Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed media reports that a summit of Quad leaders, the first of its kind, could be held, though not specifying when. Speaking to reporters on March 5, Morrison said that the four-nation grouping, which was resuscitated in 2017, is “very central” to both Australia’s and the United States’ thinking about the Indo-Pacific.
“I have already had bilateral discussions about this with Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga, the Prime Minister of Japan, and of course the Prime Minister of India. And of course, we’re looking forward to those discussions and follow-up face-to-face meetings as well,” Bloomberg quoted Morrison as also saying.
Media reports since Joe Biden assumed the U.S. presidency in January have claimed that a Quad leaders’ summit could be in the offing. On Friday, the news site Axios quoted its sources as saying that the summit would take place within the course of this month. On February 7, Japan Times had first reported that the Biden administration had proposed a summit of Quad leaders, though adding that whether such a meeting would indeed materialize would crucially depend on India.
However, the Quad has indeed featured in discussions between Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A U.S. readout of a February 8 call between Biden and Modi noted that both leaders “agreed to continuing close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and a stronger regional architecture through the Quad.”
On February 18, foreign ministers of the Quad countries held a 90-minute virtual meeting, the third such since talks were elevated to the ministerial level in September 2019. In October last year, Quad foreign ministers had met in Tokyo.
While the grouping continues to generate significant excitement among the commentariat across many capitals, some have argued that it is yet to take concrete joint actions, involving all four parties, to meet many of the security and geoeconomic challenges in the Indo-Pacific that necessitated its revival in the first place. In an interview to Nikkei Asian Review in October, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had nodded to the idea that the grouping would need to be formalized at some stage in the future. However, Pompeo had downplayed the hard-security roles of the grouping at that time.
Promoting the Quad – and a “free and open” Indo-Pacific – is quickly emerging as one of the key areas of foreign policy continuity between the Trump and Biden administration. Speaking at a United States Institute of Peace event on January 29, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also noted the continuity in positions.
“One very positive thing we will be building on, [former NSA] Robert [O’Brien] mentioned the Quad, which for those watching who don’t know is the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. There too I think we really want to carry forward and build on that format, that mechanism which we see as fundamental a foundation upon which to build substantial American policy in the Indo-Pacific region,” Sullivan had said at the event.
Some caution that as India and China seek to reduce tensions in eastern Ladakh, the extent to which New Delhi would promote the Quad – which Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has, variously, called “sea foam” but also “a so-called Indo-Pacific NATO” – remains to be seen.
When asked about the Quad summit on March 5, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told reporters the ministry had no comments to make on the subject at the current moment.
Meanwhile, Indian media reported last month that Chinese President Xi Jinping could visit India later this year for the BRICS Summit. BRICS leaders have held annual summits since 2009. Last year’s summit was held virtually on account of the COVID-19 pandemic amid a tense border standoff between China and India.