Remarks by EAM, Dr. S. Jaishankar at the Inaugural Quad Think Tank Forum

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Remarks by EAM, Dr. S. Jaishankar at the Inaugural Quad Think Tank Forum

 February 24, 2024

Mr. Samir Saran,
Foreign Secretary,
Dear friends,

It is a great pleasure to join you all, this morning, at the inaugural Quad Think Tank Forum, organized in partnership with the Raisina Dialogue.

2. I appreciate the messages from my colleagues, Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and the US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

3. The event today, organized jointly, by ORF and MEA, is among the efforts and preparations led by India in the run-up to the Summit which will happen during our presidency of the Quad.

4. You all know that in the last five years, Quad has become a significant and substantive platform for four large resident Indo-Pacific vibrant democracies, that are seeking to uphold an open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

5. Like any new mechanism or platform, the Quad too is a product of its times. It emerged from global necessities, faltered, for some time, due to a complexity of reasons and was then reincarnated with new governments and different circumstances. Shinzo Abe in Japan was, perhaps, an exception, which is a statement in itself.

6. As someone who has been long associated with this enterprise, allow me to share a few thoughts about its history because there are important lessons to be drawn from it. The origins of the Quad go back to the Tsunami response; this was an event which happened in late December 2004. I happened to be the coordinator for that response on the Indian side. In 2006, the actual idea of an Quad was put forward by the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But as I said earlier, it unraveled within a year and in fact, Abe himself had left office at that time. In 2017, after a full decade, Quad was resumed, first, at the Foreign Secretaries level and then was upgraded in 2019 to the Ministerial one. Coincidentally, I happened to be occupying both positions at that particular juncture. In 2021, we, all four of us, upgraded it to the Summit level and it has flourished since. It has been my privilege to have participated in all the meetings that have taken place since then. And I say this to you because I have personally seen what difference leadership, vision, commitment and most of all strategic clarity can make. During this period, administrations have changed in all our partner countries; ours has remained the same, and I guess will do so. But once the initiative was nurtured through the initial stages and it took root, it has been truly remarkable to see how prolifically and rapidly, the Quad has flowered.

7. Some of you know that I have just brought out a book and one chapter of that is devoted to my analysis of the emergence of the Quad. I believe that, much of that arises from the remarkable changes in India’s bilateral relationships with its three Quad partners. With the US, we put behind ideological hesitations of history. With Japan, we gave a longstanding good will much more practical shape. And with Australia, we actually made a real beginning in seriousness. Prime Minister Tony Abbot is here with us today and I take this occasion to particularly recognize and commend his role in giving our relationship that very serious form, which is to me one of the foundations for the Quad that has established itself.

8. The natural question that greets any new arrival is the reason for their existence. So let us look at why the Quad? The answer is very simple. It is there for global good and it is there for the global commons. It is facilitated by the emergence of the Indo-Pacific. And it is propelled by a change in the global order that requires more, not less, collaboration among the like-minded.

9. So you would then ask, what does Quad stands for? I believe, it has 5 messages. One, it reflects the growth of a multi-polar order. Two, it is a post-alliance and post-cold war thinking. Three, it is against spheres of influence. Four, it expresses the democratizing of the global space and a collaborative, not unilateral, approach. And five, it is a statement that in this day and age, others cannot have a veto on our choices.

10. This, in turn, would elicit the question why the Indo-Pacific. And the answer, I think, by now is very clear. The post-1945 division of what till then was perceived to be a cohesive theater resulted in our contemplating the Indian Ocean and the Pacific one as two separate entities. This separation was an outcome of American strategic priorities in 1945. Ironically, it is America’s repositioning today that is helping to rectify it.

11. Why has the Quad grown so rapidly? That too is a legitimate question today. The answer here is that all four governments have behaved differently from how they normally do. Quad is an overhead light, creative, flexible, nimble, responsive and open-minded enterprise. These are not adjectives we normally associate with the bureaucracy. So, even as we assess its achievements, some compliments at least are due to all those who have shepherded it, who have grown it, who have actually made it unfold with such rapidity.

12. What have been the achievements and activities of the Quad? These, naturally, focused initially, on addressing the region’s most pressing needs and challenges. I am speaking here about maritime security, infrastructure & connectivity, HADR, critical technologies, communications, space cooperation, cyber security, counter-terrorism, Fellowships, climate action to name a few. The really notable aspect of this is that at every meeting, we have actually taken agreed domains forward and have come up with new ones for cooperation. As my Australian colleague just reminded us, the Quad has also come up by now with its vision as well as with its principles. So, in that sense, we have actually seen even in the course of half a decade a maturing of this particular mechanism.

13. But allow me dwell a little bit more on some of its recent activities. In critical technologies, Quad seeks to build resilient supply chains in telecom, cyber security, semiconductors and AI. An Open RAN pilot is underway in Palau, as part of these efforts. We are also promoting cyber awareness and capacity building in the Indo-Pacific, which could be, which is, vulnerable to cyber threats.

