The leaders of the Quad countries – Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan, and President Joe Biden of the United States – met in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 20. This was the third in-person meeting of the four leaders and was hosted by the Australian prime minister.
Biden was originally scheduled to travel to Sydney for a Quad Summit, but he had to cancel his trip, including a historic stop in Papua New Guinea, due to the debt ceiling crisis back in Washington. Albanese thus called off the meeting in Sydney and instead the leaders met on the sidelines of the G-7 Summit.
While the Quad leaders understand the U.S. circumstances, Papua New Guinea, which was set to receive Biden, was disappointed. Biden would have been the first sitting U.S. president to visit any Pacific Island nation. As one expert commented: “The mantra in the region is all about turning up. Turning up is half the battle. China turns up all the time, and so the optics [of Biden canceling] aren’t great.”
China has been improving its geopolitical game in the Pacific Islands in the last few years. This would have been an opportunity for the United States to cement its ties to the region.
Nevertheless, the U.S. and the Quad are still trying to work with other partners in addressing critical technology and security issues. The Quad Vision Statement and the Joint Statement issued in Japan reflect this. Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken subsequently visited Papua New Guinea and signed a new security pact, which underscores the importance of the visit regardless of Biden’s absence.
The Quad leaders agreed to a Vision Statement, which stated pointedly that the group stands “for a region that is peaceful and prosperous, stable and secure, and respectful of sovereignty – free from intimidation and coercion, and where disputes are settled in accordance with international law. We seek a region in which all countries and peoples can exercise free choice on how they cooperate and trade based on partnership, equality and mutual respect.” This was obviously a reference to China’s aggressive behavior in the region. Of course, the statement did not mention China by name.
Calling itself “a force for good,” the statement further said that the Quad is “deeply invested” in the stability and prosperity of the region, with a commitment to “build[ing] resilience, open communication and economic growth.” The statement also emphasized the importance of international law including the U.N. Charter in “maintain[ing] and strengthen[ing] stability in the Indo-Pacific where competition is managed responsibly.”
The Quad also issued a detailed joint statement that outlined a number of priority areas for the group. A key issue in that regard is the development of sustainable infrastructure. The Quad countries noted that they “will continue to support access to quality, sustainable and climate-resilient infrastructure investments in our region. We aim to ensure the investments we support are fit for purpose, demand driven and responsive to countries’ needs, and do not impose unsustainable debt burdens.” The Quad leaders also announced a new initiative, the “Quad Infrastructure Fellowship Program,” to augment infrastructure expertise in the Indo-Pacific by seeking to “empower more than 1,800 of the region’s infrastructure practitioners to design, build and manage quality infrastructure in their home countries.”
Critically, the statement also detailed the grouping’s recognition of the “urgent need to support quality undersea cable networks” in the region. This was no doubt a reflection of the worry that undersea cables could potentially be at risk from China, after the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline and the unexpected breakdown of internet connection to the Taiwanese island of Matsu, with suspicions of Chinese sabotage. This recognition translated to a new initiative called the “Quad Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience.”
The statement also pays considerable attention to critical and emerging technologies including telecommunications technology such as 5G networks and Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN) that facilitate greater vendor options as countries make their choices in expanding and modernizing their telecom networks. There is an underlying commitment to technology that is “demonstrably open, interoperable, trusted and secure.”
During their meeting, the Quad leaders also released the Quad International Standards Cooperation Network and the Quad Principles on Critical and Emerging Technology Standards, which demonstrates the Quad “support for industry-led consensus-based multi-stakeholder approaches to the development of technology standards.” The Quad leaders also launched a private sector-led Quad Investors Network (QUIN) that will go to support investments in strategic technologies, such as semiconductors, critical minerals, and quantum. Cyber awareness, cyber resilience and ways to defend against cyber attacks targeting software supply chain and critical infrastructure and services were also recognized by the four leaders.
The Quad leaders also underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, especially the maritime domain. Without calling out China, the joint statement identified all of China’s irresponsible behavior in the East and South China Seas. The statement said that the Quad leaders “strongly oppose destabilizing or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion,” while highlighting “the importance of adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, in addressing challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including those in the East and South China Seas.” The statement also noted with concern “the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coastguard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.”
Russia was also not mentioned in either of the two statements, but a press release on the Quad meeting from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the Quad leaders “confirmed their support for respect for principles of the United Nations Charter, including territorial integrity and sovereignty. Prime Minister Kishida emphasized that the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons by Russia would be inadmissible. The four leaders shared the said view.”
While all of this is significant, one cannot but compare the G-7 statement to that one issued by the Quad, which does not name China or Russia. In contrast, the G-7 statement is upfront about the threats and challenges that Beijing and Moscow pose; China and Russia are referred at least 20 times by name in the G-7 statement. It appears that India’s other three Quad partners have yet again shown some consideration toward New Delhi.