(Left to right) US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison (Original images: Associated Press and Reuters)
Four world leaders representing India, Australia, Japan and the United States will make history on March 12 when they meet virtually in what will be the first Quad leaders’ summit.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, United States President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga will connect via video conference at 7.00 pm Indian Standard Time (IST).
The event holds significance as it would be for the first time that all four Quad leaders would formally meet as part of a summit.
What is Quad?
The Quad, officially the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’, is a strategic forum between the four nations for exchanging strategic intelligence and conducting joint military exercises. So far, Quad meetings have semi-regularly happened only at the foreign ministers’ level.
Officially, the grouping was conceived as a space to cooperate for safeguarding joint security and other interests in the Indo-Pacific region. However, observers say that the Quad is geared to counter China’s military and economic rise seen in recent decades. Thus, China considers the Quad as an attempt to contain its ambitions and looks at the group as a possible “Asian NATO” of the future.
While the original idea was floated in 2007-08, the initiative only picked up pace in recent years.
The nations hold an annual military drill called 'Exercise Malabar'. However, only the 2007 and 2020 editions saw participation of all four countries together. Between 2014 and 2019, the naval exercise saw participation of only India, US and Japan.
Read: What a formalised Quad means for India and the Indo-Pacific
March 12 Summit
The summit on March 12 will provide an opportunity for all four members to exchange views on contemporary challenges such as emerging and critical technologies, maritime security and climate change. According to the Australian prime minister, the four leaders will also discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The leaders will discuss regional and global issues of shared interest, and exchange views on practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement earlier.
"The Quad grouping was essentially established ... to showcase what democracies can deliver together for both our own populations and also the broader international public," Edward Price, spokesperson of the US Department of State said earlier this week.
"[The summit] will showcase the Quad’s ability to pool our capabilities and build habits of cooperation to address some of those urgent challenges we face," Price said.
However, Price added that the Quad is not about a single challenge or a single competitor and that it is an entity forged and formed because "we share common interests".
Timing and context
The meeting comes at a time when Chinese-Australian relations have plummeted to new depths after Australia called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
There has also been a major military stand-off between India and China since at least May 2020 in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The simmering tensions led to a violent face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley in June which lead to the death of 20 Indian Army personnel. Beijing revealed earlier this year that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had also lost at least four of its personnel during the clash.
While both sides have agreed and moved towards phased disengagement, a recent report quoted US military’s Indo-Pacific Commander as saying that China had not withdrawn from many LAC positions.
For many decades, Japan and China have been embroiled in a major dispute over territorial waters
and some islands in the Pacific. China's repeated incursions into the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea -- both administered by Japan but claimed by China -- have been a major cause of concern for Tokyo.