India to make J&J’s Covid vax as part of Quad initiative

India to make J&J’s Covid vax as part of Quad initiative

India will manufacture the US-developed Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid vaccine as part of the first Quad vaccine initiative. The project will be financed by Japan and US, while Australia will use its logistics capability to ship the vaccines to Southeast Asia and Pacific countries.

This will be the notable takeaway from Friday’s first ever Quad summit between Narendra Modi, Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga and Scott Morrison.

The first ever Quad summit is one of the earliest multilateral summits by the new Biden administration (he has only held a G-7 virtual meeting). It emphasises the growing strategic convergence between India, US and the Indo-Pacific members on countering China’s expansionism both in the security and economic domain.

While the maritime domain remains the bedrock of security cooperation between the four democracies, the first summit will send a more evolved message to the Indo-Pacific region. The sentiment that powered the first Quad response to the 2004 tsunami is being resurrected — that democracies joining hands to secure and promote certain values and provide assistance and demonstrate power on the basis of those values is preferable to authoritarian regimes doing the same thing in a region with countries who don’t have the power to push back against a non-democratic power like China.

The second takeaway from the summit may be in the area of technology as well as climate change — with all four countries diversifying from China, there will be a way to create reliable and trusted tech development and manufacturing chains — this could be anything from a joint development of 5G networks that rely less on hardware to fabricating semi-conductors. Biden has made climate change into a major part of his foreign policy and a coordinated approach between the Quad members is likely to emerge tomorrow.

Sources here said, “our role in the Quad Vaccine Initiative will project and reinforce India’s credentials as a trusted, reliable manufacturer and supplier of quality vaccines. It will strengthen India’s standing as the “pharmacy of the world”, as a critical node in global health supply chains, and as a selfless contributor to global health security.” This is only the first of the vaccines, sources said more will be added to this vaccine initiative.

There is already pushback from China and Russia on the Quad, with Chinese commentators describing it as an “Asian NATO”. Sources here say that is unlikely to happen since the Quad does not plan on setting up the bureaucracy of a military alliance. They would rather keep it flexible, making it easier to address and respond to emerging global challenges. However, one of the other takeaways from th summit is likely to be the vision of the grouping going beyond the Indo-Pacific. The vaccine initiative itself could be a start, sources say.

The current avatar of the Quad began in 2017, in the aftermath of the Doklam crisis between India and China. The 2020 stand-off between India and China in eastern Ladakh has only deepened India’s determination on both Indo-Pacific and the Quad. For the first time in 2020, India invited Australia to join the Malabar naval exercises, which cemented the security cooperation of the Quad.

The last year also saw significant pressures from China on all the Quad members — India in Ladakh, Japan in Senkakus and east China Sea and Australia with the trade measures by China.

The US-China rivalry that has been building, reached a point of no return with the tech and trade barriers erected by the Trump administration and largely continued by Biden. All four countries have barred China from their 5G networks. India this week announced it would have a list of “trusted sources” for telecom equipment imports that will effectively keep China out. An emerging tech alliance between the Quad countries could potentially be a counter to China.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar traveled to Tokyo for the second foreign ministers’ meeting on October 6, while the third was held virtually in February — the conversations participated in the second Quad Foreign Ministerial meeting in Tokyo on 6 October 2020, in the midst of the global Covid19 pandemic.

Last week, speaking in Washington, India’s ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu said, the Quad is more than just a security mechanism. Rather, he said, the arrangement -- not a coalition, not a partnership, not an alliance -- has larger goals. "There is a positive agenda here," he said. "When the Quad foreign ministers had their interaction ... there was a broader touch on being political democracies, market economies, pluralistic societies, and they will work together on those issues besides a rules-based international order."