Quad leaders press for free Indo-Pacific, with wary eye on PRC

Quad leaders press for free Indo-Pacific, with wary eye on PRC


The leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States vowed in late September 2021 to pursue a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region “undaunted by coercion” at their first in-person summit, which presented a united front amid shared concerns about the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The two-hour meeting at the White House of the Quad, as the grouping of four major democracies is called, will be watched closely in Beijing, which criticized the group as “doomed to fail.”

“We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden said in a joint statement after the talks. (Pictured, from left: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attend a Quad leaders meeting at the White House in late September 2021.)

While the PRC was not mentioned directly, Beijing was clearly top of mind.

The statement made frequent mention of the Quad leaders’ insistence on rules-based behavior in a region where the PRC has been trying to flex its muscles.

“Together, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” they said.

The Quad leaders also voiced support for enhancing the economic and environmental resilience of small islands states, especially those in the Pacific Ocean.

Additionally, they urged North Korea to engage in diplomacy over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which Pyongyang has refused to do unless international sanctions are dropped.

After the meeting, Suga told reporters that the countries agreed to cooperate on vaccines, clean energy and space, and to hold a summit every year.

Modi told his fellow Quad leaders that India would permit the export of 8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of October 2021 under a deal the grouping reached in March 2021 to supply 1 billion doses to the Indo-Pacific, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said.

India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, banned exports in April amid a COVID-19 outbreak at home. India has said it will prioritize the COVAX international vaccine initiative and neighboring countries when exports resume.

The Quad announced several new pacts, including to bolster supply chain security for semiconductors, combat illegal fishing and boost maritime domain awareness.

It also rolled out a 5G technology partnership and plans to track climate change.

“Acknowledging the role of governments in fostering an enabling environment for 5G diversification, we will work together to facilitate public-private cooperation and demonstrate in 2022 the scalability and cyber security of open, standards-based technology,” the leaders said.

The meeting came just over a week after Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. announced a security pact that will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.