Today’s first summit meeting of the Quad countries – India, Japan, the US and Australia – elevates this format and cements its role as a key pillar of the free and open Indo-Pacific architecture. Coming so soon in the Biden presidency, the summit signals his administration’s intent to pick up where the Trump administration left off in terms of balancing China’s aggressive behaviour. The Trump dispensation, however, went by its gut instincts and lacked a larger strategic vision. While it largely sought to push the Quad in a military direction, Biden is seeking to expand its scope and adopt a holistic approach to push back against Beijing.
This is smart strategy as military coordination without an economic and technological anchor is insufficient to meet the China challenge. It’s welcome, therefore, that the Quad which was earlier defined as a security dialogue is now being touted as a framework. The new accent is on resilient supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security and climate change. Hence, the idea is to draw red lines for China and insulate other countries from becoming dependent on Beijing’s economic and technological patronage. In fact, the US has already begun putting together a set of coalitions aimed at countering China’s dominance in key technologies like semiconductors, AI, quantum computing, surveillance technology etc.
These will set standards, establish best practices and eventually offer members market access and technology transfers as an alternative to Chinese products. India should fully capitalise on these coalitions to obtain cutting edge technology, boost domestic R&D and kick-start its own industrial reforms. After all, in order to counter Beijing, Delhi needs to increase its comprehensive national power by adopting an all-of-government approach. It’s on the right track in seeking to firewall critical sectors from Chinese equipment and cyberattacks – such as the recent intrusions into India’s power infrastructure. With telecom forming the backbone of a modern, digital economy, this sector must be shielded from predatory Chinese activities.
The Biden administration’s strategic approach is a good one, and Delhi can ill-afford to procrastinate about siding with the West and like-minded countries seeking to uphold international rules and freedoms, due to fear of what Beijing might think or its own ideological hobby horses. Delhi has a knack of missing international opportunities whenever they arise due to its lack of flexibility, which allows nimbler rivals to outmanoeuvre it. It must not miss the bus again, hoping to shine in splendid isolation.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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