By Prakash Karat
The Modi visit to the United States had three major events. The first in-person meeting with President Joe Biden; the meeting of the leaders of the Quad countries; and the speech at the UN General Assembly.
The kept media in India have painted the visit in rosy colours and uncritically conveyed the official version of what transpired in the bilateral meeting with President Biden, in the meetings with Vice President Kamala Harris and the outcome of the Quad meetings. The corporate media has given a positive spin on Modi’s role and the gains that have accrued from the visit.
There was nothing notable in the speech at the UN General Assembly, except for the usual self-promotion and hyperbolic statements like India is the mother of democracy. However, a critical appraisal of the joint statements issued and the outcome of the visit presents a different picture.
The joint statement after the Biden-Modi meeting contains no new initiatives. The emphasis from the Biden side was on the close defence partnership with India as a major defence partner. There are references to sharing of logistics and military-to-military interactions, strengthening cooperation in advanced military technologies and promoting defence trade and co-production. More significantly, there is a reference to expanding defence engagements in a multilateral framework, including with regional partners. This is a clear indication of how India is being drawn into wider military and security arrangements with the US and its allies like the Quad.
There has been no progress in bilateral trade talks given the Biden administration’s reluctance to go ahead so far. In this context, there is only a promise to reconvene the India-US Trade Policy Forum before the end of 2021. The other issues such as fight against global terrorism, critical and emerging technologies, technological cooperation and climate change are in line with what has already been stated before.
It should be noted that President Biden did not lead the delegation level talks but assigned it to Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Quad leaders meeting was a step towards consolidating the quadrilateral alliance. This was the first direct meeting of the leaders of the four countries. There had been an online meeting earlier in March. The Quad meeting took place a few days after the announcement of the trilateral security alliance, AUKUS, comprising the United States, UK and Australia. This new military alliance, which seeks to equip Australia with nuclear powered submarines is clearly directed against China. There has been a lot of speculation about what the role of the Quad would be after such an initiative. Not only was France, which had an agreement with Australia to supply diesel power submarines, kept in the dark, neither India nor Japan was taken into confidence about this new military grouping which includes two of the four Quad members.
The strategic establishment in India, which has long been advocating an alliance with the United States has sought to put up a brave face and argue that this new security arrangement will help Quad to focus on non-military issues too such as vaccine cooperation, promoting critical technologies and supply chains and strengthening economic coordination.
The joint statement issued by the Quad meeting does not help to clarify matters. It trots out the main rationale for the Quad, which is to ensure a free, open, rules-based order (undaunted by coercion) in the Indo-Pacific region. This highlights the security aspect of the alliance. As far as vaccine cooperation is concerned, the statement covers up the utter failure of the Quad Vaccine Partnership, which was meant to provide more than a billion vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region as decided in its March meeting.
The United States has refused to part with its huge stocks of vaccines to supply them to developing countries. India, which was given the responsibility to produce Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the Biological E. Ltd. and export them, failed spectacularly to do so; it had to halt all vaccine exports. It has now been promised that the production from Biological E will be exported later this year. But the aim of countering China’s vaccine diplomacy has already failed, since in the past few months China has exported millions of doses of vaccine to the ASEAN countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.
There are general statements about cooperation on critical and emerging technologies and developing supply chains. Another nebulous pronouncement is the launching of a new Quad infrastructure partnership. This obvious counter to the Belt and Road Initiative seems a non-starter as no specific plans have been spelt out.
As foreign affairs commentator, M K Bhadrakumar, has stated: “In diplomacy, long winded statements become necessary when there is little substance to convey. The Quad statement has 2,145 words, yet says very little that we already did not know”.
What can be surmised from this whole exercise is that the Quad is just an instrument for America’s geo-political strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. Whether it is the AUKUS, or, the Quad, it is the United States which will determine what its direction will be. India is just a subordinate partner in this enterprise.
The manner in which the US withdrew precipitately from Afghanistan without even consulting India, or the clandestine way it negotiated the AUKUS should have made the Modi government wiser to the need to retain strategic autonomy. This requires dealing directly with China for sorting out outstanding problems while maintaining all-round relations with it. The outcome of Modi’s visit to the US shows that it has no intention to preserve India’s strategic autonomy. (IPA Service)