Quadrilateral economic forum and India – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Recently, the first meeting of the foreign ministers of the US, India, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took place virtually. After the meeting, India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have decided to launch a new quadrilateral economic forum.

The four countries agreed that they have a “unique set of capabilities, knowledge, and experience” that can be used to create a new network of cooperation. But the quadrilateral economic forum has certain challenges which India need to take care of.

About the new quadrilateral economic forum

The quadrilateral economic forum builds on the ongoing cooperation between the U.S., Israel and the UAE (Abraham Accords) to include India. The forum is described as an international forum for economic cooperation.

Aim: The aim of the new quadrilateral grouping is to establish an international forum for economic cooperation. The grouping will specifically look for the “possibilities for joint infrastructure projects” in transportation and technology.

Focus areas: The new quadrilateral grouping will “expand the economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, technology cooperation including Big Data, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security.”

The Quad will also focus on global public health and ways to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.

Future of the new Quad: Each country will appoint a senior professional to a joint working group. This joint working group will formulate options for cooperation in the focus areas identified by the new Quad.

Apart from that, the four ministers also decided to convene an in-person meeting in Dubai soon to discuss the further developments of the Quad.

Read more: Geo-Economics Of Two Quads
What does the new quadrilateral economic forum mean for India?

Enhances India’s West Asia policy: One of the gains of India’s foreign policy has been non-ideological engagement with the Middle-East. In the past, there were three pillars to India’s West Asia policy — the Sunni Gulf monarchies, Israel and Iran. Now that the gulf between the Sunni kingdoms and Israel is being narrowed, especially after the Abraham Accords.

With the normalisation agreements signed between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain under the tutelage of US, India now faces fewer challenges in West Asia. The new Quad will further aid India’s West Asia policy.

Improve India’s ties with Quad countries: Over the years, India has built vibrant bilateral ties with all the countries in the grouping. For instance,

-Israel is one of India’s top defence suppliers.

-The UAE is vital for India’s energy security and also hosts millions of Indian workers. Further, the UAE also showed interest to mediate between India and Pakistan.

Economic benefits: The International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIIC) has predicted that the potential for agreements backed by Israeli innovationUAE funding and Indian manufacturing could cross $100 billion by 2030. With the New Quad India’s economic opportunity with countries in West Asia can be expanded drastically.

Future minilateral partnerships in the region: The new Quad platform will help India to pursue wide-ranging minilateral partnerships in the region. With major powers like France, Russia, China getting drawn to this region, the alliance will help India to shape its position in changing the geopolitics of this region.

Read more: India and the new Quad in West Asia
What are the benefits for India being a member of both Quads?

India is already a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) with the U.S., Australia and Japan, which have common concerns and shared interests in East Asia. The new Quadrilateral Economic Forum will have a specific focus on West Asia. These East and West Asian groupings can multiply India’s position significantly in the following ways.

Ensure regional peace and security: As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would often say, the principal objectives of our foreign policy should be to ensure regional peace and security and “create a global environment conducive to India’s economic development.” Both the East Quad and the West Quad seek to address these precise objectives.

Reinforce maritime economic and security: After 1991, India has re-established its maritime links with the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific regions. Almost all the Indian trade is now happening through the waters around the peninsula. This has recreated ancient maritime links, from Vietnam in the East to Egypt in the West, and has raised the profile of maritime security.

While both Quads reinforce these maritime economic and security interests across the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, India has been prevented from rejuvenating its land links with Eurasia by the China-Pakistan axis.

Assert India’s centrality in Asia: With a member of both the Quad’s India now became central to the US and its allies’ relationship in Asia. Further, this also expands India’s trade possibilities via land and sea.

Read more: Quad Leaders’ Summit – Explained, pointwise
What are the challenges associated with the new quadrilateral economic forum?

Non-alignment: Joining both the Quad might affect India’s traditional non-alignment policy in West Asia and East Asia as this will be seen as India’s open support to capitalist countries.

The dominance of the US: There are many occasions when the US followed its own interests in the international arena. Being a member of both the Quad, the US may prefer the focus to be more on defence and military capability. Further, India might not be able to actively follow its national interests if both the Quad member countries oppose India’s decision.

Focus only on economic issues: The new Quad group will help to focus on non-military issues like trade, energy, and environment and on promoting public goods. But West Asia is the prominent region with extremism and terrorism. So, India’s renewed terror challenge from Pakistan’s proxies and with the rise of the Taliban will remain and the new Quad members from West Asia might not take actions against Terrorism.

Read moreImplications of the rise of Taliban for India – Explained, pointwise
What India should do?

Maintain Strategic autonomy: India should not compromise its strategic interests. The U.S. is seeking to lessen its footprint in West Asia as part of its pivot to East Asia to tackle China’s rise. This resulted in redrawing of West Asia’s traditional equations and regional rivalries. So, India should be careful not to get sucked into the conflicts of West Asia.

Retain a healthy relationship with Iran: India has to retain a healthy relationship with Iran even as it seeks to build a stronger regional partnership with the U.S.-Israel-UAE bloc.

This is significant as India will have to work closely with countries such as Iran to deal with the challenges emanating from Afghanistan in future.

Improve relations with non-Quad countries: India should reassure non-Quad countries in Southeast and West Asia, that they remain important partners. India has to stay the course with its policy of multi alignment and multi-engagement in an increasingly multipolar world.

Read more: The Abrahan Accord as India’s West Asia bridge

In conclusion, right from the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) days, West Asia has been the focus of India’s foreign policy and will remain so in the near future. So, India needs a careful balancing act in West Asia to secure its long-term strategic interests.

Terms to know:

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