The Indo-Pacific is an important arena of convergence between India and the US

In the early days of the Biden-Harris administration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had outlined India's vision for the strategic partnership between India and US calling it a ‘force for global good’.

The statement came when US Secretary of Defence Lloyd James Austin III visited India in March this year. What made the visit all the more significant was that it the first overseas trip of a senior member of the President Joe Biden-led administration.

With PM Modi setting the tone for India-US relations, the theme of ‘force for global good’ is here to stay and has come to manifest itself in the Indo-Pacific.

Convergence in the Indo-Pacific

The Indo-Pacific is an important arena of convergence between India and the US. In this context, the role of Quad, an informal alliance, is definitely the most important. In their March virtual Summit, the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and US committed to ‘promoting a free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond’.

At the Virtual Summit, Quad leaders resolved to intensify cooperation to beat the global COVID-19 pandemic with joint partnership on vaccines. In this context, the announcement of a collaboration between India and US for rolling out 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the 2022 was significant.

The roll out of vaccines indicated a strong history of collaboration in the field of public health that could be leveraged for a global partnership. Quad leaders reckoned that for countering the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent geo-economic changes, there were opportunities for building resilient supply chains in several sectors.

As the year 2021 progressed, the India-US partnership grew from strength-to-strength facilitating closer high-level exchanges, expanding the horizons of cooperation and most importantly with a reinvigorated focus on Indo-Pacific region.

Transformative period

Paving the way for a wider and intensified cooperation between the two countries, during the first in-person meeting in Washington DC in September, PM Modi had said, “Seeds have been sown for the Indo-US relations to expand and for all democratic countries in the world this is going to be a transformative period”.

India-US interactions in Washington DC in September represented a modern agenda focused upon defining challenges of our time, such as the situation in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific, COVID-19 pandemic, emerging and critical technologies, climate, space, and the healthcare sector. Moreover, the US pivoting to Asia with India as a fulcrum in the Indo-Pacific was evident.

The Joint Press Release after the Modi-Biden meet mentioned US support for India for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The two countries reaffirming their shared fight against global terrorism and Washington DC’s being on the same page with India ‘in-principle’ on Afghanistan were also among the key takeaways for New Delhi from the bilateral meeting.

The themes discussed in the India-US bilateral meeting also found resonance in the first Quad Leaders’ Summit on September 24, when the four large democracies deliberated on four broad themes - Afghanistan and regional security, COVID-19 response, tech and cyber security and climate - and a document on Quad Principles on critical and emerging technologies was adopted.

The Quad leaders reiterated their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region that is ‘undaunted by coercion’, in a veiled reference to China’s territorial aggressions along its border with India and in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.

Quad as a template for cooperation

Following the Indo-US bilateral meeting and the Quad Summit, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar described Quad as a ‘very new model of cooperation among like-minded countries’. Speaking at a virtual discussion hosted by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, he said “we are for rule of law, we are for freedom of overflight, we are for peaceful resolution of disputes we are for democratic (rights), and we are for territorial integrity of states”.

Jaishankar’s thesis of a Quad as a template for cooperation resonated when during his visit to Israel, Foreign Ministers of Tel Aviv, UAE and India and common friend US met and discussed issues of concern in West Asia, thus indduacting the formation of a Quadrilateral grouping in the Middle-East. The strengthening India-US partnership was paramount to the success of this initiative.

This illustrates that US and India find themselves to be natural partners being the oldest and the largest democracies and standing for shared values and principles. Like-minded nations such as France, Canada and Germany have been setting their priorities for the Indo-Pacific with a vision similar to that of Quad, thus lending more vigour to coordinated strategies in the Indo-Pacific.

With the recent announcement of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla that vaccine delivery under the Quad framework will commence in early 2022 to countries in the Indo-Pacific region, the motif of India-US partnership as the ‘force for global good’ once again stands reinforced.