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Eye on China, the first Quad summit could take place next week

Analysts say that the purpose of the Quad grouping is essentially defensive--to deter Chinese expansionism in the Pacific and the Indian ocean

In a major boost to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), the heads of the four member countries, the United States of America, India, Japan and Australia are likely to meet this month. The first-ever QUAD Summit could take place as early as March 12.

By putting a Quad meeting on Joe Biden's schedule, the White House is signaling the importance of partnerships and alliances to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The US President has spoken with each leader individually, but putting them together gives an early boost to the burgeoning group, which some have suggested could grow into an Asian version of NATO. Sources told American media that the Biden administration had initiated the process to hold such a summit, which is expected to be held virtually to start with due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Confirming  the possibility of a meeting, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters yesterday that the four-nation grouping, which was resuscitated in 2017, attaches high importance to the region.

"I have already had bilateral discussions with Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga and we are looking forward to those discussions and follow up face to face meeting as well as this will become a feature of Indo Pacific engagement," said Morrison. He added that "It will be four leaders, four countries, working together constructively for the peace, prosperity and stability of the Indo-Pacific."

Analysts say that the purpose of the Quad grouping is essentially defensive–to deter Chinese expansionism in the Pacific and the Indian ocean. Following the economic fallout of Covid-19 pandemic and Chinese regional assertiveness, there is growing sentiment that new supply chains that include Quad members but exclude China should be established.  

As a build up to the summit, last month, the foreign ministers of India, US, Japan and Australia offered a veiled criticism of China by pledging “to strongly oppose unilateral and forceful attempts to change the status quo in the context of the East and South China Sea.”

The virtual meeting followed rising concerns over China’s actions across the region. The conclave reiterated the group’s “commitment to upholding a rules-based international order, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas and peaceful resolution of disputes.”

The meeting took place in the backdrop of China’s military actions in the South China Sea and the build up along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, as well as Beijing’s crackdown in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

All four members of the Quad have conflicting interests with Beijing. China and the US are at loggerheads over various issues, including the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan, trade, and human rights. Japan has a dispute with China over Senkaku islands in the South China Sea.

India was engaged in a border standoff with China after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley in June. Relations between China and Australia have also deteriorated sharply following Morrison’s call for an international problem to unveil the origins of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Separately, four leaders will be gathering at the G-7 summit in the UK in June this year, where both the Indian and Australian PMs have been invited. And that offers opportunity for an in-person meeting of the Quad leaders as well.