $1.4 billion commitment by the U.S. to finance solar technology in 2016, which Mr. Trump subsequently slowed down on. Mr. Biden might also consider joining the International Solar Alliance, founded by India and France, which the other Quad members are a part of, but the U.S., which promised to do so in 2016, has resisted.

Critical Technologies

  • Meanwhile, on the Quad working group set up to cooperate on critical technologies, India will welcome any assistance in reducing its dependence on Chinese telecommunication equipment and in finding new sources of rare-earth minerals, but would oppose any move by the other Quad partners to weigh in on international rule-making on digital economy, or data localisation which had led New Delhi to walk out of the Japan-led “Osaka track declaration” at the G-20 in 2019.

Osaka track declaration

  • The Osaka initiative, introduced in a speech at the World Economic Forum and one of Abe’s (Japanese former PM) pet projects at the G20, seeks to standardise rules in global movement of data flows with better protection in personal information, intellectual property and cybersecurity.
  • It is a declaration of free flow of data across national boundaries.
  • This declaration is not signed by India.


Handling China

  • It is on the “4th C”, however, where it is still unclear how far the Narendra Modi government can go on the Quad’s intended outcomes, especially on “collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas,”.
  • India is the only Quad member not a part of the military alliance that binds the others, the only Quad country with a land boundary with China, and the only Quad country which lives in a neighbourhood where China has made deep inroads.
  • Indian officials are still engaged in LAC disengagement talks that have thus far yielded only a phase-1 disengagement at Pangong Lake; they have a long way to go to de-escalation or status quo ante.
  • The violence at the LAC has also left three long-term impacts on Indian strategic planning:
    • First, the government must now expend more resources, troops, and infrastructure funds to the LAC than ever before, in order to leave no part of the once peaceful LAC unmanned and ensure no recurrence of the People's Liberation Army April 2020 incursions.
    • Second, India’s most potent territorial threat will not be from either China or Pakistan, but from both, or what the Indian Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane called a “two-front situation”.
    • Third, India’s continental threat perception will need to be prioritised against any maritime commitments the Quad may claim, especially further afield in the Pacific Ocean.

Direction for India

  • The Modi government has said that it sees the Quad formation as it does its other multilateral commitments including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Central Asia, BRICS (or Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the emerging economies, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation/Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation in the neighbourhood, etc and seeks to broaden the space for its principle of Strategic Autonomy; not narrow its bilateral choices.
  • In that sense, the Quad’s ideology of a “diamond of democracies” can only succeed if it does not insist on exclusivity in India’s strategic calculations.


  • The truth is, despite last week’s Quad Summit, India’s choices for its Quad strategy will continue to be guided as much by its location on land as it is by its close friendships with fellow democracies, the U.S., Japan and Australia, across the seas.

Source: TH


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