Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Tokyo was a successful one. Apart from the four nation discussions on Quad strategies, India signed an investment agreement worth $4 billion with the US in the wings. According to the agreement, US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is expected to provide investment support to India in sectors such as Covid-19 vaccines, healthcare financing, renewable energy, SME financing and infrastructure. This agreement supersedes the earlier Investment Incentive Agreement of 1997 with the US and comes with added benefits like debt, equity investment and investment guarantee.
These are positive signs of an improved India-US relationship which was under strain since the Bangladesh war of 1971. Recent declassified US documents revealed by the BBC show how the then President Richard Nixon and the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were almost abusive in their description about Indira Gandhi and the Indians. After 9/11, the revelation of Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan exploded the myth about who backed the terrorists and the US’s attitude towards India started changing and in the present global diplomacy, the US realises, it needs the support of India to tackle the Chinese threat.
The formation of the four-nation Quad – the US, Japan, Australia and India – is one such strategy to reign in China, especially in the Pacific and South China Sea region. The meeting of the four premiers – President Biden, the newly elected prime minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and India’s Narendra Modi goes to show there is no weakening in their resolve to tackle China collectively. The leaders of Quad met at least four times before, including two virtual meetings – one as late as March this year. But the ‘physical’ meeting in Tokyo adds greater significance to diplomacy. Though the leaders do not directly talk about the Chinese threat, ‘regional security’ is at the back of their minds. The Quad has several working groups, including cybersecurity, health, infrastructure and education, but it has not explicitly spoken about any defence co-operation.
China has become increasingly assertive in the region. Beijing is investing heavily in strengthening its navy and its recent security pact with the Solomon Islands has stoked fears in Australia. A leaked draft of the agreement - which was verified by the Australian government - said Chinese warships would be permitted to dock on the islands and that Beijing could send security forces "to assist in maintaining social order". Immediately after the Quad meeting, China was seen resuming talks with Solomon Islands much to the discomfort of the Australian PM. Japan, for its part, has become increasingly wary of what it calls routine "incursions" from the Chinese navy. The US wants to protect its interests in the region. The Quad meeting in fact comes immediately after President Biden’s meeting in Washington with the ASEAN members.
India chooses to do a tight-rope walk. As members of BRICS, both India and China have strong trade relations. India’s ‘look east’ policy does not exclude China. But at the same time, India is acutely conscious of the border clashes with China; its policy of unstinted support to Pakistan; its positioning in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The dams built on the Brahmaputra is a real threat to natural water supplies to India. In fact, China has strategically ‘surrounded’ India. China’s ‘One belt, one road’ (OBOR) policy reveals its global ambitions.
Though Japan, the US and Australia would not hesitate to turn Quad into a military alliance (China calls this as an ‘Asian NATO’) India continues to hesitate. India needs to learn to face the reality. Russia, which is India’s closest defence ally, now seeks China’s support for its aggression on Ukraine. Global diplomacy is changing and India may have to realign its friends and foes.