14. Quad countries together have announced more than 1800 ‘Infrastructure Fellowships’ for policy makers and technical experts to familiarise them with infrastructure projects and their implementation. By pooling together our technical expertise, we are actually enhancing the ability of the Indo-Pacific countries to select smart and reliable options.

15. We have also commenced discussions about deploying digital public infrastructure to deliver public goods in the Indo-Pacific.

16. One very unique Quad initiative has been the STEM Fellowship program – under which about a 100 scholars from the four countries have enrolled in courses in US universities. I am very happy to share with you all that the second cycle of Quad STEM Fellowships has been extended ASEAN member countries as well.

17. Another priority in recent years has been to broaden the number of stakeholders involved in Quad collaboration. While Quad has been driven by respective governments, if we are to make our work impactful and ensure really tangible outcomes, we need to work closely with the industry, with R&D and innovation ecosystems, and with the academia.

18. The private sector led Quad Investor Network was launched recently with the objective of facilitating business collaborations in critical technologies, renewable energy, climate mitigation, healthcare and other domains. These partnerships are critical for developing commercially viable and trusted alternatives which would build and diversify current supply chains.

19. Interestingly, Quad has given birth to some larger collaborations that serve the same objectives of global good. Two of them merit particular attention. One is the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative, under which data is being supplied for countering illicit maritime activities and responding to climate-related and humanitarian events; and my colleague Deputy Secretary Kurt Campbell spoke about it in his message.

20. The other is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which seeks to offer alternative economic engagement mechanisms and it is making steady progress and addressing issues like supply chains, clean economies, sustainability, digital economies amongst others. India and 13 other countries are negotiating the text of agreements under IPEF.

21. It is heartening to see, in the recent years, that many countries today have actually issued outlooks, policies and strategies that are aimed at the Indo-Pacific and I mention -Australia, Indonesia, France, Japan, Netherlands, EU, Bangladesh among them. Although each of these policies have a different approach and nuance; they are suited for their particular national circumstances – they all have a single message which is that they attach importance to their engagement with the Indo-Pacific, and underline their desire to uphold maritime security and freedom of navigation. We have also seen this translate to enhanced outreach and engagement with countries of the region, to provide more assistance and improve capabilities of the Indo-Pacific countries.

22. In addition, many like-minded partners have visibly increased their presence in the Indo-Pacific, through more diplomatic missions, trade, investments, and sometimes visits of their naval assets.

23. Let me, in this context, mention two aspects related to the ASEAN. One, that we have initiatives which may be outside the ambit of the Quad but which broadly support the direction, the vision and the objectives of the Quad and one of them has been the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, which was launched by India in 2019 and we have really been pleased to see that all our Quad partners and a number of others have today joined in leading or co-leading the eight pillars of this initiative. The other aspect which I wish to comment on is the issue of ASEAN centrality because that has come up both in the context of Indo-Pacific and the Quad. Sometimes, it has been suggested that somewhere these two concepts have diluted ASEAN centrality. I think anybody who doubts ASEAN centrality, when they look at the map of the Indo-Pacific, clearly missed their geography classes at school. And not just the geography class, I think they have probably passed up on all that has been happening in terms of the East Asia Summit process and how that today is actually a very unique and I would say irreplaceable architecture for this part of the world.

24. Among Quad countries, there is a growing comfort in working with each other given the strong consensus we have in our strategic outlooks. India’s bilateral partnerships with each of these three Quad countries, have also transformed in recent years. So, it is very interesting dynamic which is, improving bilateral relations contribute to Quad and deepening Quad in turn, actually strengthens the bilateral relationship. And you can see this in the elevation of our defence and security cooperation, in growing commercial and economic linkages, in technology collaborations, and in people-to-people ties.

25. Our strong commitment to Quad and the Indo-Pacific has been clearly a key factor in the deepening of our strategic partnerships with our three Quad partners. And it is in this context now, that I believe, the Quad Think-Tank Forum should undertake and expand the conversations about the Quad.

26. So, what are our expectations of the Think-Tank Forum. One, clearly to debate more and to generate new ideas for the Quad because the Quad, as I explained, is very much in the market for different ways, for new ways of actually collaborating. Two, it is important for the Think Tank to socialize, to promote the Quad and where required, to reassure others about the Quad. And the third is that it’s important that the negative propaganda about the Quad is countered. So, with Quad consolidating itself as a platform, I think clearly there is a need for, continuously, for the ideas and the perspectives and this is something which we hope that this forum would generate.

27. As you do so, I think, it’s important that all of you have clarity about the Quad. There are three, I would say, clear messages about the Quad which I wish to leave here. One, the Quad is here to stay. Two, the Quad is here to grow. And three, the Quad is here to contribute. So, I would urge you all, please help us to make it more contemporary, make it more relevant, make it more impactful. That today is really the best way by which you can associate yourself with what I believe is a very laudable initiative that makes, not just the Indo-Pacific, but frankly, the world as a whole, more free and open and much more respectful of international law and a rules based order.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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