While Beijing has made expected noises against the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue summit to be held in Washington, DC, on 24 September, apprehensive of the programme’s agenda of establishing the global community’s trading rights through the South China Sea, India, Japan and Australia cannot expect much from the US that is now headed by a witless government of the Democrat Joe Biden who has already spoken to Xi Jinping last week. It is true that, in the phone conversation, Biden tried to reverse the trade war that began under the Donald Trump regime, as he said he wanted “to ensure competition does not veer into conflict” and Xi responded by saying the two sides must “get the relationship right”. But that is for the press’s consumption. The US-China relations will not be set right by trade alone. Biden, who is going to host the Quad summit in 10 days, spoke also of the situation in Afghanistan, largely a creation of his botched-up retreat from the war-ravaged country. There are no prizes for guessing that China, which is not only eyeing rich mineral deposits under the Afghan soil but also its strategic depth beyond what CPEC with Pakistan offers in the name of a commercial corridor, would hardly be interested in securing American interests in the rocky terrains where a terrorist outfit Taliban holds sway now. The Chinese media has, in fact, gone berserk with headlines suggesting a supine Biden genuflecting before their permanent president. The host of the Quad summit spoke also of climate change, a pet peeve of the West that only the woke gentry and society magazines care for. One is not sure if Trump’s assertions about the Chinese origin of coronavirus were misplaced, what exactly his successor must tell the Chinese counterpart about Covid-19. That the inquiries and litigations in the US against China will stop? If yes, then the US and China have buried the hatchet over the pandemic issue, which is not what the White House says. If not, what substantive statement could Biden have made over the phone? Whereas China may have presented two demands to the US — unconditionally revoking visa restrictions on CCP members and withdrawing an extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of tech firm Huawei who is on trial in Canada — in the July talks in Tianjin, with investigations in the US into possible Chinese moles in American institutions halting under Biden, the communist nation does not have much to worry on that front. It is already assured of the American avarice for the Chinese market, the single biggest impediment to military intervention by the US ever against China. The only thorn remains this year’s joint statement, “The Spirit of the Quad” where its members described “a shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and a “rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas”.
Initiated by then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, Quad was supposed to build an international axis involving the US, India and Australia to keep an expansionist China at bay. At that point, then-US Vice President Dick Cheney, then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard and then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid homilies to the cause. It was only with the advent of the Narendra Modi dispensation in India, Trump administration in the US and Scott Morrison’s government in Australia that Quad acquired a meaning, given that all the three head statesmen were fiercely patriotic, throwing their weight behind the idea of Abe, a proud Jap. It has once again turned listless as the heftiest clout in the Quad had to be of the US, where the current Democrat would not even go to the extent of the previous presidents from the party, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, in securing his country’s overseas interests. This affects India the most as none of the other member-states of Quad shares a hotly contested and militarily active 3,488 km international border across which Chinese incursions continue with impunity from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. In a brief episode of conflict, Japanese forces had last year shooed away Chinese misadventure on the sea. When China imposed restrictions on Australia, the latter just wilted. Meanwhile, Australia’s bilateral relations with India has been impacted by Canberra’s phobia with Covid-19, making it impossible for Indian students to go Down Under for higher studies. Notably, Australia had withdrawn from Quad, when Kevin Rudd ruled, in 2008. Even India under the government virtually led by Sonia Gandhi — recently she and her son Rahul Gandhi were accused of being beneficiaries of the CCP — was wary of remaining in the quadrilateral out of fear of antagonising China. Then, after nearly a decade of growing tensions with China on a range of issues, and particularly after the 2017 Doklam standoff, India renewed interest in the four-nation entente.
However, now with a supine Biden in Washington, DC, there is no warmth in India’s continuing engagement with the US, which was a prominent feature of Modi’s summits with both Obama and Trump. With Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the US is in touch with India on using it as a staging post for aerial strikes in Afghanistan, a request India is unlikely to entertain, the self-centred nature of Americans is obvious. Fortunately, however, deals for some good warring hardware were struck with the US while the Republican government was still around. Much smaller than the Chinese PLA but better experienced, the battle-hardened and resolute Indian Army is putting up a brave front, inflicting heavier casualties on the enemy than what was suffered on its side during the May 2020 clash on the Himalayan belt. This is how things are going to be until Biden goes, which will be another four years at the least, with no role for Quad to play.